Christmas on the Ranch

Heidi Thomas

First published in It’s A Cowboy Christmas anthology Vol. 2, edited by Sally Harper Bates

Snow drifting lazily from the sky, the spicy scent of the pine tree twinkling with lights, platters and tins of cookies galore, and board games.

Christmas eve was always the “real Christmas” when I was growing up. An evening to look forward to for weeks of shining anticipation and wonder and awe.

It all started in 1948, when my mother emigrated from Germany. She arrived in November, just in time to experience the American Thanksgiving holiday, lots of snow, an outhouse, no electricity, and life on a ranch with real cowboys.

In December she received a letter, which had been lost and rerouted several times, informing her that, although she had spent two years filling out reams of forms in duplicate and triplicate, she was still lacking documentation to stay in America, and would have to return to Germany after the New Year.

Unless she was married.

Yes, she had come to America to marry my dad, but it became imperative this ceremony happen before the end of the year. After a search, they found a minister in a town 75 miles away willing to marry them on short notice. But because he was to leave on vacation right after Christmas, the only day available was December 24. And, because that evening was the church’s Christmas eve service and children’s program, the slot open was 4 p.m.

Since my dad’s family lived in “the middle of nowhere” in eastern Montana, and being practical, frugal ranchers, they couldn’t simply go to town for a wedding. No. Grandpa and Dad hitched up a trailer to the car, and they would pick up a load of feed—“as long as we’re in town anyway.”

So, at 4 o’clock on December 24, 1948, my parents were married on the pine-bough decorated stage in the Lutheran Church in Forsyth, Montana. A celebratory dinner at the Corner Café and a movie “The Fuller Brush Man” completed this landmark day. Oh yes, and the load of feed, hauled home on slippery roads, and a slight delay to fix a flat tire.

Every Christmas Eve thereafter, at 4 p.m., my mother would get dressed up, my dad came in from doing chores, and we sat around the Christmas tree, having coffee or hot chocolate and eating cookies.

The old coffee pot my parents used for many years

After supper, for several hours, we slowly and meticulously opened gifts, one at a time, carefully cutting the tape and saving the paper for next year. We savored each one—sometimes it was a picture from the Sears catalog of whatever item Mom had ordered but hadn’t arrived yet. And last, but certainly not least, Dad pulled the package from Germany from behind the tree, and we delighted in German chocolate, Lebkuchen cookies, lovely handmade lace items or fine china coffee cups. Mom marveled over each gift, with a misty, far-away look in her eyes. I know she missed her family and would not see them again for ten years.

About the time we began folding up the Christmas wrapping, Dad or Mom would suddenly say, “Did you hear that?”

Our ears perked up as we listened. “What? What did you hear?”

“I thought I heard bells.” Or “Was that footsteps on the roof?”

We rushed out to the front porch, where a pile of gifts had been left for us by Santa. We never did catch our dad putting them out there—sneaky guy, but it was the culmination of a warm, loving, happy family evening.

I will always cherish those memories.

Published in: on December 23, 2021 at 11:08 pm  Comments (4)  
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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a lovely Christmas story, Heidi. Thank you so much for sharing. Growing up on a farm in Alberta, I can relate to your grandfather making the most of a trip to town even if he was on his way to his son’s wedding.

    • Thank you, Elaine! Rural people must be “practical” in all instances!

  2. Such wonderful memories that turned into a great book!

    • Thank you, Brenda! Family history is often rich in fodder for us writers.


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