Looking Back

Christmas is my favorite time of year, so naturally I have many great memories.  The entire month of December seems filled with magic and goodwill.  By the time Christmas Eve arrives, I am as excited as my children, who don’t fall asleep until quite late in anticipation of a visit from Santa Claus.  In 2009 I wrote a journal entry about our family’s Christmas adventures; this year I found it when I was sorting through my office.  Kind of fun to read back through it while I sit by the fire…

By the Christmas tree in 2009...

By the Christmas tree in 2009…

This year we almost ended up separated by a huge winter blizzard.  Dad had just returned from a long vacation to Kansas City, and he’d left Mom with my sister and brother-in-law.  She would be coming home “sometime after the New Year” so our celebration would be small in size.  Within 24 hours of Dad’s return home, we began to hear ominous reports of a storm system scheduled to hit the Black Hills just before Christmas.

and in 2013...my favorite girls!

and in 2013… with my favorite girls!

Since Dad had been gone for several weeks, he had numerous important matters to take care of before coming to Rapid City, where we planned to spend Christmas together.  Because of the inclement weather, it was starting to look like Dad might not be able to join us, and that didn’t seem right.  Although he had other invitations to celebrate with friends, Van and I didn’t want Dad to be without family during the Holidays.  After watching the local forecast on television we realized that if we didn’t make a move immediately, we would remain separated.  The time window was closing fast!

Without discussion, we knew exactly what we would do.  We called Dad to tell him that we would be coming to Belle Fourche, and then we immediately began to pack.  We loaded my car with dozens of brightly colored gifts, a duffel bag full of snow clothes, a twenty pound turkey thawing in a bucket, stockings for Santa to fill, the kids, the dog, the hunting rifles, and last but not least, the Dutch oven.  It was an afterthought thrown in because it contained half a roasted chicken from the previous night’s dinner.

Ready to take Christmas to Papa!

Ready to take Christmas to Papa!

Van was a bit nervous about the icy road conditions so we took it slow and let more adventurous travelers pass in their two wheel drive sports cars.  We talked about how we felt good, that this was the right thing to do, bringing Christmas to Dad.  We could have stayed in our warm, comfortable house with the decorated Christmas tree and all the amenities we wanted right at our fingertips.  But Christmas isn’t about having things.  This year year we decided it was about leaving our comfort zone and giving more than we received.

Our youngest daughter peeking over the furry yellow back of Ross the Dog.

Our youngest daughter peeking over the furry yellow back of Ross the Dog.

My happiest Christmas memories are of times spent with my parents and sister during childhood, or with my husband and children more recently.  I was looking forward to a rather quiet evening and a more or less regular Christmas Day, nothing out of the ordinary.  But since my family has never fit the cookie cutter family stereotype, I should have known this wasn’t going to happen.  Somehow, frantically packing warm comfy clothes, preparing enough food to feed an army, and taking all the bows off the lovingly wrapped gifts to cram them into our already too full SUV just seemed so much more appropriate, so us.

We arrived safely at the schoolhouse (did I mention my parents live in an 85 year old schoolhouse?) in Belle Fourche around noon and quickly unloaded as the wind began to pick up briskly.  After lugging our belongings up three flights of stairs, we enjoyed a quick lunch of leftovers and then planned our events for the next few days.  Dad and Van had one major objective: turkey hunting at the local dairy farm.  My objective was to cook a feast and assume the regular domestic duties of a matriarch (story of my life).  Coming to Belle to see my parents is fun but it also requires unlimited energy, sufficient prior planning, and the ability to deftly travel through the 50,000 square feet of schoolhouse in a timely manner (that is why the unlimited energy and prior planning is so important).

Busy cooking delicious Christmas goodies on a cold blustery day.

Busy cooking delicious Christmas goodies on a cold blustery day.

After lunch the guys decided to go on a hunting trip while my daughters and I prepared the project room — what we call the Break Room because it is equipped with everything for projects and entertainment — for the festivities.  Stockings were to be hung near the wood burning stove and little decorations were put up around the room.  Gifts were unpacked, bows were reattached, and a pyramid of presents was stacked on the long table at the back of the room.  When the guys returned from hunting I went upstairs to the kitchen to make supper.  We had all the ingredients for a large batch of chicken with noodles, so I quickly went to work.  In the meantime, a plate of Christmas goodies was delivered to the Break Room to keep the rest of the group content.  The dinner turned out nicely, and we were pleased to discover how much faster it cooked in the Dutch oven.  After our nice hot meal, we turned in for the night.

Van woke me on the morning of Christmas Eve to tell me that the power was out because of the weather.  He was REALLY excited about this turn of events, and he encouraged me to bring the girls downstairs to the Break Room where the wood stove was putting out sufficient heat to keep us warm.  When the girls woke up we pulled on slippers and went downstairs.  The guys were making the most of the power outage by cooking breakfast on the stove.  Bacon sizzled in a skillet, the griddle was heating for pancakes, and the coffee…well that presented a problem.  We needed a campfire coffee pot, immediately!  The guys figured out an alternative method by heating water on the stove and then pouring it over paper towels full of coffee grounds.  Yuck.

Putting the stuffing into a new snuggly friend.

Putting the stuffing into a new snuggly friend.

