100: The love of a mother at Christmas with Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama

This is a very special episode as it’s our 100th episode of this show!

When I sat down to plan this season and saw episode 100 would fall just before Christmas, I wanted to make sure we had a really special guest.

And we do.

I am so excited today for this episode on the nostalgia and traditions of family at Christmas with one of my favorite people in the world, Fehrn Hesse. Otherwise known as Mama, my grandmother.

She instilled in our family a love of Christmas.

To sing it loud for all to hear.

To watch every heart be light.

To bask in the inescapable glow of making spirits bright.

I love Christmas for the way it brings us together—one song, one cookie, one smile, one movie at a time.

In my family, I’ve named myself the Chief Holiday Cheermeister—and that love of the wonder and true meaning of this season is due in large part to our family matriarch, Mama.

Not only has she raised our family, Mama also taught as a professor in the nursing department at Mt. Saint Mary’s for 24 years and worked for 40 years as a mother-baby nurse at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena, California.

If you’ve met her, you’ve probably received a hug from her. She radiates love and encouragement and it’s a real gift to me this season to get to talk with her here about the love of a mother at Christmas.

Show highlights include:

  • A bit about Mama’s story.
  • What Christmas looked like for her as a child.
  • Mama’s Christmas favorites.
  • The elements of that celebration she brought into her family celebrations when she became a mom.
  • Her favorite part of Christmas when her kids were young.
  • From her vantage point, what the celebration was like as a grandmother with young grandchildren.
  • A story that stands out in her mind.
  • As the family keeps growing, her favorite part of celebrating Christmas today.
  • The part of the Christmas story that most intrigues her.
  • Having had the unique vantage point for an entire career of being one of the first voices of encouragement and support to probably thousands of moms as a mother and baby nurse, what advice or words of love she often gave to new moms.
  • What she would have told Mary.
  • What Christmas means to Mama.
  • What hope means to her.
  • How she would encourage you to find hope today.

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now. Below is a transcript of the episode, edited for readability. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.

* * *

Christin Thieme: Well, Mama, welcome to the Do Gooders Podcast today. This is so special for me to have you on. So thanks for being here.

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Thank you for inviting me. It was quite an honor, and it was wonderful to look back through all the years of Christmas, trying to think some of your answers, trying to answer some of your questions.

Christin Thieme: Yes. I’m excited to talk to you about Christmas and traditions and family and all of those good things for what’s probably my favorite time of the year, but before we get too far ahead of ourselves, I’m wondering if you can give us a little bit of a picture of your life? Can you share a little bit of your story and how you have come to today?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Okay. Well, I was born in Louisiana, but we moved to California when I was three. So I am a true California girl.

Christin Thieme: That’s right.

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: I was, surrounded by love at an early age and all through my life by my family. My father died when I was 13 and my mother was my guiding light and always was there with her love and support. I married a wonderful man when I was 19 and he continued to shower myself and our wonderful children, Mark, Cindy, and Cheri, and now all of our grandchildren and all of our great-grandchildren with love and support. I became a registered nurse after our children were older and I worked in the obstetric unit at Huntington Hospital for 40 years. I became a full-time professor at Mount St. Mary’s University after obtaining my master’s degree at Azusa Pacific University. I taught in the nursing department at Mount St. Mary’s for 24 years. And today I’m retired.

Christin Thieme: And enjoying it.

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Always. I enjoy every day.

Christin Thieme: That’s right. So Christmas is of course for everyone, a time of nostalgia, where we like to think about the traditions we have and how we’ve always celebrated. And I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about what Christmas looked like for you as a child?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Sure. Christmas then, as now with all children, was magical—a time for family, a time to remember why we celebrate Christmas, the birth of Jesus. In those days, the decorations weren’t as elaborate as they are today. We still had Christmas trees, but lights were a lot different than they are today. We had a real Christmas tree that we bought from our corner store and a string of lights that if one burned out, they all turned out and you had to have a special tool to help you identify the broken one. My brother, Jerry, who loved Christmas, was the expert at finding the burned-out one. And he spent hours finding and fixing because they went out very often.

I also remember taking the streetcar—we had streetcars then—with my mother to downtown LA, where we went to look at the beautiful animated Christmas window decorations at May Company and Bullock’s. They were very animated. They were beautiful. And you could stand and watch them as long as you wanted. And I certainly did as a child and was in awe of them.

We also had Christmas dinner with our family, extended family, and actually anyone who wanted to come to dinner. And my favorite part of the dinner was my mother’s homemade rolls. Those I really enjoyed.

