MEMORIES OF A WESTERN CHRISTMAS

PLEASE SEE BELOW FOR OUR BIG CHRISTMAS GIVEAWAY!

Christmas to me has always meant a beach.  Yes, you read that correctly:  a beach.  My grandmother was one of 11 children and by the time I was of school age, the surviving siblings had all moved to Florida to escape New York winters. This meant that, in order to be together for the holiday season, our immediate family was piled into a car for the three day drive from NY to Florida—the beach.

There were things that did compensate slightly for this wrench from the possibility of a white Christmas.  While I was appalled at the sight of plastic reindeer under the palm trees, I came to count the days until I could eat my way through a box of coconut patties, indulge in the sheer enjoyment of slipping one from its individual pocket wrapping and savoring the dark chocolate covering over creamy sweet coconut.   There was the spurt of juice from a fresh orange as we plunged little plastic spouts through the skin and sucked out the fluid.  And there was drifting to sleep to the quiet chatter of the elderly, punctuated by the creak of rocking chairs on the porch, before the mosquitoes sent the folks inside.  But this was not my dream Christmas.  My dream Christmas was in snow-covered hills amidst pines with horses waiting outside to take you for a sleigh ride, the Rocky Mts. as back drop—what I envisaged as a western Christmas. About as close to ‘western’ as my Christmas went was buying carved coconut heads from the Seminole Indians.

I know now that there is no typical ‘Holiday Season.’  Whether you celebrate Christmas or Chanukah or nothing at all, the sheer joy of being with family and friends is what counts the most.  I’m delighted to be sharing my blog this month with 5 fellow authors who have their own Christmas memories—the kind of western ones that I daydreamed about all those years ago.

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Award winning author Paty Jager grew up on a rural ranch in NE Oregon and now raises hay and cattle on 350 acres with her husband of thirty-three years. Always having a story in her head proved valuable—she now has fifteen published novels.

Snowshoe Christmas 

My most vivid memory happened on my twelfth Christmas. My family lived on a 200 acre ranch up a canyon of the Wallowa Mountains. When I say my family, it means my mom and dad, my dad’s parents, my two brothers, and me. Seven of us lived in an 1800’s two story farm house with a wood stove for heat and cooking and an outhouse we used when the pipes froze up.

It happened this particular year that only my dad and I were immune to a nasty flu that was going around right before Christmas. This December also happened to have one of our biggest snowfalls. It was the week before Christmas and my mom insisted we needed the Christmas tree. She didn’t trust my dad to not go out and chop down the first one he came to, so being the only other well person, I was sent out with Dad to get our tree.

Because of the huge snowfall, we only made it up the county road about a mile in the old International Scout before we had to stop and put on our snowshoes. This was my first excursion into the wild on the shoes. My brothers and I had played with them around the yard but walking out in the forest I learned there are pitfalls you can’t see.

Dad warned me not to go near the trees and stay away from bumps in the snow. Walking up to one tree to shake the snow loose to look at it, I ventured too close and found myself four feet lower than my dad. I’d fallen into a hole made by the branches of the tree catching the snow. Dad grabbed me by the back of my coat and pulled me out of the hole, once again reciting to stay away from trees.

We found what I thought would be a good tree. As I walked around the tree, my eyes on the shiny green needles, the ground fell out from under me. I landed with my bottom on a bush and my snowshoes, arms, and head pointed to the opening above me. I was cradled in the snow and a bush. I looked up. Dad peered into the hole, laughing. When he caught his breath, he reached in and pulled me out.

The tree was cut and dragged to the scout with me only falling in a hole one more time. At home, Mom deemed the tree the best ever and as the decorating began Dad told everyone how many times he had to pull me out of the snow. To this day when getting a Christmas tree is mentioned, he reminds everyone how many times I fell through the snow and he had to save me.

Gambling on an Angel      ‘The only thing Bas Slocum cares about is his saloon—until he meets an angel wearing a Temperance ribbon.’  Available on Kindle,  Nook , and  Smashwords 

http://www.patyjager.blogspot.com     http://www.patyjager.net

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Karen Casey Fitzjerrell grew up on a small ranch outside an equally small community in South Central Texas.  Karen’s writing history includes freelancing for Texas newspapers, namely the Houston Chronicle, and regional magazines from 1997 to 2002.  The Dividing Season, her first novel, is a finalist for the 2013 EPIC E-book Award, winner to  be announced in March.

