Although I have spent most of my life in Colorado, my parents did not move here until I was about 10 years old. Until that time, we lived in central Oregon in the town of Bend. It is located at the foot of the Cascade Mountains and the surrounding countryside is semi-arid, much like the climate in Colorado. When winter would hit, we would get a lot of snow and the temperature would fall. I don’t remember too much, but one of my favorite memories is one of my family and a tradition that still continues today.
My grandparents lived about a quarter of a mile from our house and at Christmas time, my dad’s two sisters and his brother would often try to come and spend Christmas with them. I would look forward to playing with my cousins and getting to sit quietly in a corner and listen to my aunts and my mom sit and talk “grownup” talk. My father’s family was all musically gifted and whenever they came to visit, my dad and his siblings would get up and sing in church. My grandmother played the piano and my grandfather would play his violin. When the Quinn family arrived in town, they often put on the entire church service. It was exciting to be part of that.
Our church has a tradition in which, around Christmas time, we would all dress very warmly and go caroling in the different neighborhoods in the town. It would get so cold, but back then, we rode in the back of slow-driving pickup trucks filled with hay and would wrap blankets around everyone. With body heat and enthusiasm, we managed to stay fairly warm.
I remember watching my aunts getting ready for our adventure by putting cayenne pepper in their panty hose to help keep their feet warm. They swore it worked, but I never tried it. When everyone was all bundled up properly, we all would climb clumsily into the back of Grandpa’s pickup and ride into town to the church. I learned to harmonize from those sing-a-longs with my aunts and uncle and my dad. I don’t know how long we would ride and sing but by the time we would get back to the church I felt like everything was frozen solid. A few of the ladies always stayed behind and had hot chocolate and other goodies ready for those of us who had gone out to sing. Hot chocolate had never tasted as good as it did after those cold, frozen nights in the back of the pickup, singing my heart out with my family.
Our family has scattered now and my grandparents have passed away, but those precious memories of having our family all together at Christmas time had nothing to do with presents, and everything to do with togetherness. We outgrow clothes and toys get broken and thrown away. You might be surprised by what your children remember about Christmas’s past. It sure wasn’t the things I remembered, it was my people and the things we did together that made it into my book of memories held dear.