Mountain Times Holiday Memories
You won't find memories in wrapping paper, but newspaper's a
different story. For this holiday season, your Mountain Times staff would like to share some
thoughts and memories of Christmas past, moments we've found special, amusing and even strange, but
in that warm Christmasy sort of way. Here's wishing happy holidays to you and yours.
Melanie Marshall: The Year of the Hammers
The Christmas I turned 12 left a permanent mark on the Davis family residence.
My father, Jim Davis, had been very ill and spent 8 months in the hospital, but was released just in time to be home for the holidays. He came home still restricted to a hospital bed, which we set up in the living room.
We were all so excited and went crazy with the decorations. There has never been a more festive Christmas. At the time, our house had a partition separating the rear entry from the rest of the living room. We had set up the Christmas tree in that entryway.
As my sister Diana, then 16, and I sat with dad one afternoon, while our mother, Pam Davis, was at work, we started discussing the fact that dad couldn't see the tree. We saw only one solution - the wall had to come down.
So, two hours later, my mom returned from work to find Diana and me with hammers, safety goggles and a mess of wood splinters all over the living room. Unfortunately, we didn't go about this project very judiciously. We just started hitting the wall with sledgehammers.
Rather than yell at us for having just knocked out a wall, mom listened to our explanation and picked up a hammer to help. The day ended with all of us covered in pieces of wood and laughing.
I only wish my oldest sister, Melissa Gee, could have been there for this one. She had just started college.
Frank Ruggiero: The Calendar
The personalized calendar is a novel idea. As much as one might enjoy a 16-month Star Trek calendar, complete with green girl pin-up, the never tiresome "Far Side" desk calendar, or the strange but uplifting "Nuns Having Fun," it's always better to catch people off guard. Surprise is the true gift of the magi, and 12 months of the unexpected is the gift that keeps on giving.
When a relative sent my family a personalized calendar filled with posed photos of his children, my sister, Jen, and I were taken aback. We both like months, just not consistently similar photos of the same children year-round. In fact, I'd rather keep children out of my calendar experience altogether. Something about it strikes me as creepy, like some Village of the Damned photo album. And, according to print shop sources, personalized children calendars are some of the most frequently ordered.
So, a couple Christmases ago, Jen and I decided to embrace the personalized calendar concept and present one to our parents. Our seemingly contradictory intent was to make the calendar fun by making it boring, featuring photos of the two of us and my niece, Melissa, performing mundane chores and holiday activities. For example, one shot showed Melissa cleaning a toilet, another saw Jen washing her face, and another had me changing a light bulb. A group photo showed us huddled around a table, smiles glued to our faces, while playing Monopoly - a picture Milton Bradley could claim as its own.
Come Christmastime, we grinned as our folks unwrapped the calendar. They loved it, even saying it was one of the most personal, and fun, Christmas gifts they'd ever received.
Sandy Shook: An Especially White Christmas
It's been a few years since the High Country has enjoyed a really white Christmas.
With our mountain weather, Christmas days can be cool with tons or sunshine, or overcast and dreary with rain. And who knows what this year will bring; we may still have some "leftover" holiday snow from this past weekend's winter blast, or even a new coating of the white stuff.
I have a Christmas past tale that takes place more than 15 years ago, and it's a true story.
My niece, Spirit, was living with me in the old family homeplace at the time, having moved up to the mountains from southern Florida to work and return to her roots. She grew up here as a child, but moved with her mom and dad to Florida when she was just 8 years old. So, now that she was back she found the winter to be too cold for her liking, since she had been well-acclimated to the 70s and 80s that Florida enjoyed around December - the type of weather where she wore shorts and flip-flops.
But back to my story. It was Christmas Eve and we were spending a quiet evening at home. The weather was dreary, but there was no white Christmas in the forecast.
However, when that Christmas morn arrived, we both awoke to a white landscape around our home. It was beautiful, with several inches of the white stuff on the ground.
