Memories of Christmas

We all have memories of Christmas, but I think we have an inner filter that amplifies the good memories while trying to forget the bad ones. But sometimes the sad ones keep coming back to haunt us and we try to push them into the furthest corners of our minds.

Most of my earliest Christmas memories are of special Christmas gifts. When I was 13, we lived a mile south of Norphlet near Flat Creek Swamp, where I spent countless hours hunting in the woods and fishing in Flat Creek. That special Christmas morning, I walked into our living room and there was a Sweet 16 shotgun. I couldn’t believe it. I knew my parents couldn’t afford such an expensive Christmas present and I was overwhelmed. I still have the gun.

The year before, I had asked Santa Claus to bring me some steel traps for animals. I had read all of Jack London’s books and other books about mountain men who were hunters, and I was determined to have a trapping line in Flat Creek Swamp.

After Santa brought me six steel traps and I managed to scrape enough money out of my paper route, doing odd jobs and delivering Coke bottles for storage to buy six more, I set up my trap row in Flat Creek is near. It was one of my money-making schemes, and I was going to clean up by catching mink. I assumed that I would catch at least a couple of mink every week, and that would be me – money, money, money.

Well, after a year of trapping, I had caught a few raccoons and a bunch of possums, but no mink. The raccoon skins sold for $3.50, due to Davy Crocket’s raccoon skin cap, but possums only 50 cents. I wasn’t really cleaning up until Christmas Eve I walked up to one of my traps and there was a big mink. Mr. Benton, our Norphlet fur buyer, gave me $17 for the skin, and I went to El Dorado with my father to the Christmas shop.

It must sound familiar to some of my readers who have read my Christmas novel, “The Red Scarf.” In the novel, I used that mink money on Christmas Eve for Richard to buy the prettiest girl in Norphlet a red scarf. Well, in the novel, I found the mink on the street having just been run over. Catching him in a steel trap didn’t seem to fit the plot and I didn’t buy anyone a red scarf.

But there have been other sad Christmases. When your father has a serious drinking problem and you have a feisty mother, who can snap and slap at the drop of a hat, you’ll be a referee to keep things from getting violent, and celebrating Christmas can be a disaster.

Some of my Christmas times will always be dark memories. I hated that Christmas came on the weekend because my father was afraid to drink during the week because he would lose his job at the refinery.

He was killed by a drunk driver when I was a sophomore in college… He was the drunk driver. After the driver of the other car sued and collected all of my mother’s insurance money, it was a sad and quiet Christmas with very few gifts.

It seemed to me that the holiday celebrations didn’t return until Vertis and I started dating. I was still in college, money was very tight, but after I found out her favorite color was pink, I raised enough money working in the college dining hall to buy her a pink sweater and skirt.

Vertis recalls a special Christmas where he received a Mouton Jacket, a rather expensive coat, which his family with the salary of a Baptist preacher could hardly afford.

After college I took a job with EXXON and went to South Texas to work as a geologist at King Ranch, and on Christmas we quickly found ourselves at a Texas-Mex party, which always meant a knock on the door of a young man selling homemade homemade warm tamales that say “Féliz Navidad”.

After I moved to Benghazi, Libya, our first Christmas was bleak. Since I was a borehole geologist and the rigs don’t shut down for any holidays, I happened to be in the desert that first Christmas Eve. My two weeks in the desert ended on Christmas day and Vertis met me at the airport.

That first Libyan Christmas we were alone in a foreign country. On Christmas night, Vertis wanted to show me something in the center of Benghazi, and we entered the center of the city, where in a roundabout there was a tall fir tree, and as I entered that circle, I was shocked. It had Christmas lights colored from top to bottom.

“A Christmas tree?” I questioned Vertis.

“Keep dreaming, Richard. Libyan Independence Day is very close to Christmas Day and the lights are to celebrate it.”

Well, that was a small bright spot that helped cheer up that first Libyan Christmas, but the rest of Christmas Day didn’t add much. We went home and settled in to listen to BBC chants on our shortwave radio. The broadcast was from St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and as we sat there listening in a room lit by a dim lantern. (Our lights were out as part of a citywide blackout.) I thought about leaving EXXON, but I didn’t.

When we returned to Texas, our Christmases were always a ten-hour drive from El Dorado, but after we moved in the mid-1970s and built our home, that first Christmas was special. When Lara opened her gift, a jacket lined with rabbit fur, she was so excited that she cried.

When our kids were older, we bought our pre-teen three wheelers, but got rid of them a couple months later, after Ashley flipped hers over and got a concussion and Lara smashed hers and she sprained her tailbone.

A very different Christmas memory always comes to mind when I remember traveling at Christmas. When our children were 13 and 15 we had a special holiday in Egypt, and that Christmas we spent the night of Christmas Eve in the hotel where Agatha Christi wrote the novel “Murder on the Nile”, and on Christmas Day I rented a sailboat called Felucca for $10 and sailed on the Nile.

In fact, music, especially choral music, is the perfect way for me to celebrate Christmas. As we sit in front of our fireplace and watch Christmas in Belmont, these wonderful singers bring the season to life. Our church always uses music to celebrate the season, and one Christmas our choir director, Wilson Borosvskis, put the choir in a living Christmas tree with Vertis as the top of the tree.

Vertis and I love music, especially Christmas music, and Christmas wouldn’t be special to us if we didn’t sing and listen to Christmas music. Christmas music expresses the Christmas spirit, and if I want to get into the mood of the season, just listening to or singing “Good Christmas Men Rejoice” gives me an inner smile that only comes with Christmas.

Richard Mason is an author and speaker. It can be reached at [email protected]

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