Memories of Christmas Past

Gary O'

I know you guys have 'em

Here's some of mine;

(actually, my first Christmas memory)

Christmas 1954
I knew what was coming….really, for once I knew.
The tree, the lights, the bubbling ones, the tinsel, the snow outside, the oil stove warming everyone (that stood smack dab on the stove), the windows adorned with Christmas icing, and….the presents.
I just took it all in, quietly, unassuming, sizing things up.
(‘Hmm, so this happens, say, every year…huh’)

I never said much for, oh, about twenty some years, and at four didn’t say anything, ever.
I cast a rather small shadow, and more than a few times got left at places.
Not on purpose, but I just wasn’t much of a bother to anyone…to the point of, to some extent, non-existence.
Mom forgot me at the Montgomery Wards store once.
Huge multi-storied store…fascinating.
She eventually came back and got me even though I wasn’t quite done window shopping.
I wonder how far out of the store she got, or did she get halfway home, or even home and realize, sitting the table, that, hey, the tiny person that normally occupies the booster seat is not here.

I really enjoyed the anonymity.
It gave me time to take in all I could, and remain in my own thoughts.
Kids were pretty much trained to be out of sight when folks came over.
Ever once in a while someone would ask,

‘And what’s your name young man?’

‘Dad, it’s me, Gary.’

My sis would take my hand and guide me over to the tree, pointing out each and every glittery thing.
It was a no shit moment, but knew it made her feel good, so let it happen.

The day came.

I should say the day before came, as we traditionally opened gifts on Christmas eve.

Gramma and Grampa came down the hill to participate.
I’d say it was around 6pm, as it was dark out and everybody had already eaten.
My sis played santy, handing gifts to Gramma and Grampa.
I was busy watching while trying to crack the walnuts and Brazil nuts from my stocking.
I couldn’t help but observe the fake happiness and surprise from everyone as they opened their gifts…everyone but Grampa. He was rather gruff, and had a habit of saying exactly what he thought.

‘I already have a tie.’

I loved him.
Didn’t even give much thought to that emotion back then, but now I know I loved him.

It came to be my turn to open my gifts.
Not a big trick, as my stuff was in a large sack.
It was a sack full of toys…, trucks, a harmonica, and some little bags of hard candy.
The thing is, the toys were all kinda beat up, trucks with missing wheels, and everything was a bit scuffed, dented and rusty in places.
It didn’t bother me a whit. I loved it all.
But I remember the look on my Dad’s face as he watched me haul them outta the bag.
He was ashamed.
I felt like saying something comforting…but didn’t.
My feelings of making the situation even harder on him by saying ‘it’s OK’ won out.
Every Christmas after that was huge.

Funny, not haha funny, but oddly strange, my thoughts on his mental processes.
For years I rather pitied him for toiling to get us what he thought was what we wanted.
Him, the bread winner, the toy winner, the house, food and warmth provider.
How he fell head first into the American dream…the freaking nightmare.
But in my early years of fatherhood I came to understand.
He was from an era that dictated those things….’things’.

Christmas 1972
We were a tad impoverished.
Poverty stricken was a status I was striving for.
We managed a few meager toys from the five and dime, and wrapped them in newspaper, placing them under the tree limb from the neighbor’s backyard that had miraculously blown down from one of their giant firs.
We watched the boys unwrap their tinsel strength early China bobbles.
They lasted almost long enough to get ‘em outta the newspaper, disintegrating in their little ink stained hands.
However, as my lady wiped last Wednesday’s headlines from their fingers so they could drink their mug of hot cinnamon tea and suck one their tiny candy canes, I whipped out to the truck to bring in the toy of toys…the one that would give back.

My eldest named the little puppy from the pound, Felix.
Felix the dog…hey, it was original.
Only he was too young to pronounce the name Felix, so it came out ‘juwix’.
The thing is, a few moments after cleaning up the vomit and diarrhea from the truck seat, floorboard and doors, and myself, it dawned on me that Felix may not have been the best of finds.
The next morning my eldest seemed to have lost track of him, so we both went looking.

‘Juwix….Juuuuwix…heeeere Juwix’

I got a kick out of his determination in locating his new little buddy, trudging around the yard, big cheeks housed upon his tiny neck earnestly calling out with his baby Elmer Fudd like voice…‘Juwix….Juuuuwix…heeeere Juwix’.

Unfortunately we found Juwix.
He was under a gap in the wood pile…rather stiff.
So, as my Dad, twenty some years before, I vowed to provide a better Christmas for the years to come.
Not lavish ones, but ones that bore a couple substantial gifts for each of my little beings.