We had been without power since 11:00 the night before, and had no idea how long we might wait before power would be restored.  We had to consider the idea that Christmas Eve might be spent mostly without power and prepare accordingly.  Van was having a ball, and even said he hoped the power would stay off at least another day.  He had unpacked all our camping gear, which we kept at the schoolhouse.  He had a big grin on his face.  I was a bit less enthusiastic, unsure how to keep the kids busy without electricity.  After a very good old fashioned breakfast of sausage, bacon, and pancakes, Van went on a search to find a camp coffee pot so we could have drinkable coffee.

Meanwhile, Dad and I had to figure out how to entertain the girls.  We fixed a few broken ornaments — being in the Break Room meant we had access to glue, paint, woodworking and metalworking tools, and all kinds of other fun things!  We kept them busy with an assortment of toys and crayons, and felt grateful for the natural light streaming through the large windows.  It felt quite cozy and it was kind of fun, echoing back to a simpler time.  We were all actually a little disappointed when the electricity came back on around 10:30 a.m.  Dad and I wasted no time once we were certain the power was going to stay on. We loaded the dishwasher and washing machine and began preparing Christmas Eve foods.

Scared of Santa

Scared of Santa Claus at Storybook Island, Rapid City, SD 2009. Some things never change…

I had realized that bringing the Dutch oven was a blessing in disguise; it would come in handy for cooking foods on the wood burning stove if we had another power outage.  I hurriedly put together canned beans, carrots, celery and onions with a ham bone left over from Thanksgiving; I added a blend of spices and plopped it onto the stove where it could simmer until lunch.  Van came back with a nice stainless steel coffee pot given to him by a friend in town.  He had stopped by to check on us while the power was out and heard that Van was looking for a coffee pot, so he went home and got his old camp pot for us.  Even though the electricity was now working fine, Van put the pot on the stove to percolate because we wanted to continue enjoying the old fashioned feeling.

Storybook Island

Storybook Island, Christmas 2009.

With the beans bubbling on the stove, I started making pumpkin pies in the kitchen upstairs and had two baked in no time.  Next was homemade pizza, a family tradition on Christmas Eve.  I was concerned that the dough wouldn’t rise because the kitchen was very cold, but the early afternoon sun came through the window and warmed the dough enough to make it double more quickly than I expected.  My older daughter helped me make the pizza while my younger daughter napped.  When the guys returned from a Christmas Eve hunting trip with two fresh turkeys in the evening, one pizza was cooling and one was baking in the oven.

Something useful for Papa.

Something useful for Papa.

We had decided in advance to attend a Christmas Eve service at the Baptist Church down the street, and after the guys came back from their hunt we had a few quick bites of pizza before getting ready for church.  We dressed the girls in beautiful dresses and then bundled up against the cold.  The church was only about two blocks away, but due to the heavy snowfall and frigid temperature, we drove to the service.  We sat in the back and were soon joined by a family we had known for years, kind people with big smiles and warm hearts.  During the service, the girls were quiet and seemed awestruck by the carols and Nativity symbols.  My husband joked quietly that something must be terribly wrong since our children were actually behaving in church!

Our oldest daughter Annie began to fall asleep in Van’s arms, but during a brief moment of near silence, she passed gas audibly enough for our friends to hear.  Van looked at Annie and she said loudly “It wasn’t me!” We nearly had to excuse ourselves to laugh hysterically in the foyer.  After the service, my friend told me that she thought the ‘mystery gasser’ was her baby, and we all had a good chuckle before we headed to our respective homes.  The service was quite good, although the carols were really high pitched, so I felt out of my element.  Van solved that problem for himself by not singing at all — so clever!  The sermon had a lovely message and the celebration was very uplifting, though, and we left in high spirits!

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Cleaning the turkey after church. Daddy has his best helpers!

Back at the schoolhouse, we told Dad about Annie’s comical moment while Van dressed and cleaned the turkeys.  We ate more pizza and other goodies, then we hung our stockings near the stove and left cookies, milk, and a letter for Santa.  The girls were so excited about Santa coming that it took nearly two hours to get them to fall asleep.  Finally, they snuggled into their blankets and dozed off.  Van and I stayed up a while longer and enjoyed the crackling fire in the Break Room.  Snow fell all night outside our windows.

Merry Christmas Daddy!

Merry Christmas Daddy!

The next morning, we awoke to a winter wonderland.  The storm had passed through the Black Hills slowly, leaving an almost unfathomable amount of snow.  We checked the forecast and found out the blizzard warning was still in effect for 24 more hours.  Not to worry, we had plenty of firewood, food, and things to do!  The girls were thrilled with the goodies they found in their stockings and we all enjoyed unwrapping gifts.  When it was time to clear away the torn wrapping paper and move on from another Christmas, I felt happy, not like past years when a sense of guilt and loss always overtook me.  Loss because the time went by too fast, and guilt because of our frivolous spending on things we usually didn’t need.  This year I just felt really good.

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Thank you Sis for the wonderful gift!

As we lay cuddled up after a long day of family time, my daughters and I were very still and very quiet.  I don’t know what the girls were contemplating before they fell asleep, but I thought about the meaning of Christmas, and how this year’s odd circumstances conspired in a truly blessed way.  Most Christmas seasons leave me feeling sad, frantic and burned out as I try to cling to the traditions and decorations long after the New Year has passed.  But this year, on the evening of Christmas Day, I feel ready to let go of the things that are not important and hold onto the things that are.

Glad I found that old entry.  Hope your holiday celebrations continue to be merry!

—G

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