The sky cleared that day, so she and I both decided to venture out. We planned to make the rounds at relatives' homes. But as we drove off our mountain, we realized that there wasn't any snow elsewhere. From our car traveling up to the main road, we looked back at our house and saw that all around it there was snow, but nowhere else.
We were totally amazed.
It told Spirit it was a special gift from her late grandmother. She wanted her favorite granddaughter to have a white Christmas.
Matthew Ellise: The Yuletide Bookshelf
Magic seems to exist in the evening that Santa drives his sleigh to every home around the globe, except for the ones who have been naughty. Seeing Rudolph's red nose on the way home from Grandma and Grandpa's house was a regular event.
Having a little brother jumping in his seat like a water drop in the frying pan was regular, too. Sometimes my brother and I were awake when Santa arrived, and we heard his sleigh bells and loud thumping footsteps on the roof. Nothing could wipe the ear-to-ear grins off our faces.
If you have ever believed in the magic of Christmas, then perhaps you will enjoy this memory.
When I was just a sapling, I joined my family for the holiday and was astounded to see in the corner by the Christmas tree a present for me that was three times my height. Immediately, I knew that the package in the corner, which was the largest of them all, must be a rocket ship. I waited patiently throughout the evening for my time to open the gift my grandparents had given me. When it finally arrived, everyone was silent as I rushed to the corner and ripped at the box sides. A bookshelf stood before me, and with that my hopes were crushed. I could not help wailing, and it took some time to get me back together. But now every Christmas I am reminded with some fun that the present in the corner for me is, without a doubt, another bookshelf.
Jason Reagan: Lightsabers, Charlie Brown and Carbon-Freezing
Like most of my childhood memories, my Christmas ones tend to be fragmented and play across a variety of themes. So, here's my shotgun list:
? Playing with wrapping-paper "swords" (you know, the cardboard tubing left over after the paper is gone): Of course, in my generation, we used them as lightsabers. Many an imaginary stormtrooper faced the wrath of the brown energy beam until the cardboard unwound.
? The year of the Charlie Brown tree: One year - call it the late 70s - my father decided to do something very practical and green before being green even entered the vernacular. He found a fir sapling, dug it out and placed it - roots and all - in the family living room as that year's tree.
The problem? It was rather vertically challenged. Being an average middle-class spoiled kid, I, upon seeing, began to cry and said something like, "I don't WANT a Charlie Brown tree!" Despite my lack of goodness for goodness sake, I recall we got a racetrack that year, which led me to begin to question the Santa-morality theory. Also, that tree now towers over my parent's front yard. Score one for Green Pappy.
?Top present? Probably the Rebel Snow Speeder from the then-freshly released Lucas opus The Empire Strikes Back (although my Micronauts space set comes in close second place - does anyone remember Micronauts?).
That year, I also received several Star Wars action figures, including the coveted Boba Fett (to this day, I'm surprised I didn't name my first child Boba Reagan). Later, I actually wrapped my Han Solo figure in wet toilet paper and placed him the family freezer as a valiant attempt to recreate the "carbon freeze" scene in Empire. My mother found poor Han about four years later - the gift that kept on giving and just in time for the release of Return of the Jedi.
Rob Moore: A Star in Iraq
It was five years ago when the 1450th Transportation Company from North Carolina was stationed in Kuwait serving the greater Iraqi region and Kuwait.
We were soldiers - National Guard members - providing transportation support for various U.S. military units based in Iraq. We hauled everything, from basic food supplies to equipment, such as bulldozers, lighting systems and Humvees.
It was Christmas Eve/Day and I, along with 20 soldiers/drivers and trucks, were out in a convoy traveling between the northern part of Iraq and base camp in Kuwait. We were coming back "dead-head," or empty, after dropping off supplies.
