Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Santa was a Cowboy

Christmas approaches swiftly again this year. The memories of Christmas on the Plains of Nebraska, in the 1950’s flit’s through my mind. One such cherished memory is of a Blizzard, which struck a few days before Christmas, in 1955.

 Early one morning that particular Christmas week, we awoke to the sight of blowing and heavy falling snow. It arrived with such force the farmyard became almost invisible. Immediately, Dad called us all together to detail the job ahead. The animals needed feeding and the cows needed milking. Even though most townspeople could safely snuggle in their beds to wait out the storm, as a farm family, we had duties to care for the livestock even in a blinding snowstorm. Dad carefully tied us all together, using rope so that we could reach the safety of the barn for the task at hand. Admonishing us to watch out for one another and stay close, we began our morning with a seriousness born of life and survival on the plains in winter. Even as children, we were aware of the dangers of getting lost in a blizzard. People were known to die of the cold within a few feet of their own front door. The winds swooped in with nothing to hold them back and drifts quickly became a blind mass of whiteout on the once flat and clear landscape. 

With each of us bundled in coats, boots and mittens we struggled through the blinding snow out to the barnyard. Slowly feeling our way along the fence posts, we had to shout to keep track of one another as we struggled against nature to reach our goal. After several hours of working with the animals and securing them in the barn, we struggled back through the still swirling snow. As we reached our final goal of the house, Mom was waiting with Hot Cocoa and a warm fire burning in the kitchen stove for us to warm ourselves up again.


The rest of the morning we spent snuggled in the warm kitchen, making Christmas breads and cookies for the coming Christmas celebration. Covered with flour and sneaking bites of cookie dough kept we children occupied, while Dad kept watch over the weather conditions.


By early afternoon, the snow had stopped and it became apparent we would not be going anywhere soon. The snowdrifts were several feet deep and the road was buried. We knew it could be days before the snowplows came our way from the County Works Dept.  With the visibility improved my Dad bundled up to set out in pursuit of any stranded travelers he might assist. We lived about a mile from a main highway and anyone who might have been stranded would soon succumb to the cold. Firing up the old “John Deer” tractor, Dad left to pursue his goal of checking the roads for possible victims of the Fury of the storm.


By dusk, Mom was visibly worried and we children became quiet. We joined our hands in prayer and quietly huddled together praying our Daddy would safely make it home. As darkness began to fall in earnest, we suddenly heard the sound of our “Old John Deer” slowly making its way back into the yard. With a collective sigh of relief, we all ran to the front porch to usher Dad back into the warmth. Much to our surprise the first person through the door was a stranger. Dad introduced the man as Chuck. Dad explained that just about dark he had decided to give up the search, when he had spotted a Pick-up truck buried in the snow bank along the old highway exit road.


For the rest of Christmas week Chuck worked along side all of us and proved himself a friend in deed and in word. Chuck, we soon learned, was an itinerate Cowboy. He had been traveling from Texas to begin a job on the McGinley ranch, a few miles farther east from us. The next morning, when he entered the barn to help out with chores, our newest horse Toni suddenly began banging the stall and whinnying. Toni immediately greeted Chuck with a friendly but insistent nudge at Chucks pockets.

 Much to every ones surprise, Toni and Chuck already knew one another. Chuck had worked on the King ranch in Texas when Toni was there as a colt. Chuck had saddle broke him and taught him to cut cattle when Toni was just a young colt in Texas.

 Dad had not used Toni much as yet. Toni had proved a bit skitterish when we first brought him home. Dad was still working with him to gentle him out. Chuck immediately showed us that Toni was a pro with the right stuff. Chuck and Toni were a team in Texas and soon Toni warmed up to us all. Chuck showed us all the special things, which made Toni the champion cattle horse he was.

 First and foremost, Toni loved Cotton cake. Cotton cake, which Chuck always had in his pocket brought out the best in Toni from then on. Within a day, Dad and the rest of us could get Toni to do all we asked of him. Toni was now a real part of our family farm team… thanks to a stranger named Chuck.

