What are some of your favorite Christmas memories? Stop and think about it. Several come to mind for me and as one might guess, they were mostly when I was a child.
My childhood was an idyllic one growing up in the 1950s in a small town out in Montana. It was an era when little boys were captivated by western movies and cowboy heroes and I was no exception. Like Ralphie in the classic movie A Christmas Story I was infatuated with Red Ryder and longed for the day when I would be old enough to have a carbine action BB rifle. When I turned eight, to my mother’s dismay, my father actually gave me one. Unfortunately my first time out with it I shot someone in the thumb, but that is not a favorite memory so enough said.
When I was five, in the fall of the year, I entered a contest to name Red Ryder’s horse’s pony. I don’t remember what the grand prize was but I put my whole heart and soul into trying to come up with a unique name that I hoped would jump off the page when those judging the contest read it.
One night, as I was getting ready for bed it came to me, just out of the blue – Beldy. I was so excited. I called my mother into my bedroom and told her. My mother said “What?” And I said “Beldy.” “Oh,” she said, “are you sure?” “Yup” I said. And Beldy it was.
The next morning, with me standing over her shoulder, Mom entered it on the contest form with my name and address and I took it out to the mail box and sent it in, and then we waited. Or I should say I waited. And waited. And waited.
Then one day, shortly before Christmas, my mother came in from collecting the mail and with a smile on her face, handed me a package saying “I think you’ve got something from Red Ryder!” I couldn’t believe it. “Red Ryder? A package from Red Ryder addressed to me?” I ripped open that box and inside was the most amazing pair of six shooters in leather holsters a boy ever laid his eyes on. And I am telling you, those pistols were huge and they looked real. Inside the box there was also a letter and Mom read it to me. It was congratulating me on a fourth place finish in the “name the pony contest.” I was ecstatic – and Christmas was still to come!
Our family tradition was to go to church on Christmas eve and open our presents on Christmas morning. In the weeks leading up to Christmas I can remember going to bed each night hoping and praying I would wake up the next morning. I had a fear that by some quirk of circumstance, I might die in my sleep (like my grandpa) and not live long enough to unwrap my presents on that glorious morn.
My parents both loved Christmas and their enthusiasm over all the activities and preparations leading up to the big event was contagious. I think they particularly enjoyed the gift giving part and seeing our surprised and delighted faces as we unwrapped our gifts.
My father was an amateur photographer and in addition to documenting everything each Christmas on 8 mm film, he also created a family photo greeting card. Each year he would try to outdo the last with some outlandish idea. He had us hanging as ornaments from a Christmas tree, kneeling in a manger scene, heads poking through large wrapped boxes and sitting on NOEL candle holders, just to mention a few. He converted our bathroom into a dark room and with me helping him dip the prints in the various chemical solutions we would mass produce the cards and send them out to our waiting public.
My mother was the consummate Christmas decorator. Our annual trip to select and cut down our tree was carefully orchestrated by her; as was the trimming of the tree, with the precise placement of the lights, ornaments and tinsel – in that order. It was undoubtedly her German heritage coming through. One of the few times I ever saw my mother cry was the Christmas when our completed, perfectly decorated six foot tree tumbled over. Dad was quick to right it, but there was no joy in Mudville that night.
My most memorable Christmas was probably the “Beldy” year. On Christmas morning my sister and I came running into the living room. Sitting in front of the tree was a horse, my very own rocking horse, with a bow around its neck. My Dad had made it and it was authentic. It even had reins, a mane and a tail. But that wasn’t all. Each present that I opened that morning contained cowboy duds: a hat, a vest, chaps, boots even a bandana. Let me tell you, when I got all duded up, buckled on my Red Ryder six shooters and settled into the saddle on Beldy, I was ready to ride the range and never come back. I even have the family movies to prove it!
Why not take some time this year to share some of your favorite Christmas memories with those you love.
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