Prior to going on the convoy, however, my mother had sent me a Christmas star to put on a Christmas tree we had back at base in our tent. The tree, by the way, had been sent to us from the N.C. Christmas Tree Association, right here in the High Country. I pulled the star off the tree back at camp and carried it with me on the convoy that Christmas Eve. Also, my assistant driver in my truck, Specialist James McNeil, also brought a smaller plastic Christmas tree along for the ride. The tree was about 6 inches tall and lighted up.
The cool part of the story is how we put the star up. Before we headed out on Christmas Eve, we were attempting to put the gold star on as a truck hood ornament, and because it was on a spring, it kept bouncing, posing a problem as to how to keep it on the hood. As we were trying to tie it down, two Pakistanis and an Indian driver - also in our convoy - came over to help.
Together, we finally got the star mounted on the truck, and then the Pakistanis and Indian driver brought James and I some chai tea, and the four us celebrated Christmas in front of our Christmas star. I felt I was celebrating Christmas in the best way I knew how where I was, and we were happy. It was great to celebrate with members of another culture who had the same beliefs in Christmas as we did.
Steve Behr: Let the Games Begin
It's not so easy for me to get all gushy about Christmas. Usually, I'm scheduling my days around Christmas basketball tournaments. The last six years, I've been unable to get a jump on anything Christmassy (is that a real word?) until the last moment because Appalachian State's football team has had three Walter Payton Award candidates and has played in three other national championship games.
Because that means I've been in Chattanooga, Tenn. late in December from 2004-09, it means a minimum of leaving around Dec. 20 and being back around Dec. 27 for prep basketball - if the weather holds - if I want to be with family around Christmas.
And we've seen just what a big snowstorm can do to travel plans. Most of my childhood Christmases, all in Colorado, were of the average type. We had a tree, a modest smattering of presents (no pink bunny outfits from Auntie Whomever) and the occasional impact gift that is similar to the Red Ryder BB gun. Dinner was usually ham with spuds and the occasional veggie with me sitting at the kid's table until I was 44-years old.
The best gift I ever got was a "Talking Football" game that had a record describing the action according to plays one coach could call. They could be influenced by plays on the back of the record the defensive coach could call.
Nowadays, I've been more of an orphan at Christmas. People graciously (and thankfully) open their homes to me, which I really, really appreciate. Flying home can really be a hassle for me, especially since airplanes don't really accommodate big targets like myself. And, as I found out going to Montana recently, flying has become extremely expensive.
A raise, losing 100 pounds, a 6-5 season by ASU's football team and cancellation of all prep events from Dec. 15 until Jan. 6 would make Christmas travel much easier for me.
But that's not realistic, since there's no way I'm ever gonna lose 100 pounds. And it's one day, sometimes two with Christmas Eve. There's not much time to celebrate. Somewhere in the High Country, a basketball game is about to begin.
Mark Mitchell: The Vernon Clan
Yes, my last name is Mitchell, but when it comes to Christmas, I am also a Vernon. You see, my grandparents were Vernons, the family business in Winston-Salem is Vernons, and when my family comes together for a Christmas Eve extravaganza, the Vernons outnumber the Mitchells around 50-3 (My two sisters and I are smart enough not to start a turf war). Don't get me wrong, I love my Vernon aunts, uncles, cousins, second cousins, nieces, nephews and around 33 other relations. The Mitchells just did not reproduce at quite the same rate.
The main reason for this venture into my family's Christmas dynamics, however, is all about appreciation. I am an incredibly lucky man when it comes to family and Christmas. The Christmas Eve event is something I relish. It's filled with hugs, smiles, laughs, sharing events of the past year, stories, games, gag gifts, and enough food to feed a small South American country. It is a great tradition that, for me, dates back to when my grandparents held the gathering. As my grandparents grew older, the event was moved to my uncle's home, where it serves as a once-a-year opportunity to see the family I do not see as much as I wish.
