A tale of Carson Valley Christmases past
December 11, 2012
Amber, the neighbor’s cow, gave us an early Christmas present this year. On Dec. 3 she dropped the first calf of the season in our backyard, right next to the swing set. Within an hour it was up and having dinner. And so the holiday season begins.
I have a Ghost of Christmas Past story to share. But first I want to point out this year has begun the encroachment of Christmas. Retail rather than family is now a Thanksgiving thing. Because of “Christmas,” Thanksgiving Thursday now starts Merry Christmas with a crush of people stampeding to a low-priced TV, computer game, or Barbie princess. Sad. There is no war on Christmas, Christmas is attacking.
But before Christmas was a shopping holiday, Aunt Angela, who grew up here on the ranch about six decades ago, shared that when she was little no one was allowed to even see the Christmas tree before Christmas. Opa, Angela’s adopted dad after she left Germany in the 1940s, went to the mountains to cut a tree just before Christmas. It was not a family event, more a secret.
The ranch house back then had French doors at the bottom of the stairs that separated the front room from the rest of the house. These doors were shut at Christmas time.
Christmas Eve, when the family was loaded in the car to go to church, Opa would suddenly remember he forgot something in the house and go back inside while the rest of the family waited in the car for a few minutes. This is when Angela suspects Opa put the presents out under the tree.
After the Christmas pageant performed by the Sunday school class, Angela’s family would drive home and her parents would slide open the front-room doors. And there would be the Christmas tree decorated in lights, delicate silver string tinsel, and colorful balls.
Angela remembers her first Christmas in America she got a bike. Her very own bike. She was 8 and too small to reach the seat, but it was hers and she kept it into her adult years.
Her sister, Marlena, remembers the same about the Christmas tree being in the house for just a few days. Marlena also remembers for her eighth-grade graduation, she wanted a saddle of her very own for Christmas. On Christmas Eve, she was told her present was too big to be wrapped and placed under the tree. It was still in the trunk of the car. Was it made of leather she asked her mother, who replied it was trimmed in leather. So she rushed to the car trunk to find a leather trimmed set of luggage. A little disappointing is how the story goes, even if luggage was what every up and coming young lady of the times needed.
Both Marlena and Angela remember stringed Christmas lights on their tree at home. But the Tietje’s Uncle Henry and Aunt Frieda, ranching relatives, about four miles down the road had real candles on their tree. The Tietje’s did not have indoor plumbing, or electricity as Marlena remembers visits. Their house was cold and dark, and Marlena did not like the outhouse. But Christmas dinner was served in the kitchen were it was warm by the wood stove that had cooked the turkey dinner.
After dinner everyone went into the room where the tree was. Adults lit candles about the size of crayons that were already clipped to the tree . Everyone watched the Christmas candles flicker into the night.
Enjoy your gifts this holiday season.
Marie Johnson is a Carson Valley rancher.