The Mt. St. Benedict Cemetery in Bloomfield was quietly busy Christmas Day as friends and family members trudged through thick snow and stood in cold wind to remember those they have lost.
Carrying bouquets and wreaths with red ribbons, they walked to graves with familiar names, whispered their thoughts and prayed for those they think about every day, especially on this holiday.
They were commemorating their pasts. Elsewhere in the Hartford area, people spent Christmas Day celebrating the present — with their presents — and creating hopes for the future.
The cemetery was silent except for the occasional hum of a car passing by and the wind in the large fir trees.
Fernanda Fernandez's six siblings already had visited their parents' graves by the time she arrived shortly after 11 a.m. with red poinsettias and a wreath. She wore a gray poncho to protect her from the chill on a day that didn't reach 40 degrees in Hartford and never was very sunny.
"When it's someone that you really love, no matter how cold it is, you'll always find warmth," she said after wiping tears from underneath her eyeglasses.
The cemetery is the resting place of several of her family members, said Fernandez, 46.
Her mother, who died in 2006, and her father, who died in 1996, are buried next to each other.
A few feet away, her aunt and uncle were laid to rest.
Her brother-in-law also is buried there.
"Christmas is never going to change just because one passes away," she said. "My mom and dad raised us with good quality, sharing, caring and loving. I'm only here to thank them for making me who I am."
Steven Salazar and his son also ignored the seasonal cold as they spent their Christmas outside in Hartford.
When Salazar saw a silver, remote-control Hummer on the shelf at Wal-Mart, he knew that would be his Christmas present to his son.
Salazar knew he'd done well when 9-year-old Andy ripped open the red wrapping paper Tuesday morning.
"I was just watching his face, how happy he was," Salazar said in broken English. "He screamed. He showed to everybody the car."
Andy's grandmother also bought him a remote-control vehicle, a black Chevy Silverado. Father and son played with the cars all morning in the parking lot next to their Sigourney Street apartment building.
They slammed their toy trucks into the tires and rims of the real cars in the parking lot, and occasionally into each other's truck.
"If you ruin it, I'm going to tell abuela, I swear!" Andy said to his father, promising to tattle to his grandmother.
In Hartford Hospital's maternity wing, Tuesday was busier than most mornings, as doctors and nurses delivered eight babies — four boys and four girls — before noon.
Katie-Lynn Marks was the third baby born; she has the date of Dec. 25, 2007, and time of 6:42 a.m., on her birth certificate to prove it.
She lay snuggled in her blanket and red hat in her mother's arms in Room 648 of the Bliss Building.
"It's a miracle," her mother, Christina Marks, 21, said.
"You got the original Christmas present," said Katie-Lynn's grandmother, Marie Karon.
Katie-Lynn wasn't due until Dec. 28, but her parents unexpectedly went to the hospital Monday, and on Christmas Day their first child was born.
"It's almost surreal," said new dad Jim Marks, 26. "We're already thinking, 'Oh, jeez, we have a baby! What are we going to do next?'"
Christina Marks, an interior decorator, already sensed that her daughter will follow her lead.
"I can tell you she's going to be a designer," she said, even predicting the name of her daughter's business: KL Designs.
Christmas will mean more to theMiddletownfamily in the coming years than it ever did.
"Now it's Christmas all the time," she said. "Now it's really special."
The ghosts of Don Frazer's past, the sadness of his present and the hopes for his future played out in his mind as he returned to the place where he spent much of his childhood, South Congregational Church on Main Street in Hartford.
He, his twin sister and his two brothers were baptized there. His mother taught Sunday School there. His parents were married and went to their graves there.
And now Frazer, a lot less fortunate than when he was young, returned there to get a free meal on Christmas.
The social service program Hands On Hartford, part of Center City Churches, brought in 50 volunteers who gave out about 200 free meals to those in need at the church. Frazer, keeping warm in a puffy black coat and jeans, reminisced fondly about his childhood, hiding in the church's rooms and playing a shepherd in a long-ago Christmas pageant. His weathered hands waved animatedly and his blue eyes sprung tears as he recalled the good and bad of his life.
"I threw it all away. I fell in love with a man named Jim Beam. I love that booze more than anything else on the planet," Frazer said.
He used to make $85,000 a year as a plumber and sprinkler fitter when he was a union member, Frazer said. But after 20 years of drinking, he lost his regular job and his wife two years ago.
Frazer now rents a room on Campfield Avenue in the South End and goes to Labor Ready, an organization that connects him with a job that earns him about $55 a day. He said he hasn't seen his two teenage sons in about a month.
"I want to get normal again," Frazer said, telling longtime church member June Hodges that he still has the Bible the church gave him.
"What's it going to take to turn you around?" she asked.
"Probably right here," Frazer said, forcefully tapping his pointer finger on the table.
Frazer, who was returning to the church for the first time since his divorce, said, "This church gave me a breath of hope that maybe I can wake up tomorrow and not be a scumbag."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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