Monday, December 17, 2007

Best Christmas Ever

I won't embarrass my sister by revealing what year this picture of us was taken. Let's just call it an obviously pre-digital era. Possibly pre-transistor. I'm pretty sure we at least had steam engines.

The best Christmases ever experienced in the history of humanity happened in this house, my grandparents' log cabin, on the banks of Rapid Creek west of Rapid City, South Dakota. To call it a "log cabin" conjures images of "Little House on the Prairie" privations and is a bit misleading; it was a full-sized home built in the early 1960s with all the modern conveniences, but the walls were in fact made of stacked and interlocked yellow logs. Plus, "log cabin" sounds way cooler.

This house had the biggest stone fireplace in the world, across the room from which stood the biggest, shiniest, tinseliest Christmas tree in the world (as obviously exemplified above). Although my grandparents had neighbors, their home backed up against pristine Forest Service land. The pine trees of the Black Hills stretched into infinity, the creek was laden with 12-inch trout, and a small pond across the highway froze every winter for us to practice our wobbly skating skills.

My sister and I with Mom and my grandparents' nippy little dog Salome on the pond across the highway. (See, we had color film, too!)

This was where the family gathered for my first nine or ten Christmas Eves. I'm pretty sure my grandma was the best cook in the world, though later in life Mom tried to convince me that her mother had actually been terrible in the kitchen. I'm dubious. Anyone who can line a fireplace hearth with pans of unbaked cinnamon rolls rising under moist kitchen towels and fill an entire house with that sweet yeasty scent is a five-star chef in my restaurant guide.

On Christmas Eve, the kids were readied for bed at some unjustly early hour while most of the adults steeled themselves to drive to midnight church services in town. Some years, depending on how that day's contest between snow and plow had fared, the trip was harder than others. I remember my sister and I, shivering under electric blankets turned to 9, trying desperately to keep each other awake while simultaneously pretending to sleep. Tough task. I still have an absolutely clear recollection, as real as the keyboard I'm typing on now, of hearing sleigh bells on the roof one of those nights.

What can be said of the big day itself? Anticipation, greed, the unthinking cruelty of adults marching children through the living room to the kitchen with our eyes closed so we'd eat breakfast before laying eyes on a single gift (as if there's ever been a child born who didn't master the trick of peeking sideways through downcast eyelashes). The triumph of a Lionel HO oval or G.I. Joe. And disappointments as well, such as the year my uncle broke my genuine Batman flying batcopter before I laid hands on it. I never let him live that down.

Although no holiday celebration could possibly rival my old ones, I hope the coming weeks are good for everyone. Just remember: if there are children in your life, you're making lifetime memories for them whether you intend to or not. Might as well make them nice.


Anonymous said...

Have a good Christmas

Lady Luck said...

A lovely heart-warming post!

Although I think there is one mistake!!! Because my grandma (who died age 98 a couple of years ago now) WAS the MOST wonderful cook in the whole universe.

She made all her own bread, biscuits, cakes, pies, pasties etc. They were all delicious too!

OK, maybe they were ALL good cooks in those days - because supermarkets were not around and budgets were important.

Lovely memories though ... feeling wistful ...

Sherwood Harrington said...

Just remember: if there are children in your life, you're making lifetime memories for them whether you intend to or not. Might as well make them nice.

You know what? That even applies to people in your life who are not children. Sometimes with unexpected, and profound impact, and sometimes even upon those whom you may not have even met.

Mom's Cancer is the only example of that I need to cite.

God bless, and happiness enveloping, Brian, is my wish for you and your family.

ronnie said...

But did you ever get an official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time???

I find watching A Christmas Story a wonderful way to relive a lot of those memories of what Christmas was like when you saw it through a child's eyes. After years of urging Husband's parents to watch it, several years ago we actually sat down with them on Christmas Day and watched it together. They had my Mother-in-law at the line about the fact that "Mom hadn't eaten a warm meal in eleven years". It was the Christmas before Dad O died, and watching him laugh at that movie is one of my best memories of him.

Brian Fies said...

Thanks, all. Lady Luck, I'm sure your grandma could cook mine under the table, but you make a good point: skill like that used to be common because it had to be. Sherwood, you're a wise man, and thank you. Ronnie, I did indeed get a BB gun one year, though not a Red Ryder (before my time) and I don't recall a compass in the stock. I also don't recall ever hitting anything.

Xtreme English said...

A lovely post, Brian (Ronniecat sent me the link to this post, so forgive me for not calling you Mr. Fies. You're like part of her blog family.)

What's in a name? My family and I once lived in Bismarck in a fully functional house made of logs. But the person we bought it from bullt it himself the old way, and he called it a log cabin.

Your grandparents lived near Rapid? Cool. As I recall, EVERYONE in the northern plains states when I grew up out there made cinnamon rolls at least once a week. Huge batches of them, too. And we ate them with lots of butter.

Brian Fies said...

Welcome to the family, Ms. English (may I call you Xtreme?). You have my full respect for surviving Bismarck. I'll bet you're right about the ubiquity of cinnamon rolls in the land that made us both the people we are today--primarily, cinnamon roll eaters. Thanks for the nice words, and Merry Christmas.