Whose Christmas Tree Is It?

Christmas 1955, my mother drove my brothers, sisters and me into town to buy a Christmas tree. We were ecstatic, scurried up and down the rows of trees like a bunch of rabbits until mother announced all them were too expensive. We begged her to reconsider, but it didn’t help.

Back home, we repeated our spiel to Dad at the back steps where he sat gulping coffee. He told mother to load us back up, that we were going to get a Christmas tree.

Joy once again.

Daddy gunned his old Buick onto the highway and explained that we were going to the deep piney woods behind Uncle Bill’s house. There, we could pick out any tree we wanted and it wouldn’t cost a thing except his sweat in chopping it down.

I don’t think Daddy ever thought about the possibility that each one of his five offspring would pick a tree of their own choosing. I found a tree that was small enough I could put a star on top all by myself. My older sister wanted a tree that had more branches than mine. The youngest bawled because he didn’t understand all the fuss. The other two went in together hoping that numbers would count.

Patient as could be, Dad asked each one of us to stand next to the tree we thought was best. He circled each one without uttering a word. Curiosity was about to choke us kids. What was he doing and why? Finally, he called us to “assembly.”

He said, “Go on back to the car and wait with your mother.”

“But—” He shushed us, and said, “Get.”

We tromped back through the tangle of pine forest and sat on the bumper of the car in cool damp December air while mother practiced her harmonica music and dreamed of fame. Before long Daddy came lumbering out of the woods with the most beautiful Christmas tree ever slung over his shoulder.

He never told us which of our trees he cut down or if he picked out one himself. Typical of children, we each tried to claim it was ours. In truth, it didn’t matter a bit. The Christmas tree was perfect.

In The Dividing Season, Karen Casey Fitzjerrell celebrates the redemptive qualities of the human spirit and raises the question:  What are you willing to give up in order to calm those secret longings that beg for something more?  Available at any book store or at Barnes and Noble and Amazon.

http://www.karencaseyfitzjerrell.com      www.karencaseyfitzjerrell.blogspot.com

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Amy Hale Auker is a Texan now living in Arizona, a writer, mother, and cowboy. Her first book Rightful Place is the 2012 WILLA winner for creative non-fiction and Foreword Book Reviews’ Book of the Year for essays.  She’s never spent an eastern Christmas.

I have been pondering the idea of a western Christmas as opposed to… well, I suppose, an eastern one.

I married a working ranch cowboy when I was 19 years old and in the process, also married myself to a cowboy paycheck, a very limited budget in normal months, impossible with two small children at Christmas.   The first year I got what I asked for..a set of cast iron skillets that he didn’t hide very well on our eighty mile journey home from Wal-mart.  That’s pretty western.

For many years that cowboy cut us a cedar tree from the pasture, and we soaked it in the water trough overnight to rid its branches of ticks.  During those years our celebrations were subject to true births..two-year-old heifers standing heavy with calf in the lot.

In Christmases past, I scattered cheap decorations in every corner of the house, went to several pointless parties, overdosed on insipid music, and cried with frustration into my pillow.

On Christmas Eves of the past I was exhausted, flour-covered, pale, hair-tangled, and footsore.

But one thing we can count on in life is change–no matter where you live.  My nest is empty now; I am no  longer 19.  I cowboy for a living instead of cooking for cowboys, washing up after cowboys, listening to cowboy stories.  On this ranch, the cows graze the forest and we hope for gentle storms.  The heifers give birth among their own and we see them in the spring.

In Christmases past, the winter solstice passed me by.  This year I will stand at attention as the night closes in early, as the dark grabs the stage, as coffee and woodsmoke and cold wind and happy wrap up the year with a frigid morning, saying, “Spring WILL come again.”