Christmas now?

Keep yer tie money.

Sometime last century
Some time ago, several years now, we were bringing our grand kids to our house for Christmas.
I was in a mood.
This mood was driven by the fact that I wanted Christmas to ourselves, on the coast, hiding, eating decadent things, watching the tides from our bed, hanging the ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door, frolicking, sleeping like overfed dogs.
But, n-o-o-o-o, here we were, hauling these two trunk monkeys to our place.
And only ‘cause their gramma (namaw) didn’t want them to have a miserable Christmas.
Now, now their drunken father could swill beer and drive, and maybe (be still my heart) smack into a telephone pole, killing only hisself.
And their mother (our daughter) could freely run around with her despicable friends to parties, doing mile long lines of coke, and whatever I don’t care to know.

There they were, in the back seat, smacking each other over the head with The Pokey Little Puppy and Tootles.

We passed an entertainment park.


‘We had the best time there!’

‘Good rememories.’

A rush of memories came to me too.
The Alice in wonderland path.
Keeping up with them.

They did enjoy themselves though.
Getting lost in the funhouse.
Screaming hysterically midway in the rabbit hole.
Getting cotton candy everywhere.
Buuuut once their namaw calmed me down and cleaned me up, I was good to go.

We were almost home.
The little one, we call him ‘Mayo’, still had a smile on his face as his older brother patted him on his head, wiping his sneeze goo filled hand in his brother’s hair.

As we pulled into the drive, the monkeys, dead asleep, slumped over in their seatbelts like they’d been shot, stirred, jumped up and fought each other to be first in the house, first at the tree, first into the stockings hanging by the tree, giving me a rush of 'rememories' too.

We played table games as namaw cooked, wrestled in the living room until we knocked off some yuletide dainties, and shot pellet guns in the back yard.

Little did I know that that Christmas was gonna be one of the best times ever for them…….and for this old humbug too.

Written Early Century

'tis the season

Heh heh.

I haven’t bought a single gift this year.
I may escape it altogether.
Maybe once one gets a certain age, they are excluded from the high expectations dept. (it’s a hope)

My lady and I did shop.
I just don’t know what’s ‘in’ in the clothing dept.
There’s $150 jeans that are worn out and seems like intentionally cut.
There’s faded ones, ones like the iron was left on ‘em when the phone rang.
There’s skinny ones, slim ones, low cut ones, studded ones, ones with odd belts and some sorta strings and hangy things…….
My mind exploded when my lady showed me the ones on sale that our 14 yr old grand might accept…..
‘Might accept?!!’
If I’m layin’ down $120 for the slim/torn ones, I better see the little turkey proudly wearin’ ‘em while he’s on the corner with his ‘will work for Pringles’ sign.

So, now, now I’m resolved that we are in the stocking stuffer only era, where grand folks should be.

Little bastards better like their harmonicas.

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One Christmas that really sticks out was my first married Christmas, being celebrated in a secular Moslem country. We had our little two-foot "Serviceman's Tree" (that's what it said on the box) with its 12 tiny ornaments and its tiny star, that took about 2 minutes to decorate. There were a few decorations here and there, but I was feeling a bit low and missing my family, especially during the holidays.

Hark! What's that? Children singing Christmas songs? Here? Yep, it was a group of children walking down the street singing Christmas songs in front of apartment buildings on the street referred to as "Little America" because a lot of Americans lived there. A local school teacher who had lived in the U.S. for a few years had taught his students three secular holiday songs; if I remember correctly they were Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. He thought that the kids would have fun (they did) and that the Americans might like to be entertained on our big holiday. I really appreciated it.

Gary, I wish you'd write a book....several books, even...I'd definitely buy them.
@Gary O' has, but I guess its been a while since he mentioned them. Maybe he will again.
Thanks, guys

I do have a couple manuscripts
I call 'em 'the stacks'
Been awhile since I considered doing anything with 'em

Up until this year I've been rather busy

Maybe I'll look for a publisher....

Heh, writing is the easy part
@Gary O' has, but I guess its been a while since he mentioned them. Maybe he will again.
Ever so often, I'll dust off that pile of fractured prose
Settle in and read 'em
It's somewhat like discovering the dead sea scrolls (not really)

My critique is, if I enjoy it, maybe others will
Sometimes it takes up an evening
I make a huge mistake

I begin editing.....