As Christmas week progressed, the roads were still impassable with no sign of the snowplows in sight. The phone lines were still down and we had no way to communicate with the outside world. We were so looking forward to the Christmas Pageant at St Elizabeth’s Parish followed by Christmas Eve mass. My brother Billy was supposed to be a Wiseman in the Play, and I was suppose to be an angel.  There was no way we could get to town in all that snow. Fearing Christmas would be canceled; we children grew quiet and somber. We began to fuss that even Santa could not get to our house this particular year. Our Letters had never been delivered to him because of the snowstorm.
  On the day before Christmas Eve Chuck, our newfound guest came up with a plan. A plan that would make Santa and his reindeer proud. Chuck went out to the barn and saddled up Toni. He admonished us all, not to give up. He would set off for town and guide the snowplows to our farm to clear the roads. Dad was a bit hesitant, but Chuck assured him that he and Toni had traveled many miles together in Texas dust storms and could get through the snow on the plains of Nebraska. Dad warmed to the idea eventually, and saddled up our faithful old mare, ”Lady”, to make sure Chuck and Toni did not get lost. Dad knew the plains and the land well, even when it was buried in snow.

 With a cheerful wave they set off, loping belly deep through the snow drifts. Later that day, the sound of snow plows brought smiles of joy and relief to our faces. With Chuck and Toni leading the way, the plows cleared our roads and made it possible for us to get to town the following day. Chuck was able to get his truck out of the snow bank and be on his way to his new job.

 Early Christmas Eve night, before we went to town, the front door of our little farmhouse opened with a bang! In came Santa to pay us a personal visit. In his bag were all the very toys we children had lamented that Santa would not bring this year. Even if he could have made it through the snow, we were sure he would not have gotten our Christmas list. This particular year though, Santa was wearing cowboy boots, and seemed to have a very distinct “Texas” drawl when he exclaimed; “HO HO HO! Merry Christmas Ya’all!” 
Copyright 2000


Friday, December 19, 2014

The Christmas Doll

During the Christmas season of 1958, my family was going through some pretty rough times. It had been a very difficult couple of years for my parents. In 1955, polio had rocked our world, followed by the loss of my fathers business and our family farm.


In the late summer of 1956, our little family farm, as well as my fathers furniture business, had been sold at auction to pay off my family’s considerable debts. My father had never blinked nor considered the cost, which would be necessary for me to overcome the crippling effects of polio. In order for me to learn to walk once again, my Dad totally neglected the farm and his business. He never left my side throughout all the months of my recuperation. And he never flinched at spending every spare dime we had, to find the medical help available to help me regain my ability to walk again. Unfortunately, this lead to our losing all the temporal things, which we owned, with the exception of the clothes on our back.


Looking back, I can still see my fathers unwavering faith, as we all stood on the grounds of our little farm for the auction to begin. My mother was understandably beside herself. Of course she was worried to death about where we would live and how we would survive, but I was devastated, when she burst into tears and lamented that it was all my fault for getting polio. My dad quickly picked me up into his arms and said: “Margaret, we can always find another job, and another home, but we could never replace our Christy.” 


And so our journey began. We had always been a farm family nestled in the familiar sand hills of Nebraska. With no money to start over, my dad’s family scraped together the money for us to move to Texas, where a Marine buddy of my fathers, had a furniture store. MR. King had offered my dad the position of manager for his store and a small house for us to live in. After a year in Texas, we moved back home as my mother hated Texas and all it stood for. Mom was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Once again, with the help of family and Mr. King, we scraped up the money to make the journey back home to our roots.


By the time Christmas rolled around, once again in 1958, it didn’t look like we would have a big celebration that year either. Mom worked scrubbing floors to scrape up extra money for our Christmas dinner. That was one thing my mother missed the most…the Christmas table loaded with all the tradition Christmas foods. No matter what else might come our way, she was determined we would have a wonderful meal to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child.


Even a modest Christmas celebration that year, was almost entirely out of the question. Of course, children never seem to give up their dreams nor understand that Santa can’t always provide the things we want. But I, in my child’s mind, had no doubt that Santa could do anything, no matter how bad things may look. I just knew he would bring me a doll for Christmas. Not just any doll, mind you. He was going to bring me a grown up lady doll, dressed in a formal gown with a tiara and high heels.