Rightful Place —  words that spring from a deep intimacy with the land. Available here.          www.amyhaleauker.com

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Growing up out West, Rionna Morgan followed her love of horses to the rodeo arena and her love of English to the classroom and to writing.  She loves most of all combining the chilling edge of a knife with the sweet surrender of romance. Rionna shares her home in Missoula, Montana with her husband, her four children and the mountains outside her window.

Tumbleweed Christmas

I grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. The very small shadow at the edge of the prairie. On the plains of Colorado, I learned to love to ride my horse. I learned to dance the two-step to a slow George Strait song, and I learned that the best gifts in life last forever.

When I was eight years old, my dad left Colorado and the fears and demons of the Vietnam War went with him. In those days, I had no idea what PTSD was. All I knew is that my mom cried the day he left and never again after.

I was kid. I was a little freckled faced girl with curly long red hair and a Morgan horse named Molly Jane for a best friend. We talked all the time, her and I. When December came and the first flakes of snow began to fall on the wide expanse of prairie, we started wondering about Christmas and Santa Claus.  What were we going to do for presents?

I decided to write a few poems and hide them around the house for my four brothers and two sisters…and my mom.

My mom came home Christmas Eve with a huge tumbleweed and a can of spray paint.  All of us stood on the porch, near the cistern and watched and laughed as she painted that weed a beautiful silver.  We put it in our living room and decorated it with popcorn and cranberry ropes. We sang songs, all the Christmas songs we knew and went to bed knowing that Santa would bring us beautiful things while we dreamed away the night.

In the morning, sure enough, the house smelled like a cinnamon, chocolate heaven. Our tumbleweed had presents, shiny red and green packages, bulging from beneath its branches. My mom, who worked every day, every holiday as a nurse in town, stood singing “Oh, Christmas Tree” as she stirred the melt-y fudge on the stove. And we were a family that day.

My brothers and sisters are scattered over the earth from Antarctica and back. My mother has passed on. But, looking back now at the life I had then, I never knew how cold it was that winter. I never knew that the presents we received came from the neighbors’ good deeds. I never knew what my mom sold and borrowed so she could make us Christmas dinner.  All I knew was that she was magic.  And that she made the best of all Christmas memories that day.

 Love’s Justice   “A complex and sinister plot leading to a trail of deceit and corruption in a women’s prison in Alabama, a centuries old hotel in Georgia, and a family ranch in Texas. Nothing is simple or as it seems.”  Available here                         http://rionnamorgan.com

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Eunice Boeve has lived nearly forever in a small town in Kansas, but the Montana ranch of her  childhood still calls to her.  She believes her parents, who both died too young, influenced her writing. Eunice writes historical fiction and westerns for both kids and adults.  She is a Kansas Notable Author and winner of the Donald J. Coffin Award for her book, Ride A Shadowed Trail.

 My dad did not believe in any form of farming. He used to sing the old cowboy lament: “Oh, bury me not on the lone prairie,” with his own added words; “For some dry farmer to plant corn over me.”  Dad loved horses and raised them to pack supplies for the US Forest Service to fires, lookouts, and trail crews. The closest he came to farming was raising hay for winter feed for his horses and Mom’s milk cows.  He died when we were all quite young.  We kept a couple of the horses and with them and Mom’s milk cows still needed some hay. We kids “camped out” in that hay in the barn and jumped off the chicken house roof, which was connected to the barn, into the loose hay.

One year a few weeks before Christmas, Mom’s catalog order containing our gifts arrived and Mom took out our older brother’s gift and had him hide the rest in the barn. I don’t remember ever believing in Santa. We probably couldn’t afford him. But she always gave us each a gift ordered from the catalog. I don’t recall how we knew where our brother hid those gifts. Did we spy on him through a crack in the barn door or did we watch, lying flat on the snow-covered roof of the chicken house?  All I know is we dug those gifts up and hid them again on the opposite side of the barn. How we must have giggled awaiting Christmas and likely grinned all over ourselves when big brother came in from the barn on Christmas morning empty handed and totally bewildered. What did I get that year? I don’t remember. Which leaves me to ponder: Is it more fun to deceive than to receive?  🙂