This last point brings me to my final thought. I wish we all had more time to be with the ones we love. I know it sounds sappy, but as I grow older, this truth builds in my heart. With this final thought in mind, my sincere wish for everyone is that you not only find the perfect gift under your Christmas tree, but that you get to share the opening of it with the ones you love.
Jeff Eason: Adventures in Mini-Biking
When I was 11 years old, my family moved from Hawaii to New Baltimore, Mich., just north of Detroit. I was still in sixth grade, but my new classmates were very different than the ones I left behind on the islands. For one thing, these Michigan kids really knew how to cuss. One minute they're all "yes, ma'am" and "thank you, ma'am" in front of somebody's mother. The next minute they're all on the school bus cussing like they're in a particularly cantankerous United Auto Workers union meeting.
Another thing that made my new peers seem more grown up than my former ones was that everybody seemed to have some type of motorized conveyance. All the kids in my new neighborhood putted up and down the streets on mini-bikes and miniaturized dune buggies. In the woods behind our housing complex were trails, jumps and motor-cross tracks where kids my age and older rode mini-bikes and motorcycles until well after sunset.
Of course, I just had to have a mini-bike that Christmas. It was my holy grail, my ark of the covenant, my Red Ryder BB gun. And like Ralphie Parker who was always told that a BB gun would be most useful for putting his eye out, I was surrounded with mini-bike detractors who suggested that my getting one for Christmas would be the most efficient way of breaking my neck. Among these detractors could be counted my mom, an extremely influential member of the Eason household.
"It's hard enough taking care of you now," mom would say. "Think of how much harder it will be when I'm 60 years old and you're a brain-damaged 40 year-old due to a mini-bike accident."
By Christmas morning I had all but given up my mini-bike dreams. As my brother and I opened our gifts, I got the distinct impression that his pile of presents was about twice as big as mine. At first I dismissed the notion as present-hungry paranoia often found in kids my age at Christmastime. But no, his pile o' loot was definitely larger. Before I knew it, I was down to a final present: a cube-shaped box with the note "Open Last." I tore it open to find a brand new reddish-orange motorcycle helmet and instructions to look in the carport!
As you probably realize by now, the helmet was not my last present. Instead, my parents had given me a beautiful little mini-bike. I forget what brand it was, but it had a Briggs and Stratton engine with a chord you pulled like a lawnmower.
That little mini-bike could really fly! There was a little mound in our front lawn, and before Christmas Day was over, I learned how to race my mini-bike down the street, veer into our driveway, and jump over the little mound in our front yard. Like some miniature version of Evel Knievel, I was getting that mini-bike airborne!
After perfecting this stunt, I called my dad to watch from the front door. I raced to the mound a little faster than usual, and the mini-bike flew into the air. Somewhere around the apex of this particular jump, the mini-bike and I drifted apart, it landing on its back fender and me on my backside, as well.
It hurt like something awful, but at least I didn't break my neck. I would never have heard the end of that.
Megan Anderson: Traditions? Check.
I always remember Christmas being done very big in my family with traditions strictly in place. Those were the events and little touches that my mom insisted on, and I loved. Going with my church to deliver meals, candlelight carol service, special ornaments, and peppermint milkshakes were all necessary ingredients for Christmas to really be here. Now that I'm an adult and my sister and older cousins have started their own families, some of those traditions have faded away.
However, there is no expansion that will stand in the way of the tradition of family weirdness. My Uncle John will always try to convince the children that they have to pay for their Christmas dinner; and as he loads, not a plate but a serving platter full of food for himself, he will reminds us to eat everything out of respect for the poor children in China who may not be eating anything at all.
Like a good Baptist family, we will always read "Twas the Night Before Jesus Came" in lieu of "Twas the Night Before Christmas" (which I never understood, because the poem has nothing to do with Christmas). Perhaps most important, I will always get (and be excited about) the pair of Christmas pajamas I get every year, which will inevitably have ducks or pandas on them.