As a young girl growing up in northwestern Arizona’s Mohave Desert in the 1950s, I was mystified by Christmas songs about merry gentlemen wassailing, fa-la-la-ing in holly-decked halls, and riding in a one horse open sleigh across the snow.
I was the first child of a pair of wunderkind, busy growing kids and fortune in the tiny town of Kingman on Route 66. I’d never dashed through the snow in a sleigh but had often bounced around the desert in an open heap of welding and engine named Sputnik. My mechanical genius father built Sputnik on a Ford Model A frame as an off road hunting buggy and Christmas tree hauler. The vehicle was named Sputnik because Dad drove it so fast over rough terrain that passengers could be launched into space. He considered four-wheel drive a waste of money. Dad had faith in his proven ability to put any vehicle between whatever rock and a hard place he wanted. And get it unstuck, often with a monstrous jack that his truck seldom left home without. Thank God!
I learned to pray on Rucker family outings while side-hilling through the steep, cactus and juniper studded foothills of the Hualapai Mountains and bumping over the rocky plains down to the Colorado River. Dad knew that handsome and terrible desert like his own face and he wanted his children to love it as he did. Perhaps it was because I’d become a really good pray-er that our family was blessed with interesting times we not only lived through but enjoyed. Mostly.
So it is with gratitude and a joyful heart that I offer these Christmas tales of a magical Arizona childhood with my parents, Raymond and Norma Jean Rucker, and the little kids—my sister, Rhonda and my brother, Gary.
Melinda Rucker Haynes
On Santa’s Naughty List
There were rules about Christmas at our house.
In addition to the constant threat of getting on Santa’s Naughty List—apparently Mother had a secret reporting line to Ole Saint Nick—there would be no tree or decorating until two weeks before December 25.
Nothing Christmasy dared show up in Kingman before the first week in December, except the Sears & Roebuck Christmas Catalog.
And there weren’t any fresh cut tree lots in our windblown high desert town. Most families we knew ventured out to the foothills of the Hualapai Mountains some ten miles south of town to cut their own scrawny piñon pine trees.
My grandmother, a nurse at Mohave County General Hospital, never hunted Christmas trees with us. She ordered in a shiny aluminum FAKE tree which she decorated with blue lights and matching glass balls. That astonishing anachronism stood the next twenty Christmases in her Craftsman bungalow filled with Mission-style furniture and Navajo rugs and baskets. However, this Desert Christmas Tale isn’t about decorating or trees, but how I found myself on Santa’s Naughty List.
The days following Thanksgiving to the first of December were a particularly mercurial time for me and the other Baby Boomer kids in our neighborhood known to some as Fertile Acres. Emotions and energy ran high, often coming out in outrageous boasting like “Santa’s gonna bring me a new bike because I’ve been really good.”
Nobody was that good! That kind of stupid talk necessarily resulted in shin-kicking combat to crippling death if the bragger didn’t shut up.
A neighbor boy started in one bright, windy December day about how good he was—at just about everything. An outright lie. I’d overheard some neighbors gossip that his big family was struggling, with what I wasn’t sure. But I did know I had to cut him some slack because it was near Christmas and he was one of eight or fifteen kids. So I didn’t argue or kick him when he challenged me to a contest to see who could throw a rock through our open garage window without hitting the glass.
Tommy’s aim was all wrong. His rock thwacked the stucco wall beneath the high window. I found a bigger rock, a boulder, really. Took aim and loosed my winning throw through the open window and CRACK! I raced around the corner of the garage to the front, looking for my rock.
“I don’t see it. It didn’t go in,” Tommy crowed and pushed past me into the garage to the front of our family’s two-tone Ford Crown Victoria.
“Yes, it did. I win!” I grabbed up my rock from the concrete floor, waving it at Tommy.
Tommy’s eyes bugged and his mouth dropped open. “Uh ohhhhh.”
I came closer to see what the uh oh was about.
Mother and Dad were going to kill me!
My winning rock had shattered the windshield of the first brand new car of two hardworking children of the Depression!
Tommy evaporated. I was left alone considering my pending Number One position on Santa’s Naughty List. Maybe I could somehow save my Christmas with good, plain truth, which, according to Mother, I was not exactly known for. I took a deep breath and death marched into the house where my parents learned their formerly beloved first born was the unfortunate idiot who was playing with a tiny stone that mistakenly flew through the garage window and the car somehow got scratched.
“Oh my God!” Mother shrieked and grabbed up the phone.
She really did have a direct line to Santa!
I dashed out the back door, across the dirt yard to the detached garage. Dad stood beside his new car with the broken windshield, hands on hips, shaking his head.
Could I persuade him to cut the telephone wire to the house, do something, anything to keep Mother from phoning Santa Claus?
I was in tears now and pretty scared. “Daddy, it was an accident. Does Mother really have to call Santa Claus about what I did?”
His lips tweaked up at the corners as he fixed his twinkling blue eyes on me. “She’s not calling Santa Claus. Mother’s reporting your accident to State Farm Insurance.”
Joy to the world!