Off the Porch: What makes a good Christmas
There are a million Christmas programs it seems. Some are downright irritating to me but one will stop me in my tracks and put me on the sofa until the credits run. It is a nostalgic movie that’s totally different from the way I grew up but the outlook of good old Ralphie, in Brock Yates’ A Christmas Story, is still my favorite.
I suppose my Christmas experience was more like something the Waltons would have done. Instead of centering around Walton’s Mountain, my story would have centered on Criddlebaugh Hill. I grew up on the west side of Criddlebaugh Hill and, in some ways, my family resembled the Waltons. Grandmother and Granddad were much sweeter in nature than Grandpa and Grandma Walton. Grandmother never called Granddad an “old coot” she always lovingly referred to him as “Dad”.
We weren’t as dramatic as the Waltons, either. Mama and Daddy were low drama people who lived through the depression and World War II. I guess they got the drama out of the way early in their lives just trying to survive and the cow getting out of the pasture just wasn’t enough to get upset about. There was love in the house, though, and it was real and easy to see.
Like the times of famine and plenty described in the worn old zippered Bible Mama and Daddy carried to church, the Jones family experienced Christmas from both sides of the economic coin, though I think our economic coin was a nickel. I remember my Cowboy Christmas during a fat year. Somewhere, there’s a black and white photo of me in a corduroy cowboy suit, black with red trim down the legs and on the western cuffs. The yoke on the shirt was the same red materiel and the black cowboy hat was trimmed in red. I had real leather cowboy boots and best of all, a Nichols .45 cap pistol.
The Nichols .45 is the holy grail of cap pistols. On ebay, they currently bring upwards of $800 because they represented the ultimate in toy guns of the era. My gun came with two sets of grips, fake ivory and black pearl. The cylinder revolved, there was a working loading gate and ejector and the gun came with 12 bullets and cases in which caps could be loaded. The gun was huge, as big as a real Colt Peacemaker, and the holster was sold separately.
In those days, we kids brought our toy guns and dolls to school on the day after the Christmas holiday and someone, I think it was Buddy Cox, tried to trade me a Mattel Shootin’ Shell rifle and pair of Shootin’ Shell pistols for my Nichols. I turned him down.
Years later, I questioned Mama on that Christmas. I asked why they got me such a great present. She reminded me that she made the cowboy suit and that they had a little extra money. My family was often a little short on money, but never on love.
I think the famine Christmas was when I was thirteen. Mama had been sick and there were hospital bills. My Christmas present that year was two model car kits. My sisters also had a meager Christmas that year. Mama and Daddy were still in the bed when I came in to thank them. Daddy said nothing but Mama apologized that we didn’t have more. I could hear the pain in her voice, in fact, I can still hear the pain in her voice and it was that year that I realized what Christmas is all about.
I realized, that year, that my parents sacrificed having things so we, their children, could have things. It was the first time I knew Christmas wasn’t just a time when parents gave their kids something, it was a time to celebrate love within one’s community and remember a much larger sacrifice made a long time ago.
I still remember sitting in the living room with the Christmas tree smelling of cedar sap, as any real Christmas tree should, and thinking about just how much my Mama and Daddy loved me. It was one of the first times in my life when I cried as a result of loving someone and being loved.
Of course, Mama and Daddy are gone and I have no recollection of where the Nichols .45 went. It was a treasured possession for a long time but somehow it lost its value to the point that I don’t remember when I lost it. I do remember when I lost Daddy and then a dozen years later, Mama.
I was talking about it once and someone reminded me of Uncle Evander’s theory that, when you get to heaven, Saint Peter gives you a gold key. The gold key fits your locker and your locker holds all the possessions you treasured but lost. I asked Evander what was in his locker that he wanted to see first.
“When I get to heaven, I won’t even open my locker,” he said. “The things I lost in this life mean nothing. I’m going to be spending my time with the people I lost, not the things.” This year, we all have people we love around us. If we don’t we need to find some. You’re not in heaven yet and you don’t have your gold key, but there are people around you that you care about, enjoy them.
Last year, We spent time with family on Christmas Eve and late on Christmas day but Cherie and I spent Christmas morning delivering Christmas dinner to folks with less than us. If you like, you can join us in doing the same thing this year. We’ll meet at His Laboring Few on Martin Luther King Blvd. in Thomasville at 9 a.m. and deliver meals till they’re all delivered. Last year, we delivered over a hundred meals and it was maybe the best Christmas I can remember… well, maybe the best was the cowboy Christmas; that was a good one.
If you have a “Ralphie” in your family who gets a new rifle, shotgun or Red Ryder for Christmas and you need to do a little shooting to satisfy a Christmas Day urge, give me a call. Every year, I set a little time aside on Christmas Day for just such a need. Give me a call before Christmas and we’ll make the arrangements. (336-687-3312)
Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He’s a member of the board of directors of the Southeastern Outdoor Press Association. If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.