Tales of fam­ily Christ­mases from the past

Antelope Valley Press (Sunday) - - News -

Christmas is a time for mem­o­ries. Ev­ery fam­ily has sto­ries about Thanks­giv­ing and Christmas, and ours are no dif­fer­ent.

The first Christmas I re­ally remember was the one where I was given my first toy train, a Marx “tin­plate” pas­sen­ger train which my Dad seemed to en­joy more than I did.

But it grew into a hobby (ob­ses­sion?) that has pro­vided me with thousands of hours of en­joy­ment, in­tel­lec­tual stim­u­la­tion, and my first job in our na­tion’s capi­tol as a spe­cial as­sis­tant to the fed­eral rail­road ad­min­is­tra­tor in the Rea­gan administra­tion.

The year I got the train was 1941, and for the next five years the world was at war, which had a big ef­fect on the hol­i­day and the gifts my brother Mike and I re­ceived.

(We learned later that one of the adults’ in­side jokes was that folks who didn’t have kids liked to give toys that make noise — like drums and horns — to those who did.)

We moved to Madera from Bak­ers­field in 1940, which meant that each Christmas in­volved a long, foggy trip to Bak­ers­field, usu­ally in my folks’ 1935 Ford sedan. Th­ese were the years when win­ter au­to­mo­bile trips in­volved bundling up in heavy clothes and, in the back seat, snug­gling un­der a “car robe,” a heavy blan­ket that hung from a sort of rope that hung across the back of the front seat. (To­day’s cars fea­ture video screens and ther­mo­stat-con­trolled air con­di­tion­ing. The one thing that hasn’t changed are the plain­tive pleas of “Are we there yet?”)

Some­times we rode the trains, which were warm, much more com­fort­able, and served hot food on tables with white linen.

White Christ­mases

Mo­jave brought us our first white Christmas, and my mother like to make snow­men out of tum­ble­weeds and dec­o­rate the house with desert holly, a sort of minia­ture ver­sion of green holly with waxen leaves and small red berries that grew in cer­tain places in the lo­cal hills. A pro­tected species, its Latin name is Atriplex Hymene­ly­tra and it’s a salt­bush un­re­lated to the green stuff — the grey color comes from salt on its leaves. I haven’t seen any for years but it is sup­posed to be found in Death Val­ley.

Mom was a cor­re­spon­dent for the Bak­ers­field Cal­i­for­nian for many years and de­lighted in send­ing them pho­tos of desert pucker­brush and Joshua trees cov­ered with snow.

Fam­ily se­crets re­vealed

Among our mem­o­rable Christmas sto­ries are ones like the first year my wife Bil­lye and I pub­lished the first Christmas is­sue af­ter buy­ing the Mo­jave Desert News.

For weekly news­pa­pers, the Christmas is­sue can be a gold mine. Busi­nesses that wouldn’t think of buy­ing an ad the rest of the year would pop for one wish­ing every­one a Merry Christmas.

Hav­ing all those ads gen­er­ated a lot of room for news, which we had to cre­ate.

We had a young high school stu­dent work­ing part-time that first year, and he wrote an hi­lar­i­ous true story about a fa­vorite un­cle who liked to cel­e­brate the Hol­i­days with adult bev­er­ages, which led to some mem­o­rable events, re­counted in amus­ing de­tail by our young helper.

Every­one who read his tale loved it —ex­cept for his mother, who couldn’t de­cide who to kill first — him for writ­ing it or me for pub­lish­ing the piece.

By the way, that young man has gone on to be quite suc­cess­ful.

Christmas base­ball

Sev­eral Christ­mases that oc­curred on those nice De­cem­ber days we of­ten en­joy in High Desert win­ters would see our fam­ily troop across the street fol­low­ing din­ner for an im­promptu base­ball game on the Mo­jave High School lawn.

Mom loved th­ese games, and when she came up to bat would as­sume one of the more bizarre bat­ting stances ever seen.

The men in the fam­ily would al­ways pull in close think­ing she couldn’t hit it very far but, to her de­light, would be sur­prised at watch­ing them chase the ball. (She could also beat any­one at black­jack, prob­a­bly from count­ing cards, some­thing she may have learned at Stan­ford).

Christmas in D.C.

When we lived in our na­tion’s capi­tol fam­ily din­ners were al­ways held at my brother Mike’s home in North­west D.C.

Mike not only car­ried on the fam­ily tra­di­tion of be­ing a great cook, but he and wife Carolyn em­ployed a won­der­ful woman named Fay, a for­mer Scrab­ble cham­pion of her na­tive Ja­maica, and one of the world’s truly great culi­nary artists.

I never hes­i­tated to help Mike with DIY projects around his house be­cause of the de­li­cious lunches Fay pre­pared.

One mem­o­rable Christmas af­ter U.S. troops in­vaded Kuwait, Mike’s daugh­ter com­plained at din­ner that sev­eral of her friends who joined the mil­i­tary to get free col­lege had been called-up to serve.

Her friends didn’t think that was fair.

My usu­ally quiet bride Bil­lye, who grew-up as the youngest of five chil­dren in Dust Bowl Ok­la­homa, qui­etely and firmly launched into a short les­son on re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Our nephew, who was younger than his sis­ter, had just swal­lowed a fork full of food, and al­most choked to death laugh­ing.

That Christmas has be­come a leg­end in our fam­ily.

The real Santa

While get­ting checked­out at the Mo­jave Stater Bros. right be­fore Christmas one year, I told the checker, an old friend, how we had shopped at a su­per­mar­ket in Te­hachapi a few days be­fore, and that the store had a Santa and Mrs. Santa wan­der­ing around the store fright­en­ing the kids.

The young lady bag­ging gro­ceries ea­gerly told us that she had been in a de­part­ment store in Bak­ers­field a few days be­fore, “And their Santa looked just like the real Santa.”

The checker and I looked at each other and smiled.

Air­borne Santa

Back when the Marines were in Mo­jave dur­ing the Korean War, Santa of­ten ar­rived in a big, dark blue Marine Corps Siko­rsky HRS he­li­copter. Santa, a lo­cal man named Stan Richard­son who was not much of a flyer, usu­ally stepped care­fully out of the helo (known as the H-19 to the Air Force) look­ing a little green around the gills.

My wife and I hope all of you have a great Christmas and that every­one will have a rea­son­ably pros­per­ous New Year.

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