Yeah, I need to tap the market with a few stories
Gary, I wish you'd write a book....several books, even...I'd definitely buy them.
@Gary O' has, but I guess its been a while since he mentioned them. Maybe he will again.
Wait a minute
I misread that

Yes, yes I did write a couple books

One did OK
It's rather skinny
And outa print now
I have one of the remaining copies
It's on my roll top
Nestled between two also rans


The other, voluminous tome, should be burned
My father always struggled with what to get my mother for Xmas. She would apparently often say, “Don’t get me anything!” One year, my father did exactly that, and my mother went on a long walk Xmas day by herself. Father had blown the test, you see…

He learned from the experience, however, and in subsequent years would always buy her something. Mother would invariably take the often-thoughtful gifts back to the store after Xmas, however, and exchange them for something that she wanted, or thought that she did.

My parents had a strange and dysfunctional relationship, fraught with miscommunications… 🎄
It was the week before Christmas in 1950. The Company had shut down operations because of weather and there were only a few employees remaining in the upper camp. Most of these were bachelor loggers with no other place to go for Christmas who had volunteered for the job of maintaining the buildings and equipment.

Since school started, Mom and I had been down at the main camp and had planned to remain there through the holidays. However, the Supt had offered her additional pay if she would take on the job of cooking for the high camp maintenance crew through the holiday weekend. Money was always tight for us and especially that year so the extra income was welcome.

It was an icy Thursday morning that found the two of us huddled around the heater on the railroad speeder that carried us up to the high camp. When we arrived, we moved directly into the cookhouse living facilities waiting for us. The men carried in all the provisions the Company had sent up on the speeder. Previously the crew had hauled in enough firewood to keep the stoves going until the fourth of July, the lamp chimneys were freshly cleaned and there was plenty of lamp oil. The snow around the camp was over four feet deep in drifts, however, work had been ongoing to keep too much snow from accumulating on the buildings.

After we settled in, we stoked the cook stove and the heater and soon the cookhouse was toasty. The crew had made their own breakfast that morning but lunch was rapidly approaching so Mom went right to work. Mom’s meals were a big success with the crew and, as everyone knows, well fed loggers are happy loggers.

The men slept in a bunkhouse but that night after dinner, everyone gathered in the cook house for talk and a few card games. While we were sitting there, one of the men suggested that the place needed a Christmas tree "for the boy” (which was me). In no time at all, several men were out in the clearing around the camp, cutting down a small Douglas Fir and placing it in a rock filled bucket in a corner of the room.

For the next few nights working on the Christmas tree became the main activity. Using tin from cans, cigarette package foil, and other items found around the camp, tree ornaments in various guises appeared on the tree. There was a competition between the popcorn stringers and paper chain makers to see who could make the longest strand. Soon the little tree began to disappear under all the creativity.

By Saturday night, all the loggers agreed the they had “got a good do” on the tree and started adding more festive decorations to the Cookhouse to get it ready for Sunday's Christmas Eve activities. Fir and cedar boughs added cheerfulness and fragrance to the room

Sunday Morning found us receiving fresh snow and as the men went about their work, they found excuses to visit the cookhouse where Mom made sure there were plenty of cookies and hot coffee available.

The Company had also provided a big battery radio and lots of batteries and even though we were way up in the Cascades, the radio was powerful enough to pull in several lowland stations which were playing the programs of the day including lots of holiday music.

It got dark early in the mountains during late December so the men quit work around two in the afternoon. Turkey was on the menu for Christmas day but Mom had ham and fried chicken with all the side dishes ready for the men to enjoy on Christmas Eve. There were pies and cakes, nuts and hard ribbon candy for them as well. The men enjoyed their meal and then relaxed by smoking and trading stories with one another.

The men had whiskey and other alcoholic drinks but nobody got excessively drunk or otherwise broke the feeling of peace that filled the old cookhouse. No one was in a hurry to go to bed so we all sat up until late. The radio played softly and at midnight bells from a far away Church were broadcast to our mountain enclave signaling that “now it was Christmas”.
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A more recent memory;

Seems after Halloween the Christmas stuff goes up around our town

Not sure what happened to Thanksgiving....


Tis the season

I have a habit of observing
jotting down the events as recalled

Went to town

Stopped at McDonalds

Walked in (drive thru was jammed)
Ordered a McCoffee
Stood back in order purgatory away from the ever growing line of pseudo-beefcravers

Frantic place

Pre diabetic saccharinated preschoolers zipping from the play room to the McToilet and back.
Young McMuthers, with old eyes, trying to keep track, chasing with sanitized wipes.

The McManager is a tad over the top.
Too happy
Worn out smile
No longer actually sees individuals, just the herd.
He’ll prolly go home a couple hours after his shift, trudge up the stairs to his apartment, throw his bills on the kitchen table, sit, open his McBrick burger with stale fries, and his gun.

