I love Christmas because it conjures some of the best memories of my childhood.
Each Christmas Eve, my folks hosted a family party with all our aunts, uncles and cousins. (It was the one night a year everyone got along.) The scene was pure Norman Rockwell, if you ignored the visit by a drunken Santa.
Then my family would go to midnight Mass, and when we came home . magic happened!
While we were at church, gifts appeared under our tree and our stockings were stuffed with candy. Of course, our parents were in the pew with us the entire time at church. So a visit from Santa was the only logical explanation.
(It was years before I figured out the elderly next-door neighbors had made the gifts magically appear.)
In recent years, I've found myself on Christmas morning watching my own kids enjoy the day as I drink coffee and reflect on life.
Same thing happens at work. I reflect on the folks around Colorado Springs whom I've met, the extraordinary stories I've been fortunate to tell, and I think of a few gifts I'd like to give, if I could.
Remember the saga of the Rockrimmon buck - a deer with an impressive rack of antlers who became injured during the rut and perched himself on a ledge near a busy corner?
Clearly suffering, the buck attracted well-meaning folks who gave him water and food. Others approached him to take photos. Some even lifted small children dangerously close to the injured animal's jagged, broken antlers.
The buck caused such a sensation that state wildlife officers captured it, cut off his antlers and relocated him south of the city.
Sadly, its carcass was found along a road a few weeks later, devoured by bears.
My gift to the buck would be reincarnation at the top of the food chain in a wilderness far from cars and people.
Another story I followed throughout the year was the tale of Little Saint Rose Arveson and the deteriorating shrine her daughters Dorothy and Pauline built at the family's west-side home after her death in 1963. The daughters believed their mother's claim that Jesus visited her in the home in 1936 and that roses they placed on her coffin died and then miraculously came back to life, meriting sainthood for Rose.
The news this year was that authorities entered the house and found the caretaker unable to move and living amid dead animals, human waste, garbage and filth. At year's end, it seemed the house and shrine the daughters maintained until their own deaths was headed for demolition under a test of the city's blight ordinance.
My gift to the Arvesons is that they finally get to rest in peace.
A much happier story I followed involved Ben Pinello Jr. and his quest to build a family cemetery on his family's 40-acre Pinello Ranch south of downtown. It was great to see him get his wish and the gift I'd give him is plenty of time with his family before he ever needs his new cemetery.
Another of my favorite stories in 2013 involved Joe Hanson and his need for a new kidney. His kidneys failed in 2011, forcing him onto a grueling daily dialysis routine that left him unable to work as an aerospace engineer. Or to do much of anything.
Before the year's end Joe received a donor kidney and is recuperating. My gift to Joe is full recovery.
Everyone remembers the story of wildfire we relived in June. Not quite a year after the Waldo Canyon fire, Black Forest was decimated by an inferno that killed two and destroyed close to 500 homes.
For all in Black Forest, I wish a speedy reconstruction and for the entire region I'd give the gift of safety from more wildfires. Haven't we had enough?
Same for the folks in Manitou Springs and west Colorado Springs who found themselves dealing with devastating and deadly flash flooding in summer and fall. As James Taylor said, I've seen fire and I've seen rain. And, frankly, I'm done with both. I hope.
A favorite story from 2013 was about the Brown Bombers, an all-black team who won back-to-back championships in the Colorado Springs City Baseball League in 1949 and '50 by defeating all-white teams.
I was impressed by their story of overcoming hardship. The Brown Bombers organized themselves into a championship team even though team members didn't have organized Little League teams, coaching, equipment or even uniforms as kids.
In fact, they were barred from playing baseball or football in high school because of the overt racist culture at the time.
I was honored when Tom Osborne, chief executive officer of the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., which sponsors the hall, said he'd use my column as a nomination for enshrinement in the Colorado Springs Sports Hall of Fame next fall.
Of course my gift, could I give it, would be to see that completed and to have the surviving members there to enjoy it.
Finally, I find myself thinking a lot about Jonah Pfennigs, the 14-year-old freshman at Doherty High School who is battling cancer.
As a toddler, Jonah was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. On Oct. 30, 2002, at age 3, Jonah received a bone marrow transplant from his 4-year-old brother, Sam. Jonah recovered and on his 10th anniversary was considered cured, said his mother, Kim Pfennigs.
But in October, Jonah's cancer returned and he's been undergoing chemotherapy and awaiting another bone marrow transplant.
On my desk, I have a red rubber wristband printed with the words: Go Jonah! Kick Cancer. And I have a note from Kim explaining that good folks at Doherty are selling the wristbands to raise money to help the family with its medical expenses.
I can hardly look at the wristband without thinking of my own 14-year-old son, Ben, and tearing up at the thought of Jonah and all the other children out there facing similar battles.
Christmas is supposed to be a time of joy. Of drunken Santas and parties and gifts. Not suffering children.
So for Jonah, a final gift wish of a successful bone marrow transplant Dec. 27 - one that lasts you a lifetime.
Merry Christmas to you and yours. And may all your Christmas wishes come true.
Read my blog updates at blogs.gazette.com/sidestreets.