When I was about 4 years old and my mother and me had just came back from her working on the Arizona Dude and Cattle Ranch the 76 Ranch 45 miles northwest of Wilcox Arizona, just before Christmas. I was filled with the spirit of the west, since there had been about 16 working cowboys that worked on the big ranch, which was owned at the time by a former Broadway chorus girl who had inherited it from her late husband an old time Arizona rancher and had decided to improve her bottom line by installing a swimming pool, a guest house with about 10 rooms and several adjacent guest houses for show biz dudes to come in taste a little of the Old West..
She hired by mother to be hostess and to oversee the kitchen and meals. My mother and I had traveled by train to Arizona from Oklahoma to live on the ranch. I had many adventures there and was totally filled with the Old West and its legends by the time we returned to Oklahoma in late fall. That’s when my mother decided to make that Christmas an old fashioned western Christmas.
My grandfather had a buggy that he had converted to a sled with runners and we would takes trips around the farm on the sled from time to time even when there was no snow, which was normally the case. My grandfather made a big deal every year out of getting the Christmas tree for the farm. We would all pile into the sled, me my cousin Bill, my grandmother Edith along with my grandfather Harry and sometimes various and sundry cousins and off we would go to find the perfect tree.
We had many choices (all cedar) because just about a half a mile to the west of the farm house one of my grandfathers 80 acres was covered liberally in cedar trees. We would journey out to that part of the farm singing Christmas Carols and drinking my grandmother’s homemade eggnog (no booze in it of course) and enjoying the open air and the scenery.
My grandfather would select a tree and look at my grandmother and she would say “Too scrany Harry, pick another one!” On to the next one. While we kids would hop off the sled and say, “Here’s a good one granny!” No not that one. Finally after about an hour my grandmother would say, “I’m tired let’s get one Harry and take these young’uns back to the house they are wearing me out.” Grandpa would chop it down and we would help him tie it on the back of the sled and off we’d go back home to set it up and decorate it.
That Christmas it didn’t snow but since it was dry and the ground was hard the grandpa drove the sled even on the road and after we decorated the tree and my mother had come home from working in the City Café at Geary and we would all bundle up, climb into the sled and off down the road to several neighbors houses to wish them Merry Christmas and visit awhile. Having sandwiches my grandmother had made and brought enough for all while the neighbors would serve fresh country milk and Christmas Cookies to all. As we left they would present us with a sack of popcorn balls for us to enjoy as we headed home.
On Christmas Eve just about dark my mother disappeared. My grandpa and my cousin Bill told me Santa Claus was on his way and would soon be there with our presents and they pumped me up that this year we would catch the old guy so he could enjoy some of grandma’s eggnog and homemade cookies before we let him go on his way.
They got me to the back door of the kitchen and as we got there we heard jingle bells and an approaching sleigh and some slightly high pitched Ho, Ho, Ho’s! “There he is! Come on Bob let’s get him.” Grandpa threw open the back door, pulled to it and hollered, “Get-em sonny! Hurry before he gets away!” I looked up there was Santa Claus in all his glory, though pretty lean it seemed to me. I got scared and ran back into the house crying. Everyone started laughing.
Suddenly, the door opened and in stepped Santa Claus Ho, Ho, Hoing everyone. I hid behind my grandmother peeking out at Santa. He didn’t look like I expected him to and he sounded a whole lot like my mother to boot. Finally they coaxed me to come to Santa. He reached down and picked me up and said in my mother’s voice Merry Christmas son. I pulled out his beard and there she was my mother. Who had scared the living daylights out of me trying to pretend to be Santa Claus.
Still finding out that Santa Claus wasn’t who I thought it was has never deterred me from believing in him. He is what he is and he has always been a real thing for me. After all it’s the thought that counts and whether you believe in Kris Kringle, Santa Claus or just the idea it’s all about love and caring and sharing and giving.
Christmas isn’t just a remembrance of Christ’s birth, at least not for me. It’s about what Christ stood for and what the season means. If we could just keep the Christmas feeling the year around what a much better place the world would be.
From that long ago day on my grandfather’s farm Christmas as always been about love and remembrance. Santa Claus may not be a real live person, but he lives in our hearts and our minds and he brings hope, love, peace and good will so in that way he is real.
To all of my friends Merry Christmas, with love and hope and caring.