The trainee is doing her best to remain in the flow, the running of the McBulls.

The old hand, been there forever (two months), instinctively stabs at a handful of tiny Heinz ketchup packets for the lacking customer in the emergency queue.

An old man, squinting at the menu board, trying to decide on which delicacy would be optimal in regard to his budget and digestive tract while the assistant manager idles in high gear, eyes darting.

Good coffee

No need for a refill

Made my way to the Ronald McDonald house of poop.
Left a rather significant obstacle in McStall number 2....fitting.
Noticed the auto flush was still struggling with it as I administered a papal blessing to the McAuto faucet.

My work is done here.

Outside, three McTrainees are by the dumpster, huffing down cigarettes, texting, eyeballing the time.

I am happy

For McRetirement
With the exception of my Mother and me, the whole camp slept in on Christmas morning. I helped get the stoves loaded with firewood and was given the task of firing up the big wood burning boiler outside the shower shack so the men could sleep in and still have hot showers when they got up. The cook house and shower shack had running water supplied by a creek which ran nearby and this boiler could efficiently provide all the hot water needed for cooking and showers.

One by one, crew members showed up in the cook house with greetings of "Merry Christmas" as they helped themselves to coffee. Mom began putting bacon on the flattop grill and I began putting bread slices into the oven to toast. In short order she was rapidly cracking eggs and asking how the men how they wanted them. I don't know how she did it, but while the eggs cooked she also put pancakes on the grill and somehow had the whole meal ready at the same time. The cookhouse smelled wonderful and the men quickly fell to enjoying their breakfasts.

There was to be no work that day so after breakfast everyone sat down to drink more coffee and enjoy the day. Unknown to anyone but my Mother, the supplies sent up by the company on the speeder with us included presents for all the people in the Camp including Mom and me. I got a model logging truck with the company logo on the doors ( I still have that truck) and a pair of new leather boots. The men received practical things such as boxes of new work gloves, wool socks, cartons of cigarettes, cigars and such. Mom got a wool coat and a generous amount of cash. The men surprised me with pocket knives (I got three), hand made willow whistles, and whatever else they could come up with for a young boy on such short notice.

To our surprise The company ran another speeder up to the camp that morning and along with the Company Superintendent it carried early edition copies of the newspapers from Portland, OR and Seattle, WA. There were also unexpected Christmas bonus checks which the Supt. personally handed to each man on the crew. When that speeder left to return to the main camp, it left a contented group at the high camp.

The day was relaxed for everyone and most decided just to hang out in the cook house. I have no idea how many dozen cookies were eaten (chocolate chip were the favorite as I recall) or just how many gallons of coffee were drunk but thanks to Mom we never ran out. In the afternoon, several of the men felt the need for exercise so they went out to walk along the tracks. I went with them because I was itching to try out my new boots. Dinner was ready before darkness fell and everyone enjoyed their Christmas turkey dinner.

Even though nobody had worked that day after the meal most everyone felt sleepy so the men started drifting off to their bunks and soon all of us were asleep. The next morning, Mom once again provided a satisfying breakfast and then she and I began to get ready for our return to our house at the main camp. There were still enough cakes, pies and cookies on hand to last the men until New Years weekend so Mom left them carefully covered on the prep table.

Before noon, the speeder showed up and we climbed aboard. Sitting on my bench on the speeder I watched until the buildings went out of sight. I felt sad, feeling that as long as I lived there would never be another Christmas like the one just past. And as it turned out, I was absolutely right in that feeling.
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I remember my first Christmas without my parents. My grandparents did about everything they could to make it a happy day and I did what I could to at least seem grateful for them trying to make it a good day. It was very hard and I remember going to my room just after opening presents crying and asking God why he took my mom and dad from me.

After being in my room for maybe a half hour, Grandma came in and sat on the bed with me and tried to comfort me and told me how much she missed them too. Together, we cried and how it happened I don’t know, but a peace came over me. I think when Grandma told me that my parents were happy being in Heaven and they wanted me to be happy, just hearing that gave me some peace. I knew my mom and dad wanted me to be happy, especially on that special day. Grandma was right.
I remember exactly what it was like to take my So to see Santa when he was only 4yrs old. After waiting in line for almost an hour when it was his turn he got scared and wouldn't go up to Santa. The following year I was hoping he would tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas. My Uncle Sal happened to be there and saw us waiting in line. He came over to us and said Santa was a friend of his. He took my son's hand and walked him right up to Santa. Sat my son on Santa's lap and my son wasn't afraid of Santa anymore and told Santa everything he wanted for Christmas.