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.