As the weeks of Advent arrived,I sat down and wrote a note to Santa. I had decided that even though he had stopped coming by our house, because we were so poor, maybe, just maybe he would have an extra lady doll which he could drop off for me that year. My note of course explained that it was ok, if he could not bring me a new lady doll, but if he could spare a watch for my sister Peg, a sling shot for my brother Bill and maybe a nice fire truck for my little brother, I would be very happy with that. And most of all, if he couldn’t do that, could he please just leave my mommy a note, and let her know that it would be ok and that God still loved us?


That Christmas morning, we all gathered around the tree as usual before Mass. Wonder of wonders, besides our stocking stuffed with oranges and apples, each of us had a gift carefully wrapped and placed beneath the tree. Billy’s gift was a slingshot, Mikey a fire truck, and Peg a watch. And wonder of wonders, I received the most beautiful lady doll I had ever envisioned. The best gift of all was for my Mom. It was a beautiful Christmas card, which exclaimed God loved her and all of us.


Years later, I would learn that one of the woman my mother worked for, had found my mother in tears one day. Mom, had my note in her hand and was sobbing about the fact, there was no way she could provide the gifts I had requested. Lila wasn’t wealthy either. She and her husband Frank lived in the back of their little shoe shop. Lila took the time to remake and old doll, which had belonged to her daughter. She had lovingly sewed an elegant silk dress out of one of her own dresses. How she managed to find the Tiara, I do not know. But the doll was more beautiful than any in the toy stores that I have ever seen. The slingshot, was one Frank made by hand. Peg’s watch had belonged to Lila, a gift from her first husband who had died in World War II before she married Frank. The fire truck had belonged to Frank’s son when he was a child. Frank had repainted it for Mike. The best gift of all of course, was the beautiful card to my Mom, which assured us of God’s love.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Roses in Winter

I love to garden, and have always enjoyed the beauty of Roses in springtime and throughout the summer months. There is nothing as beautiful as a rose when summer comes after a long cold dark winter. Of course in the front of my house, there is little room for flowers but miniature roses are just the thing for such a small space. I love how they remain small but beautiful planted at the feet of my statue of our Lady of Guadalupe.

The tradition of the miniature roses began as I planted my flower garden in May of 2004. My husband Gene surprised me with the gift of a miniature rose bush. He suggested we plant it in front of the house. It’s a very small area right beside the front entrance to our home. It was such a delicate little plant and it fit perfectly into this small space.

As each delicate bloom opened that summer, my husband seemed to delight in plucking one to give to me, when he came home from work. He even began to take an interest in watering it as the summer went by. That spring of 2004 Gene had been especially happy, due to having come through another cancer battle successfully that past winter. We were both delighted when the doctor said they had gotten all of the cancer and there would be no need for further surgery or treatments.

The following March of 2005, all our joy would be quickly dashed when more cancer was discovered in a routine check up. More surgery followed in April of that year, and we were hopeful that once again the cancer would be defeated.
But this time, the cancer spread quite quickly and nothing seemed to slow its course. As if to punctuate the losing battle that spring my beautiful little miniature Rose bush died. I was really not interested much in gardening that summer anyway. It was hard to think of anything but the cancer battle we were in at the time. Gene struggled on, trying his best to be optimistic and for Mothers day; he bought me another Miniature Rose bush to replace the one, which had died. All through the summer the bush remained green but without any sign of a rose. It was late in the month of October, before the first rose blossoms appeared.

By Thanksgiving, Gene’s cancer had spread and was out of control. He rapidly began to decline, and he could no longer work or leave his sick bed.
Early December remained mild, and that beautiful little bush just kept growing and blooming. On December the 9th, Gene entered the hospital for what would be the last time. Through those dark days, the little blooming rose bush, gave me comfort as I returned home each evening from the hospital. On the day before my beloved died, the weather turned cold and dark and the roses began to die. How my heart grieved that next evening as I returned home from the hospital after Gene’s death. The roses were dead and lifeless also. It only further seemed to drive home the thought, that I now must face a life without my beloved.

On the day of my husband’s funeral, we had the first snowstorm of the season. It was icy and snow was coming down so hard, only the hardiest of souls could attend the funeral. Through it all, we felt God’s love and Mercy surrounding us. The 40 or so people, who did attend, remarked how even the graveside services in the snowstorm seemed as if God was surrounding us.
We were amazingly comfortable and warm as we gathered under the tent beside the grave. No one hurried away after the internment. Instead we all
stood around for about 30 minutes hugging and sharing stories and all the mourners were given a Rose in Memory of my beloved.

