When Christmas was white

Published 7:21 am Friday, December 24, 2010

Well you have done it again.

You have survived the journey to Christmas Day 2010.

You are now celebrating this day with family and friends. Our grandest wish is that it be memorable.

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We all can relate to these holidays with memories of good and bad events, some entirely forgettable. But, that’s the way it is. Nobody ever promised a continuous rose garden.

Some of our favorite Christmases were spent during our 10 years in the West, many of them white. The first Christmas there we had only arrived a few weeks earlier, rented a drafty house surrounded by horse corrals and a neighbor with noisy mules in his front yard.

We were there by ourselves with three elementary school children, and just a few recent acquaintances from work at the newspaper in Grand Junction, Colo.

If you remember history, it was President Thomas Jefferson’s procurement of the Louisiana Purchase that placed millions of acres of lands under government control. Most western states today still retain vast acreage ruled and maintained by the Bureau of Land Management and the National Forest Service.

Each year, the Bureau opened portions of the high country to allow folks to enter the lands at will and cut down their own Christmas tree. Free. It was one of their programs that kept the land clear of trash growths, helping to avoid deadly and costly forest fires.

Anyway, our first Christmas in the West found us packing ourselves into the Bronco with lunch and hot drinks, putting the vehicle in four-wheel drive for off-road navigating, and heading into the mountains, plowing through about 8 inches of snow in search of the perfect tree.

It was fun.

We trounced through the snow, looked at this tree and that tree, finally selecting the perfect one, sawed through the trunk, then secured it to the roof rack of the Bronco. We had lunch on the tailgate of the Bronco, then headed back to our drafty rented house, noisy mules in the neighbor’s front yard. Christmas day found us back up in the mountains, sliding downhill through the snow on newly acquired toboggans, landing out in the middle of a flat plain, which later that summer we discovered was a lake.

Somewhere in our archives we have some pictures. Somewhere.

A few Christmases later, now in our own house absent of cold winter drafts and noisy mules in a neighbor’s front yard, we invited my parents to visit. Since 1952, they were Floridians in St. Petersburg, where winter on Christmas day usually settled in the 80s.

We told them bring warm clothes, if they had any, because December in Colorado was different.

On the first leg of their trip, they flew into Denver, changed planes for the 45-minute flight over the Rockies to the western side of the state, when while in the air, the weather, as it does routinely, changed dramatically. The airplane made several attempts to land in Grand Junction, when the pilot decided it was too dangerous, and returned to Denver.

To which our family guests where transferred to a bus for a memorable or scary six-hour journey across the Rockies in winter. They finally arrived, but my guess was at the time they were ready to hop the next safe plane out and return to Florida as quickly as possible.

Contrast those events to one not so long ago when we packed all our Christmas stuff, rented one of those three-story stilt houses on St. George Island, and now with adult kids and our grandkids, spent a delightful and warm holiday at the beach.

The weather could not have been more perfect. It was balmy with a slight breeze, yet not breezy enough to stir up the Gulf. It was like glass the entire time.

For five days, we bathed in the warmth of the sun, built sandcastles, relaxed and vowed to do this again.

Last year, the two of us returned for a few days at the beach between Christmas and New Year’s. If it had rained anytime during those few days, chances were good that we would have had a white vacation.

Our friends in the West tell us the new thing folks out there do today is to head south to Arizona, leaving behind any thoughts of a white Christmas and drafty houses, noisy mules in the neighbor’s front yard.

Well, so much for fond memories.

As for the present, we’ll just see how the day goes.

Merry Christmas to one and all.