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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Memories in a Coffee Pot

This small, forlorn coffee pot holds a barrel of memories for me.

My parents had a coffee ritual. Most days, unless my dad was out working in a far-off field, he would come in around 4 p.m. for coffee and a snack. It might be fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, or warm whole wheat bread with butter and chokecherry jelly, “wonderberry” (wild berries similar to blueberries) pie, or vanilla ice cream smothered in fresh sliced peaches.

Mom placed a generous scoop of coffee grounds in the pot and poured boiling water on top, letting it “steep”, like tea. After a few minutes, she or Dad would blow into the spout to settle the grounds, and pour the strong, aromatic brew into their cups. Strangely enough, they never seemed to have to deal with grounds floating on top.

Even when we were working outside together in the heat of the summer, stacking bales, a thermos of coffee marked afternoon break-time in the shade of a growing hay stack.

An extra special occasion, Mom and Dad’s wedding anniversary on Christmas Eve, began with that coffee. As the lavender shadows of dusk gathered, Mom would dress in her holiday outfit, bring out the Christmas goodies, and brew the coffee.

Although I didn’t like coffee and didn’t start drinking it until I was in my 30s, this “coffee time” was a hugely important part of my life, growing up on a ranch in eastern Montana. It wasn’t just a time to stave off hunger pangs until supper, it was a time of togetherness, an important family ritual.

Even after my mother died, my dad continued the afternoon coffee observance.

I am downsizing in anticipation of a move in the near future, and I had to make a painful decision to discard this coffee pot. But the memories will live on.

Published in: on September 5, 2012 at 6:00 am  Comments (10)  
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Christmas Fun

I want to take this opportunity to wish all my followers a very Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a happy and healthy New Year. I celebrate the birth of Christ and I am thankful for the many blessings I’ve received in my life.

Here are some photos from Christmases, present and past.

This year I did a book signing at the Country Store Farmer’s Co-op and had to have my picture taken with a “cool” Santa.

Every year a group of friends gets together to bake cookies, eat, and exchange our wares. This is a special tradition and special friends. It reminds me of our family tradition on the ranch of making sugar cookies and everyone sitting at the kitchen table to decorate them.

We don’t always have snow in the winter here in the Pacific Northwest, but when we do, I am reminded of Christmases in eastern Montana, being snowed in, playing board games, drinking cocoa and eating Christmas goodies. This photo was from winter 2006, when we did have snow for Christmas.

Our families are scattered hither and yon, so we don’t often have company for the holidays. This was from 2005, when Dave’s sister, Marylou, spent Christmas with us. A special holiday!

The Catmas Tree.

Jellicle Cat (Jelli) likes to nap on the tree skirt under the tree. Probably waiting to drink the milk left out for Santa!

One of my all-time favorite gifts!

However you celebrate the holiday, my best wishes to you!

Published in: on December 24, 2010 at 11:24 pm  Comments (4)  
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