Later that evening, after all the guest’s and friends had left my home after the funeral dinner, I stood for a time looking out the window at the scene of cold and snow which covered my little flower garden. Gently pressing a Rose from the funeral to my cheek, the tears began to flow. The weight of grief, felt as if it would swallow me up, and I knew that winter had truly arrived.

Winter in my garden and winter in my new stage of life…I was now a widow, and there would be no more Roses of affection from my beloved. I felt hopelessly frozen in that spot at the window, watching the last rays of daylight fade away. The last rays of a memory of life with my beloved had been laid to rest in that snow-covered grave.

As I stood praying and trying to gain control of my emotions, suddenly, the outdoor security light came on. There in my little front garden, was a miniature rose peeking through the snowdrift looking alive and as though it was June and not December. One last rose of summer I like to think God allowed my beloved to give to me.

Today, entering the ninth year of my widowhood, that miniature rosebush still cheers me up each day when I come home all summer long. This past fall was once again a very difficult time and that little struggling rose bush still manages to convey God’s love in the midst of the storms of life. On the anniversary of my husband’s death, it bloomed once again in a snowstorm.

Copyright 2005

Christmas Angels

Mentally going over my Christmas list, I reassured myself that I had not forgotten anyone. Still, an unshakeable feeling that something was forgotten haunted me. Of course I knew why that haunted feeling hung on despite all the gift wrapped packages safely hidden away. I just did not know what to do about it.

You see, our family had been struggling with the devastation of cancer for many months starting in July of 1988. My husband’s cancer had returned with a vengeance, and our three children had been diagnosed with the predisposition for this same hereditary cancer. My husband’s mother had died of it at the age of thirty-three. The outcome was bleak to say the least. We were still trying to cope with the on-going battle as well as the loss of my sister-in-law that October; she also had died at age thirty-three from cancer.

As Christmas approached, we tried to keep things normal for our children. Our family tradition had always been a joyous family affair. We would lavish decorations on our tree and the outside of our house and bake Christmas goodies in preparation. Then we would invite all the neighbors over for the lighting ceremony and enjoy cookies, hot chocolate and sing Christmas Carols.

This year there would be no real celebration; we were merely going through the motions. Gene was too ill to help with the outside lights so I went to the basement alone to retrieve them. He sorted the lights from the couch where he spent most of his time recouping from the latest surgery. Our kids were not in the Christmas spirit and they scattered to their bedrooms silently dealing with the pain in their own way.

Feeling no joy, I set up the nativity scene in the front yard by myself. It was merely tradition, with no hope of a better tomorrow. When all the lights, and decorations were finished and the tree adorned, we all came together to look at it, but turned away with heavy hearts. It looked like Christmas would not come to our house that year; maybe it would never come again. We pronounced it good enough and retired to our beds for the night. Silence shrouded our house and sleep brought little relief or sweet dreams.

The following morning we awoke to an icy-white out. A blizzard had blown through our area over night and dumped nearly three foot of snow. A heavy white blanket covered all of the outside decorations, leaving our nativity scene buried below the ice-encrusted front yard. One by one we looked out to see that the storm had wiped out what little joy I had tried to create. The desolation of Christmas was now complete. Our weak attempts had proved futile against nature both inside and outside our home. The nativity would stay buried and forlorn. We had no more energy left for pretending.

As we all moved toward our kitchen for a quiet breakfast, strange sounds drifted in from the other side of our living room picture window. The faintest jingle of laughter pierced the air. Each of us moved back toward the window, drawn like a magnet. We looked out into the yard again and saw a wondrous sight. There on their knees in the snow were three little angels. As we watched the scene unfold, more angels came to join them. They all wore mittens and giggled while they used their hands to dig the manger out of the snow. These particular angels looked very familiar though.

A little five-year old named Megan had brought a baby blanket in which to wrap the Christ child. As Megan wrapped and hugged the baby Jesus, neighbors had come and joined the children. They came to sing to the Christ child, to share their laughter and most of all their joy. They brought Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, Christmas carols and laughter. What they especially brought us was the Christmas tradition our own hearts could not muster. They awakened our hope in the Christ child and gave us strength to face the New Year. This special memory of Christmas, when God’s grace outshone the darkness and despair lives on in our hearts.

Copyright 1989