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Four Years at the Mount

Junior year

Crimson Tide Christmas

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

(12/2014) Christmas Eve quickly turned into Christmas morning and I was still wide-awake. Even at seventeen years old my mom reminded me that Santa was not going to come until I was sound asleep. I remember looking at her, frustrated and rolling my eyes while responding, "Donít think that will happen tonight, mom." It was the first time in a long time that I had given up on preheating the oven, carefully cutting the dough, and waiting for the cookies to bake to perfection. My mom had even laid out the hand painted reindeer plate my sister Kelsey had made when she was just a few years old, but Santa would not be receiving any homemade cookies from my oven this year and the reindeer would go without carrots. I was simply too busy!

I sat on the carpeted floor of my bedroom and sighed loudly. Piles of clothing encompassed me. This little blue duffle bag was looking smaller and smaller by the moment. How was I ever supposed to fit everything I would need for eleven days into it? I came to the conclusion that it was just not possible. I pushed everything around me to the side and decided I would save it all for later. I walked down the hall, said goodnight and Merry Christmas to my family, then plopped into bed, wrapping myself in my heated blanket and enjoying it while I could.

When I woke again, the joy of Christmas day filled my heart. I was excited and cheerful, becoming child-like once again. I tiptoed over to my sistersí rooms and woke them with lots of shaking and happiness. Then we traveled downstairs as we shielded our eyes from the tree and presents in the living room, not wanting to ruin the surprise just yet. "Mom! Wake up!" We cheered as we rocked her, at moments being cruel enough to grab her blankets out from under her arms. "Fine, fine," she said as she rolled out of bed and followed her three daughters to the Christmas tree. Once upstairs she headed off to the kitchen to prepare breakfast while my sisters and I searched for the hidden pickle ornament on the tree. We gently shoved and tricked each other, taking the competition way too seriously. "Ha! Ha!" Jenna yelled as she grabbed the green, bumpy pickle ornament from the tree. "Ugh," Kelsey and I said in unison as we passed her the gift under the tree saved specifically for whoever was lucky enough to find the ornament this year.

My mom came back into the room and we all eagerly waited to open our presents. This year, mom tried to be tricky and did not write our names on the outside or put any tags on the boxes. Instead she put the first letter of our name on the inside flap of the wrapping paper. She thought it was a good idea because Jenna, even at the age of 23 at the time, could not resist opening a present with her name on it. To avoid Jenna opening her presents prematurely, this year Mom did not let any of the labels show. However, this idea did not work as well as planned. Somehow the initials got lost in the excitement and we all ended up just opening presents and then figuring out to whom they were supposed to go.

My gifts were pretty easily identifiable. They all revolved around camping in one way or another: a new mummy sleeping bag, about a million socks, a traveling fleece blanket, and small containers of shampoo, conditioner, and toothpaste. Later on, my dad and grandparents showered me with similar gifts: a warm hat, construction gloves, and a small backpack. They were all preparing me for the adventure I was about to be immersed within. Christmas day continued on with so much joy and lots of laughter, but it was safe to say that I was kind of distracted. After multiple delicious meals we all shared in each otherís presence, we decided to watch a movie and then turn in for the night. I still had more packing to do and went off to my room to finally figure everything out. I decided on which sweatshirts and sweatpants to bring, came to the conclusion that 15 pairs of socks would be enough, and stuffed my long underwear into my duffle bag. I remember saying, "I guess thatís it," because I just didnít have any more room. I went to bed early that Christmas night because I had a big day ahead of me.

On the second day of Christmas I got up bright and early and packed my things into my momís car. She drove me the short distance to my high school, where I was greeted by 14 other students and a handful of staff members. We all packed our things into two large vans along with our construction equipment. I gave my mom a big hug and kiss before settling into the van for the long drive ahead. The third day of Christmas consisted of a different kind of traveling. Eventually we arrived at a campground in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where we unpacked our things and set up our tents before making a campfire and playing a couple of games. It was on that third day of Christmas that we did not realize how cold the nights were going to be. It was on that day that my friend Eva was convinced that she would get too hot if she slept in long pants but before the start of the fourth day, she realized she was very wrong.

On the fourth day of Christmas we started at our service site, where we learned all about the tornado that had just come through that spring, ripping out the houses and taking nearly everything from the townís inhabitants. On the fifth day of Christmas, as we helped put up the walls of the new house we were working on with Habitat for Humanity and realized that it was socially acceptable to say "Roll Tide" in nearly every sentence, we noticed the metal siding that still hung from the tops of trees, where it had been tossed in the storm. On the sixth day we had made it through the 15-degree weather and were lucky enough to get to go on the University of Alabama football field before getting the most delicious burgers and French fries. On the seventh day of Christmas, the walls of the house were finally up and we met the future homeowner, who shared his stories of devastation and triumph with us. On the eighth day of Christmas I explored when I should have been hammering and came across all that remained of the part of a wall that read, "Home Sweet Home." On the ninth day of Christmas I found a stack of Brail Bibles and worried about whomever they belonged to. On the tenth day of Christmas we woke up to the fire being covered in snow and went to the work site once again to help install the walls around a metal, tornado-proof box within the house. On the eleventh day of Christmas we reflected on all the work we had done and all of the amazing people we had met and the experiences we had. On the twelfth day of Christmas we said goodbye to our campsite home, our newly made friendships, our role models, and our inspirations as we headed back to our Annapolis homes with a new outlook on life.

These twelve days of Christmas spent in Alabama during the Christmas break of my senior year in high school opened my eyes to so many new experiences and challenges. It was one of the greatest things I had ever been involved with and during every Christmas season that rolls around, I reflect on it fondly with an immense gratitude for the opportunity and a deep appreciation for the many blessing that life has in store.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen