This is a Christmas story about a woman named Vivien.  

    Vivien was widowed three times in her life and spent a good deal of her time, love and energy raising her little boy as a single mom in the 1940’s and 50’s.

     Widowed without money shortly after the great war, Vivien brought in less than $100 a month to make ends meet in a small apartment. Often, there was not enough food to feed herself, but always ensured that her little boy had healthy meals. Sacrifice and struggle was an every day factor of life.

     Religion was not an integral part of the household, though she always made sure that a small Christmas tree was decorated in the apartment yearly, that carols were sung, presents were opened and love abounded. It was important that he was not seen by friends in school as an outcast, it was important that he felt the spirit of love, harmony and generosity.

     The 10 year-old boy saw that many kids were attending churches and synagogues, and he learned about the birth of Jesus and the great story that followed.  Once, her boy asked, “Mommy, what religion am I?”

     She hesitated and replied, “Well, son, you can be any religion you wish, there are many. Someday, you must study them all and then choose.”

     While Jesus was not a focus of celebration in the family and the little boy was never brought to a church, the elements of spirituality and love existed in Vivien’s home no less than in any Jewish or Christian home. Far away grandparents and other relatives sent small gifts, long distance phone calls were placed, music was played and choirs sang outside the windows while Vivien and her son sang with them.

     Vivien taught her son to send cards and gifts  — however small — to others who loved him, even herself, because it was important to learn that generosity was a two-way experience, that it was just as rewarding to give to others as to receive.

     From those teachings, and because of Vivien, the little boy grew up feeling more joyous from giving, than from receiving. She taught him that it was okay to be religious and just as okay not to be religious. She showed confidence in his nascent intellect, that he could eventually make educated choices of his own, without dogma.

     It didn’t matter if the holiday was called Christmas, Easter, Chanukah or Valentine’s Day, the important thing is that one day is set aside by our culture, our country, our people, in which we all stop and take the time to tell — and show —  others the blessings of love and kindness. There are too many human beings in the world who lack those essential elements of life.

     And so, the little boy grew up without a religious label, though he did endeavor to learn all he could about the world’s religions. The more he learned, the more he understood his mother’s message, that love and goodness comes from the heart and the teachings of wise and caring mentors. He learned that love is not a product of a book, or an ancient icon or a religious figure, but of having the good fortune to have a mother like Vivien. 

     He learned to love Christmas for the message, not the messenger.

     She was a wise and caring woman, indeed. Thanks, Mom.



  1. Just Me December 26, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

    What a loving tribute to your great mom. She deserves all the accolades you give her.
    I love the photo of you two together. There’s such a sweetness in your faces.

  2. Kathleen December 26, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    Marshall that is wonderful. Thank you And may the coming year be good to you and yours. Your friend Kathleen

  3. ArtyPat December 26, 2013 at 1:26 pm #

    Merry Christmas Marshall and Happy New Year. Great message. Gifting and receiving is what the holiday is about in my life.

  4. Larry G. Tate MD December 26, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    Marshall, like you, this time of year always seems to frack the brain and release all sorts of wonderful memories and musings. Thanks for sharing yours with all of us.

    Christmas Morning Musings 2013
    We are most alive when we have complete and unadulterated focus on the
    present moment. So energized by that committment of thought that all else
    is but a passing blurr while the pinpoint of our focused thought is made ever
    more poignant and fervid. Life in these terms takes on that slow-motion of
    complete involvement that only comes from being on the very razors edge of
    NOW. A child opening a present on Christmas morning, the Formula One driver
    entering a chine at maximum speed, the cardiac surgeon closing a ventricular septal
    defect, the musical notes of Knoffler’s guitar, Franks’s piano, Marley’s wailings, or
    Mercan DeDe’s reed flute in these conditions become clarity to the soul. Therefore,
    I must remind you of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi’s clear admonishment:

    “The past and the future veil us from God, burn them both up with fire” and “Out
    beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I will meet you there.
    When the soul lies down in that tall grass the world is too full to talk about.”

    Don’t be an outsider looking in, focus your thought on what the Now, The Gift, the
    Present brings to you and emerge yourself so completely into it that all else
    becomes that blurr and you will have slowed the race of your life’s time clock. So
    living, you will slow down enought in this furiously fast paced world so that
    your soul can catch up and join you in this joy filled marathon we call life.

    Consider what life could be like if everyone concentrated on the reason for such a day
    as this.
    lgtate md

  5. Kay Williamson December 26, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    What a beautiful tribute to your lovely mom. I bet she’d be so proud of her son! Thanks for sharing, Marshall!

  6. MARY OLIVER December 26, 2013 at 2:11 pm #





  7. Donald December 26, 2013 at 2:13 pm #


    That is one of the sweetest tributes to a mom I’ve ever read. She would be very proud of you and your view of life. I am proud to know you. Whether or not you believe in a God, I pray that He blesses you and those you love throughout the new year.

  8. Steve Gure December 26, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    You are very fortunate to have had such a wonderful mother. My verry best to you and your family

  9. SharG December 26, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    Slong with a thoughtful, caring Mother she raised a thoughtful, caring son.

