Christmases Past

Today is my 83rd celebration of the arrival of our savior, Jesus Christ.  I find my mind drifting back to Christmases past.

I don’t remember much about my early Christmases.  One Christmas, Santa brought an electric train for Daddy and me to play with on the floor.  I once received a cowboy costume complete with hat, vest, chaps, boots and a pistol in a holster.

Another time, it seemed that all boys received leather aviator caps with earflaps that snapped under the chin.  Some also included goggles.  Mine did not. This cap really excited me since I had just seen my first airplane and pilot wearing his cap and goggles.  The pilot had landed his bi-plane in a field a couple of blocks from the main street of my hometown at the time, Wynona, Oklahoma.  For a price, he would take people for a ride in the open cockpit.  I joined the crowd to view the activity but I didn’t linger long since oil was seeping through the wrapping of the ham and cheese salad I was carrying home from the grocery store.

By my eighth Christmas, my little sister had arrived and I now shared my parents’ attention and soon after, we moved to Snyder, Oklahoma to live with my mother’s parents.  I think it was the first Christmas season with my grandparents that Grandmother Otwell told me that Uncle Jay would go to the mountains nearby and chop down a cedar tree for their Christmas tree.  Since Uncle Jay no longer lived there, I felt duty bound to go tree shopping.

I took the dull hatchet from the back porch and marched a couple of blocks to the little mountain nearby.  These mountains around Snyder are the Wichitas.  I climbed around for a while but I could not find a suitable tree.  The next place to look was Brushy Mountain, about two miles east of where I was.  It was a much larger mountain and would have more trees.  I followed the highway and across a couple of pastures to Brushy.  I climbed around the granite rocks and soon found the tree I thought to be perfect.  I don’t remember how I chopped it down or how I got it down the mountain but I had succeeded in my venture. My trip home was slowed down by the weight of the tree I was dragging through pastures and on the shoulder of Highway 62.

As you could predict, the limbs on the underside of the tree where it had been dragged were bare.  That side of the tree was placed against the wall in the vestibule where our trees were always placed.  The vestibule was a small room between the entrance and the living room.  Except for the Christmas season, it contained only a telephone and a small chair.  I was allowed to decorate the tree with the traditional red and green roping and ornaments and silver icicles were placed here and there.  I thought it was beautiful.  It was never suggested that I go tree shopping again and I certainly didn’t volunteer.

The only Christmas I ever spent without family was in 1945 when I was in Takarazuka, Japan as part of the occupation forces.  The USO and the Takarazuka Cherry Blossom Opera Company entertained us that season with spectacular performances in the opera company’s opera house.  There were no men in the opera company so the men’s parts were sung by the girls.  The thing I remember most about that Christmas was the haunting popular song I’ll Be Home For Christmas.  

After Jean and I were married, her three boys brought fun and enthusiasm into my Christmases.  They would help me with the decorations and I would help them with their shopping.  The anticipation of Christmas was a delight for all of us.

For several years before my dad died in 1986, Jean and I would pick up Mother and Daddy in Snyder, Oklahoma and we would go to my sister and my brother-in-law’s in Irving, Texas.  We always had great Christmases, but the night before was what we adults looked forward to most.  Jean’s dad and his wife, Peyton would join us.  The kids were sent to bed and our party would begin.

The fun was from the gifts we had collected during the year. The most of the presents were off beat or somewhat off-color.  The laughter at the opening of each gift lasted so long that it could be almost Christmas day when we went to bed.  The most obscene gifts were given to our dads.  They were genuinely embarrassed and blushed but laughed and laughed as we all did.

For many years after our parents were gone, we entertained friends or family members in our home for Christmas.  Now our day is quiet and the large beautifully decorated tree is no longer to be seen.  We still prepare our traditional meal but not in the volumes of the past.  We open our gifts that morning and sometimes there is a surprise gift.  The day is not like those of the bygone years but we enjoy it just the same and the spirit of Christmas surrounds us all day.

 

Jim Pershall

12-25-2009

(Completed 8-30-2010)