Christin Thieme: Sounds really fun. I’m wondering now, maybe then, and now, do you have a favorite Christmas song?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Yes. My Christmas song is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

Christin Thieme: Good one.

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: And the reason I like that is it always reminded me of my brother, Jerry, who we lost in World War II. And in all of his letters, he would write, “I’m going to try to be home for Christmas,” but he never got to do that. So I love that song and I always think of him.

Christin Thieme: What a deeper meaning on that song, too. What about your favorite movie?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, my favorite movie is…now I can’t remember…Christmas on 34th Street?

Christin Thieme: “Miracle on 34th Street”?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Miracle. That’s it! I couldn’t remember it. “Miracle on 34th Street.” I love that movie and I like to watch it even today.

Christin Thieme: That’s a good one. And how about your favorite Christmas tradition?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, I have a lot of favorite traditions, some of the traditions as a family, the fact that we choose stockings and we choose names and then we fill them and give them to each other Christmas Day. We’re always excited to see who we’re going to get. Some are happier than others with the names, and some are better at filling the stockings with great presents and some with funny presents.

We also have a cookie bake day or cookie day, which I truly love. Your mom always hosts it. And we come together as a family and we bake cookies. We decorate cookies, we enjoy one another. And that’s a beautiful tradition. And then another one is the fact that we adopt a family that The Salvation Army has chosen for us. And we try to fulfill, as a family, all of their Christmas wishes. And it actually is more of a blessing to all of us that we do that as a family than I’m sure even to them. So that is another family tradition that we love.

Christin Thieme: Yes. Luckily, I love that we have a lot of them, so it makes the season always fun. I’m wondering from your Christmases growing up and all of these favorites that you’ve been talking about, what elements of, your childhood Christmases, did you bring into your family celebrations when you became a mom?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, the most important one, I think, is to have all of our family together to celebrate and share our love for one another. Of course, the tradition of opening Christmas presents in the morning is still there. And, the surprise element for your children is still there. And it’s a wonderful feeling to see your children and your grandchildren follow those traditions that you had in your family. So that part I love.

Christin Thieme: Did you have a favorite part of Christmas when your kids were young?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, I’m like you, Christin. I love all parts of Christmas.

One of the things that we always did is we bought all of the Christmas presents ahead of time and tried sometimes successfully, sometimes not as successfully, to hide them until Christmas morning.

Christin Thieme: Everybody can relate to that.

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: And then we put them to bed early Christmas Eve. And after they went to bed, we wrapped all the presents, placed them under the tree in three separate piles, one for each of the children, Mark, Cindy and Cheri, and needless to say it was a very late night for us, but it was worth it because the joy and the happiness and the awe was a wonderful thing to see.

Christin Thieme: When I was little, I loved that you and Papa would always come over for a nice, kind of fancy Christmas Eve dinner at our house. And then you would spend the night at our house. And so you’d be there Christmas morning when we woke up so excited. And I remember you guys always wore tracksuits, which was so fun and you’d be there while we opened presents and enjoyed Christmas breakfast. And I just, I remember that feeling so clearly of having so much excitement, it felt like I was just going to like burst open. So I’m wondering from your vantage point as a grandmother with young grandchildren, what was that like for you?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, when our kids grew up, my mother and their grandmother, Grandma Maude, was always a part of their celebration. And we wanted to make sure that our grandchildren and now our great-grandchildren have that special connection. We didn’t want to miss anything. We enjoyed it, just like they might have been our children. We considered them our children. And we wanted them to see us there and be part of their celebration. We wanted to be present in every part of their life if we could. And I think that’s one of the greatest gifts that we have now at our age, that we’re able to really partake of all that. And we feel very blessed by that gift.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. You absolutely have been there for everything. The big moments and, the tiny ones. And I, that’s why we love you so much.

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: We love all of you, too.

Christin Thieme: From all those Christmas mornings, do you have any particular story that stands out—that you really remember?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Okay, Christin, this is it. You know, we had several dogs and it got to the point where I said after we lost one of our last ones, “Okay, no more dogs. I don’t care what anyone says. No more dogs.” And of course, your Papa loves dogs, but my mind was set. And then one night before Christmas, I got a call and it was from you. And you said in this nice, soft, sweet voice, Mama, we know that Papa really loves [labradors], chocolate labs. Do you think that we could give him a dog for Christmas now? What do you think I said?

Christin Thieme: How do you say no to that?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: You can’t say no. So we got Coco for Papa’s Christmas and he was our favorite dog. And Papa’s very, very best friend.

Christin Thieme: She was a sweet dog. That was a fun Christmas present. I remember carrying her out of the garage and Papa’s look of shock.

