The Towner Family Christmases

The Towner Christmases were always special. One of my favorite stories is from about 1955. It was Christmas Eve, we were living on Mt. Pleasant, and Mother asked my sister Nancy (six years older than I) to take me into another room and entertain me for a while. (Mother had some last-minute gifts to wrap which she did not want me to know about.) Nancy and I disappeared into the bedroom and closed the door. She took out a deck of cards, and we sat on the floor where she dealt herself a hand of solitaire. I’m on the floor in front of her, looking her in the eyes and probably jabbering away. She looks down at her cards and nonchalantly says something along the line of “You know there’s no Santa Clause, don’t you? Mother’s out there right now wrapping your gifts from Santa Clause. Look under the door.” I did look under the door, and I could see Mother’s hands wrapping a box with Christmas paper…and that’s how I learned about Santa Clause. Please don’t misunderstand how I feel about this or how I feel about my sweet sister Nancy. I remember this vividly, but I wasn’t shocked, sad, or surprised. I just remember it today as a funny anecdote, which I love to tell.

Towner tradition was: every year the family would go pick out a tree. Each year we went to a different place. Sometimes it was a local grocery store which brought in trees for the season. In the ’60s, I believe there was a nursery in the area that had trees, too. It seems like we usually bought green trees, but every now and then we took home a flocked tree, which I loved. At least once after we moved to our house on Ovid Avenue in 1962, Mom and Dad put one of those fake silver tinsel trees in the front window with a rainbow strobe spotlight on it – trendy. We opened presents Christmas morning and enjoyed a big traditional Christmas meal on Christmas Day.

Our house on Ovid had two huge picture windows with window seats on the front. The living room window was a perfect place for a Christmas tree! I liked to see how long I could stand without moving next to the tree in the front window, so people driving by would think I was a big doll. It’s odd that with all of the photos Daddy took, especially in the 1960s and ‘70s, I don’t seem to have any photographs of Christmases at our home on Ovid.

Meanwhile, back on Mt. Pleasant…

Unlike the house on Ovid, our small house on Mt. Pleasant actually did not have a perfect place for a Christmas tree, but Mother made one. My favorite thing to do was set up my Lionel train set under the tree. I can still smell the odor of that transformer mingling with the scent of the tree. I don’t remember when we got the trainset. I don’t even know if it was really mine or not, but it always felt like mine. During the year, Daddy stored the trainset in an antique wooden box which Daddy’s Uncle Jim handmade for him when he was living in Dwight, Kansas. (I am happy to say that I still have the box.) Decorating our Christmas tree was always a family affair, with glass Christmas balls, the ever-stubborn strings of lights, and usually silver tinsel icicles.

Christmas morning was a thrill for me, and we always had a lot of gifts under the tree. I specifically remember only a few of the gifts from my youngest years: a Patti Playpal doll, a white rabbit stole with hat, and a wooden highway set. In my pre-teens or teens Mom and Dad gave me at least one Beatles album; a green portable stereo for the Beatles album; a set of Lincoln Logs, and a spotted rabbit parka with hood, which I loved and wore way into my adulthood, even though the sleeves were slightly too short.

My most meaningful Christmases of the 1950s and 1960s involved my three years with the Westminster Youth Choir of Oak Cliff Presbyterian Church. In 1966, at the invitation of a childhood neighbor friend Andy, I reluctantly joined the choir. It was difficult for me to step out of my comfort zone of sticking close to Mom and Dad, but I never regretted it. Besides all of the other choir activities and fellowship, every year the large youth choir presented Handel’s Messiah on Christmas Eve. We rehearsed for months before the concert and performed for congregation, friends, and family. Our concert began at just the right time so that it ended at midnight with our singing the Hallelujah Chorus. Being a member of the choir in general was a very moving experience for me, and performing Handel’s Messiah with the choir, even more so. My parents were always there, and I think my sisters were probably able to come at least once. This made for a very late Christmas Eve for us but was something I looked forward to every year. I miss it.

This brings my childhood Christmas musings to an abrupt close, and I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very Blessed Christmas.

Peace on Earth.

Kathy Gray (1949-2002)

A private plane crash on November 27, 2002, near McAlester, Oklahoma, ended the lives of my dear friend Kathy Gray, her husband Bill, and their three children Brooke, Chase, and Chad – two weeks after my father passed away. The Grays were on their way to a family Thanksgiving in Missouri.

