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James R. Stout

Christmas Memories - Part 1

            The 12 days of Christmas start today. Time just keeps going faster and faster. When I was young it seemed like it was forever for Christmas to come. I’m at a point now where I feel like last Christmas was just a couple of weeks ago. Well, since this is the first day of Christmas 2019, I wanted to share a few random Christmas memories with you. I’m pretty sure that some of you will have similar memories depending on your age. One thing about me that seems to irritate some people while amazing others, is the way I organize things in my mind. It’s just the way that I am. That said, I will be relating these memories in a chronological order and in three parts. I hope you don’t mind too much.

            1960 – My parents sang in the choir at our church. Every year the choir would have a get together at the church about a week before Christmas. After sharing hot coffee, wassail (no cider though because we were Baptist!), hot chocolate, and some snack cakes, the choir would go into the neighborhood caroling. I was too young to go at 5-years-old, so along with the other children too young to go caroling we stayed at the church and played. That particular year my mother told me that if I was good while they were gone, then she would give me a special treat when we got home. That was perhaps the longest hour or so of my young life up until then. The choir finished caroling and we all loaded into our 1956 Ford Station Wagon. I probably asked my mother 50 times when I would get the special treat. We got home and made our way into the house. Mom took off her coat, hat, and gloves (women dressed up back in those days) and went into the kitchen. She came back with a magic box. I’d never seen one before, but it sure did look interesting. Over the next 50 years or so I would see variations of that box. But for that night it was the first one of its kind that I had ever seen. Mom opened the box and several identical magical and most wonderful things sat there. She took out one for each of us and told us to enjoy. That was my very first chocolate covered cherry. It was love at first bite! The next Christmas a tradition began. We all knew that one of the wrapped presents under the tree was a box of chocolate covered cherries. Yum!

            1962 – Skateboards were all the craze. A variation of the skateboard was a scooter or as some people called them, “Push-Scooter”. It was longer and a bit wider than the skateboards of that era and it included a steering handle about waist high. I sure wanted one of those scooters. But they cost about $15 and we just didn’t have that kind of extra money. However, my father was very good at building things. He built me a scooter out of spare wood that he had and attached a set of metal wheels to it that he bought at Western Auto. Well, it worked OK, but it was far slower than the store-bought scooters with larger rubber wheels and lighter aluminum bodies. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the fact that Dad took the time to make me that wooden scooter, but it just wasn’t able to keep up with the other kids on their scooters. We used to write Santa Claus a letter every year and give him our wish list. I was no fool. I knew it was going to be read by Mom and Dad and that depending on how much money they had to spend that year some of those items would find their way under the Christmas tree. Christmas morning came and I was dancing like a barefoot man on a hot sidewalk. My sisters and I made our way into the living room and sitting there beside the tree was a bright red store-bought scooter. The dog gone thing even had a hand brake on it! It was the most amazing thing in the world is what it was.

            1965 – We were going to have Christmas at my grandparent’s farm that year. Mom had not been able to get everything wrapped yet, so we were banished to the back of the house while Dad loaded the luggage and the Christmas presents into the trunk of our car. The journey to the farm began like as usual. We sang some songs together, played the “Alphabet Game” with billboards, and Mom read us a story or two. We weren’t far from the farm when it happened. A loud pop and then a thump-thump-thump as the now rear flat tire slapped the road. This is where things got kind of interesting. All of the luggage and all of those unwrapped presents were on top of the spare tire and wheel. My sisters and I were told to walk down the road in front of the car about 100 yards and to NOT look back. Goodness gracious that was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. It was like there was a magnet in my head and I fought the urge to turn around with all my might. Dad had to transfer the presents into the back seat of the car while he changed the tire. After changing the tire, he then had to transfer everything back into the trunk. I can only imagine his frustration. Meanwhile, Mom worried about the cost of a new tire. Mom’s do that sort of thing. To this day, my sister Debbie and I talk about that flat tire. She’s the only one left that I can reminisce with over such memories now.

            1969 – I think we were driving my mother and my aunt crazy. We were “warting” them to death! Christmas was still 5 days away and me and my cousins were out of school already. My older sisters were not a problem. In fact, Barbara was not there that Christmas as she was on a special trip from college. My sister Debbie was a senior in high school and, given she was a goody-two-shoes anyway, she wasn’t a problem. My younger cousin Diana was only 7-years-old and she was too young to ship off to some place or other. My father and my Uncle Victor loved to fish. They were seriously addicted to fishing. I never quite understood the fishing thing. It was boring. That said, it was decided that my Dad, Uncle Victor, me, and my cousins David and Phil would all go up to Lake Somerville for some fishing and camping. As I recall, I was torn between wanting to hang out with my cousins and NOT wanting to camp and fish. However, the decision wasn’t up to me. It was “decided” that we men would be going and that was that. Apparently, none of the adults involved in this decision watched the weather reports. When we left for the lake it was a nice and balmy 70 degrees. Short sleeve weather. All the grown men of today would be wearing baggy shorts. Dad wore khakis and Victor wore one of those new-fangled one-piece coveralls. It wouldn’t be long before Dad wore those things and you were likely to see him wearing one for the next decade. We got to the lake and set-up the big tent. It was a huge thing. It even had two rooms. It took all hands-on deck to get that thing set-up. After the tent was set-up my Dad and Uncle Victor launched Victor’s bass boat and headed out to catch what fish that they could. We were near one of the marinas and my cousins and I went to check it out. They had worms. All kinds of worms. They had minnows. Right about then I was wishing for a TV that was airing reruns of “Gilligan’s Island” and their Minnow. No luck. You could pay a couple of dollars and catch fish from inside the marina. They had these big tanks with fish in them. I’m surprised they weren’t in barrels and we didn’t use a .22 rifle. You know? Like shooting fish in a barrel? Then the blue-northern came through. The temperature dropped down into the 20’s in about an hour. My Dad and Uncle just about turned blue getting back from the other side of the lake. The tent did NOT come with central heat. In fact, it didn’t have heat of any kind. If we had started a fire to get warm outside, then we would have frozen before the fire got going well. The hardiest of us all was my cousin Phil. Hey, the guy lives in Alaska now so I guess it was just meant to be. Phil still made his way down to the lake and fished. I don’t recall him catching anything, but he loved every minute of it. David and I stayed in the tent out of the cold wind, wrapped in blankets, and played cards on the folding cots we had. After a day and a half of turning blue, my Dad and uncle decided we might as well go back home. We nearly froze taking down the tent and loading everything in the truck. That’s when I noticed something. My cousin David had developed the reddest nose that I had ever seen. Me being me I started singing “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” and pointing at David. This was not exactly the brightest thing I ever did. David was two years older than me and a high-school football player. He had a set of weights in his room and so far as I was concerned, he was like Bruce Willis in “Unbreakable”. David lifted me up off the ground and said to my face, “What was that?” I begged his pardon and I believe it was only by the grace of Uncle Victor that I didn’t get broken like “Glass”. In the end though, we had fun and I was very happy to get back home. Mom and Aunt Velma, not so much.

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