Crossed Trails:  The summer of 1877, Joshua Ryder seeking a life of solitude crosses the trail of a Nez Perce woman with a newborn baby and ends up in Virigina City, Montana. There he becomes the provider of an unlikely family and falls under the shadow of the hangman’s noose.  Available here

http://www.euniceboeve.net

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My thanks to Paty, Karen, Amy, Rionna and Eunice for taking part and, most especially, for agreeing to do the following giveaways with me:

1)  One e-copy of my book, Loveland, will be given away to a person who tells me what career Lady Alex is pursuing.  The answer can, of course, be found on this web site and must be sent to me via the Comment box on the ‘About the Author’ page.  Second prizes for all correct answers.

2) Paty Jager has a published Christmas story. Go to her blog or website; find the title and leave it and your e-mail in the comment section here. She’ll send everyone who comments a goodie plus one name will be drawn for one of her books.

3)  Karen Casey Fitzjerrell will randomly select one person to win a copy of The Dividing Season from comments left below.

4)  Amy Hale Auker will award one signed copy of Rightful Place along with a bonus gift to one person who can answer the question, what sort of jewelry does she NOT like?  Answer may be found on her website and sent to Amy  via her contact page at   www.amyhaleauker.com or via email to rightfulplace@gmail.com

5)   Rionna Morgan is giving away a copy of Love’s Justice—drop on by her blog (rionnamorgan.blogspot.com) to enter by rafflecopter.

6)  Eunice Boeve will give away two copies of Crossed Trails to the first two who visit her current blog at  http://www.euniceboeve.net ,find the kind of pie her mother used to make and e-mail her the answer at roneun@ruraltel.net along with their name and address.

Winners include Arletta Dawdy,  Heidi Thomas, Dorothy Colemen, Suzanne Johnson and Cecil Anderson.  Thanks for participating everyone, and a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

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30 responses to “MEMORIES OF A WESTERN CHRISTMAS

  1. This was a great Christmas blog, and so many cool give-aways. So glad you let me know about it! Hope your holidays are wonderful.

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  2. I absolutely have tears in my eyes reading your accounts, friends. Oh, the tumbleweed Christmas tree and your mom crying one day only…fresh oranges were always part of my childhood. We even got one in our Christmas goody bag after the Christmas program at church. Every one of you has touched my life today. I’m a California beach girl very jealous of your Western lives! God bless you at Christmas and grant you much success with your books!

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  3. Great post. I’m thinking I’d love to try Christmas on a beach 🙂

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    • Well, Lisa, escaping the cold of winter can be very lovely but sometimes the traveling is really a pain. Two years ago our plane was delayed by 3 days…no fun at all! I hope you’re taking part in one of our competitions. Thanks for coming by.

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  4. Thank you, Pam, Mal, and Tanya. This was a fun Christmas blog to be a part of.

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  5. Such fun holiday stories. Thanks for sharing them!

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  6. Paty, I remember the plastic orange spouts. Funny. My favorite Christmases were in Germany.

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  7. I enjoyed reading all these Christmas stories. Thanks, Andi, for having Paty, Karen, Amy, Rionna and Eunie share of bit of their Christmases past with you.

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  8. This is just a wonderful place to be this holiday. I will be sending many friends to share in the cheer.

    All the Best,
    Rionna

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  9. Thanks Alice. I’m glad things are going well for you.

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  10. Golly, I’m late commenting….but the stories in Andi’s blog have kept the Christmas spirit rich for me since the first time I read them. Andi, you gave me a wonderful opportunity to participate with some fine writers. I’m honored. All your names will be placed in my husband’s cowboy hat….and I’ll have my neighbor draw one to see who’ll get a copy of my novel, The Dividing Season.
    Happy Holidays everyone!

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  11. What a treat, what a gift for the reader these memories of a western Christmas! Thank you so much Andi, Paty, Karen, Amy, Rionna and Eunie. I doubt I’ll receive anything this Christmas that will top your stories.

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  12. Andi, These are wonderful stories of Christmas Past. I found them alternately charming, poignant, sad and joyful! Thank you for posting them…such generous and great writers of the west. I had a good time exploring some of the websites and blogs.
    Arletta

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