I met Kathy in 1982 right after my second son Chris was born. Chris was still in an infant seat. Kathy and Bill also had two sons. Her younger son was an infant named Chase, born about six weeks before my son Chris was born. My husband Rick was a banker, and Bill Gray was one of his clients. Our families became close friends; and early in our friendship, Kathy and I saw each other and spoke with each other on the phone often. However, I didn’t see her as often after my husband and I divorced in 1991 and I moved to Bonham in 1994.

Since Kathy and I both had two sons, we often spoke about how nice it would be to have a little girl; but she said she wasn’t sure she wanted to take a chance on having three boys. I became pregnant in 1983, and in 1984 I had my baby girl Carley. Kathy was thrilled for us, and exactly nine months later, she delivered a baby girl, too – Brooke Ashley.

One of the many things I fondly remember about her is that she loved the Christmas season, and she loved to decorate their home for Christmas. She said it usually took her a month or more to decorate and another month to take it all down and store it away. She must have had quite a collection of Christmas decorations stored away somewhere. She even put little red bows on all of her wall hangings and pictures. I tried that a few times, but somehow it didn’t look as Christmas-perfect as when she did it.

After moving to Bonham in 1994, I continued to work in Plano, and Kathy and I were able to see each other occasionally for lunch, where we happily shared family anecdotes. Kathy went back to school to get a degree and began a career in Christian counseling. She helped me talk through some of my family issues, as my friend and as a professional.

There was a period of time when I was unable to reach her, and I began to worry. She finally called me to let me know she had been in a horrible car accident after taking her kids to school one day. She was stopped at a traffic light, and a city dump truck slammed into the back of her vehicle as it exited the freeway without slowing. I think she said the authorities determined that the truck driver had fallen asleep at the wheel. She had multiple injuries and was in the hospital for a while. When she went home, she began physical therapy, but her neck injury wasn’t getting any better. After a few sessions of physical therapy, the therapist told Kathy she wasn’t going to touch her again until she went back to her doctor. The doctor determined she had a fractured bone in her neck, which was not discovered initially because of the swelling. Kathy had to wear a halo for weeks until it healed. I don’t think she ever regained full normal mobility in her neck, but she got through this ordeal with God’s help and the help and love of family and friends.

Some time after the car accident ordeal, Kathy’s husband Bill took up flying and purchased an airplane. When Kathy and I spoke, she often mentioned that she didn’t like flying and she didn’t like that Bill was flying, but protesting wasn’t helping. She eventually decided to stop worrying about it and said she was putting it into God’s hands.

In the summer of 2002, after my daughter Carley graduated from high school, she was preparing to enter The Art Institute of Dallas and needed a place to stay in Dallas for a few days before moving into her own apartment. Kathy generously offered her home and her heart to Carley. Carley was the last person in my family to see Kathy. 

A few months later, in the fall of 2002 right before Thanksgiving, Bill was flying the entire Gray family (Bill, Kathy, Chad, Chase, and Brooke) to a family Thanksgiving gathering in Missouri. Around 4:15 p.m. on November 27, 2002, in clear weather, the plane experienced some kind of malfunction. Bill tried to land at the McAlester Oklahoma airport, but the plane crashed, and all on board were killed. Carley and I were together spending Thanksgiving in Horseshoe Bay, Texas, with my soon-to-be-husband Gene, and my son Scott called from California to tell me he had just heard on their local TV news about the plane crash that killed the Gray family. It had just happened. We were all shocked.

On December 5, I attended the memorial service for the Gray family in Plano. Many people spoke at the memorial service about what a good Christian family the Grays were. The pastor said that Kathy had spoken to him about her fear of flying in their private airplane, but she had grown to accept it. Her one prayer was that if the plane ever crashed, the family would be together. Her prayer was answered.

Losing my dear friend Kathy was painful. Even though I had not been able to see her very often the few years before Kathy died, we spoke regularly, and I felt very close to her. She was a special person to all who knew her, and everyone who met Kathy loved her. My family and I were blessed to have known her. I do not doubt that Angel Kathy has been watching over us. I feel her presence, and I see her face often in strangers, as does my daughter Carley. I will always miss her.

Gray family obituary; Dallas Morning News; December 4, 2002

Other articles about the family and the plane crash

The Featured Image is a family portrait that was displayed at the memorial service. I believe I saw it hanging above their fireplace.