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Yes. Well, he couldn’t believe that I gave in. It was joyful, yes.

Christin Thieme: So now the family just keeps on growing and you have two great-grandchildren, my two boys, Zeke and Zach. What do you think is your favorite part of celebrating Christmas now with family?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, Zeke and Zach, they’re our heartthrobs and to just be blessed to be part of our great-grandchildren’s life, that’s truly one of the greatest gifts that we have in our lives. So watching them enjoy Christmas as only little children can and watching you and Aaron creating your own traditions and being with the whole family is truly a special blessing in our lives. And we are so grateful for that. We enjoy watching their eyes light up. We enjoy all of the ooohs and the awes and opening presents, them excited over everyone, very thankful for everyone. And just the fact that we’re all there as a family. That’s what matters.

Christin Thieme: Yeah. There’s no doubt that family is definitely what makes Christmas special and all of the celebrating. As the family matriarch, what do you think the most intriguing part of the Christmas story is?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Probably thinking of the strength and the love of Mary and her happiness and joy as she holds Jesus and the miracle that he represents to her, but also the fact that he is her son and she loves him unconditionally. That’s the greatest love is a mother’s love.

Christin Thieme: Definitely. As a mom myself now, I often think about Mary and what she must have been thinking and feeling when she was holding the baby Jesus. And you have an interesting vantage point because you have not only raised our whole family, but you had an entire career of being one of the very first voices of encouragement and support and love for probably thousands of moms as a nurse in the mother and baby unit. So in those first few days of a baby’s life, what was your encouragement to a new mom? What was your best advice and maybe what would you have told Mary?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, I believe that love is the recipe for how to be a good parent. And what I always would share with my patients is there’s a beautiful book that is one of my favorites called “Love You Forever.” And the story illustrates the thread of love through life and how it flows and continues from one generation to another. It points out the little boy, no matter what trouble he might get into, the mother still says she loves him. And she’ll love him forever, no matter what, just like God loves us no matter what we do in life. And that unconditional love is the most wonderful gift that we can give our children. And so I always recommended them to buy that book, to read it and, and realize that they can set that same tone of love and the importance of it. You can never, ever underestimate it.

What I would have told Mary is, I would’ve said thank you for the greatest gift to mankind because Mary had that unconditional love for Jesus just as he has that for all of us.

Christin Thieme: Yeah, absolutely. What does Christmas mean to you?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, looking at it, the birth of Jesus tells us how much God loves us for just as the book that I talked about, “Love You Forever,” he will love us forever. And Christmas allows us to remember every year when we celebrate the birth of his son, it’s a constant reminder, yearly. Christmas is a time of joy. A time of love, a time to care, a time to share, a time to be with your family, a time to reinforce, reflect the love that we have for one another.

Christin Thieme: It really is a gift to all of us. This Christmas season, The Salvation Army is talking a lot about hope and the idea that hope marches on. So what does hope mean to you?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, hope means to me looking for the sunshine in life, looking for the goodness in people, looking for possibilities of something better looking, and hoping we can leave the world a better place for our children.

Christin Thieme: How would you encourage someone listening who maybe needs a little bit of hope? How would you encourage them to find hope today?

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, I certainly would encourage them to seek God’s blessing and to read his words. One of my favorite verses is about hope—Lamentations 3:21-23: Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Every Christmas, we are reminded again of God’s great love by the birth of Jesus.

Christin Thieme: Well, Mama, I want to thank you so very much for joining me today and joining all of us on this podcast. And I personally want to thank you for all of the Christmases that you helped to make so special and the ones you continue to make special this year. And just for giving us that gift of really experiencing love on, a really deep level. I’m so grateful to you for that. So thank you.

Fehrn Hesse, aka Mama: Well, thank you, Christin. I feel the same about you and we feel very blessed that we have your love, our family’s love, especially Zeke and Zach’s love, and that you want us to be part of it. That’s special too. So I wish everyone a Merry Christmas.

Additional resources:

  • You’ve probably seen the red kettles and thrift stores, and while we’re rightfully well known for both…The Salvation Army is so much more than red kettles and thrift stores. So who are we? What do we do? Where? Right this way for Salvation Army 101.
  • It’s because of people like you that The Salvation Army can serve more than 31 million Americans in need each year. (That’s almost one person every second, every day.) Your gift helps The Salvation Army fight for good all year in your community. It’s an effort to build well-being for all of us, so together we rise. And that good starts with you. Give to spread hope with a donation of funds, goods or time today.
  • It’s not too late to join in the Advent journey for families, happening now on Instagram.

Listen and subscribe to the Do Gooders Podcast now.

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