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We all have our Christmas stories; then there’s the greatest story of all

Christmastime is storytime. Here are some of my stories:
Thirty-two years ago this month, I met Charles “Chip” Penland in an interview. His parents were deaf, so Chip was my interpreter. He signed my questions to them and then spoke their answers to me. He was 3 years old. His parents signed for me the words “Merry Christmas” while I took photos of their hands, one letter at a time. Today, Chip, a minister to the deaf, is married to my niece, Traci. They have a son, Eli, 3, and they’re adopting two children from China, a boy and a girl, in a few months. They are Trey, 1, and Rosalee, 3. Both are deaf.
   
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We heard recently about couples who travel the country with campers and motor homes, going wherever they can find work. It must be a tough life, but it was even harder for the Tabor family, whom I met in the 1970s. The man of the house cut trees for a sawmill, and when his harvest location changed, he and his family literally disassembled their house — one made of slabs — loaded it onto a truck, moved to the new place and reassembled it. They had no electricity. The night I visited, the children were watching a television connected to a truck battery outside. They were watching The Waltons.
    
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One Christmas Day decades ago, the editor of the newspaper I worked for was called to a moonshine still being busted in the mountains. A moonshiner watched as the sheriff and his men tore into jars of ’shine ready for delivery. “Ah, come on, Sheriff,” he said. “It’s Christmas. Leave me one to drink.”

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We sang a Christmas carol at my friend Tommy Jarrard’s funeral. It wasn’t Christmas — actually it was March of 2007 — but we sang “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” because that’s what Tommy requested. He also wanted people to show up for the funeral at 7 in the morning so they could get to work on time. But his family said no. It was Tommy’s last attempt at a practical joke. I miss the guy.

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Christmas comes in a backpack for Ken Grindle, who runs a nonprofit mission organization called Net India. Over the years, he and his supporters have sent to Indian children thousands of backpacks, each filled with a blanket, towel, toothbrush, soap, fruit, a few toys, school supplies and a Bible in Hindi language. It’s called, appropriately, “Christmas in a Backpack.” See more at netindia4him.net.

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Christmas is remembering my first girlfriend, whose father commanded the Salvation Army post, which still sends out kettle-keepers to ring in the season. Last year, after someone stole a Salvation Army kettle filled with money, a modern-day Army commander told me: “I believe that justice should be brought to the situation. But I also believe that this guy, when he’s sorry, deserves forgiveness.”
That lesson of forgiveness is told around the world in the greatest Christmas story of all. And that’s why Christians celebrate.

Phil Hudgins’ column is published in many newspapers around the Southeast.