  10. Jennie Lou December 26, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    How fortunate you were. Thanks for sharing.

  11. Anonymous December 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    This may not be the thread to post this, but I think it reflects part of why your website is the way it is. First there is no vulgarity. There is no attacking another persons beliefs nor them personally.. Disagreements yes but debates rather than a “hit and run” attack.

    I go to so few websites and post on very few forums. After the first dozen, or so, posts they deteriorate into people bashing, crude remarks and lack of respect. Kids have taken over yahoo forums and entertainment. Some of my favorite newspapers do not seem to be moderated. Many of the so called Christian forums do not reflect a true Christian attitude and the post should put the individual to shame. Though my religious beliefs are not the same as everyone here; Mary posted something that struck home for me when she posted what she had read on Facebook. “LET’S NOT WORRY ABOUT PUTTING CHRIST BACK IN CHRISTMAS; BUT LET’S PUT CHRIST BACK IN CHRISTIAN”

    Maybe the adage that “nothing is perfect” is true but this forum is “pert near” to it.

    Thank you Marshall for a forum that is probably costly to you personally and time consuming. For one that your articles give us pause for thought and allows us to express our own thought and beliefs without the rancor of the majority of other forums. Secular and Christian have no problems posting here. In depth information that I haven’t seen from the media gives me a better perspective and I trust it has been checked out and is the truth.

    In short, it is PERT NEAR perfect and I salute your Mother for her strong influence on you that you seem to have applied through out your life.

  12. Larry Epstein December 26, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    As a boy, I was often a guest in Mrs. Strauss’ home some sixty years ago. I haven’t forgotten her. She was one tough tomato. I know because I had one like her at home.

    How could I have known then (or even today) just how difficult it must have been for a woman alone to raise a teenage son? If we want to pay homage in this season and pray to a force bigger than you and me, join with me and think loving thoughts of those two incredible women of so long ago.

    Pay respect to those two (and the untold many) whose influences are evident even today in the sons (and daughters) who are what they are, mainly because of the unceasing efforts of their heroic mothers of blessed memory.

  13. Ron Fischer December 26, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    Marshall, your mom and my mom were cut from the same bolt of cloth! Wow. What a fabulous tribute to you and your mom.

  14. Dave Rivers December 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm #

    Marshall, enjoy reading your article and the responses. Good to see Dr. Tate is still kicking. Enjoyed Anonymous’s response. The other were nice too. Best to you and your family in the New Year.

    • Larry G. Tate December 27, 2013 at 1:10 pm #

      Back at you Dave. I live in Montana, about 60 miles from the Northeast Gate into Yellowstone National Park. Burrrrr this time of year. Minus 33 degrees three weeks ago.Provides ample time to sit by the fire and read ” The Owner’s Manual” The Good Book. Only autopsy Brown trout or golf balls now. Main endeavor is to enrich my relationship with my Creator. I leave you with words of wisdom: “To the mind feed understanding, to the heart tolerance and compassion. The simpler you make your life the more meaningful.The less you desire of this world the more time you have to fill it with the Beloved.”

      • Dave Rivers December 28, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

        Larry, email me Would love to re-connect.

  15. Dave Rivers December 26, 2013 at 5:28 pm #

    By the way, looking at the “time posted” I believe your clock is off 4+ hours. Attention to detail, seems to be something I heard a Homicide Captain say once a long, long time ago.

  16. Marshall Frank December 26, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    Note: A thanks to all who have commented on this blog, and to all my friends and fans who have kept me stimulated enough to continue with this project. A special thanks to you, “Anonymous”…whoever you are, your thoughtful remarks (above) are truly appreciated.

    Happy New Year to all.


  17. Eileen December 26, 2013 at 6:37 pm #

    Beautifully written, Marshall. Thanks so much for sharing!

  18. Edward A. Hensley December 26, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    Wow! Great share Marshall & beautiful photo.
    I see from your other FB post you did have a Merry Christmas,
    with family from MO. Now your talking. I was born in Missouri!
    Christmas again brought Blessing of Love, with family & friends
    to my wife Evelyn & I. So, Happy New Year to you & yours and
    thanks for a beautiful Christmas story & precious photo.

  19. Jan Siren December 26, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

    thank you so much for your reminiscences. The only grandparent my son has any recollection of is his paternal grandmother. She loved him very much. This is the time of year I bring out my own recollections and share them with the others of my immediate family.

  20. Jan van Waardenburg December 27, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    Just the way I am and feel

  21. Jan van Waardenburg December 27, 2013 at 12:26 pm #

    Just the way I am and feel

  22. Jean December 28, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    That is a great story and one that I know you have always practiced.

  23. Donna December 29, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

    I absolutely loved this story! Being a “freet thinker” is such a blessing.
    Enjoy your newsletter.thank you.

  24. Jay December 29, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    Thanks for sharing such a wonderful account Marshall.
    I was born in this country yet my mother is from India. We were raised Hindu however we respected all Christian Holidays in this country. What ever you believe, deep down we know how we should all respect on another and to live in peace.