Posts Tagged ‘Christmas story’

Chasing Horny Toads Christmas Tale–Sandwash Sledding

Saturday, December 24th, 2016

cht-xmasSand Wash Sledding

 The Sunday two weeks before Christmas, Dad hooked up his hunting buggy, Sputnik, to the back of the pickup. Mother packed a lunch of tuna salad sandwiches made with lots of mayonnaise and chopped onion, Fig Newton cookies, fruit and a jug of instant iced tea or lemonade. She didn’t buy soda pop.

Dad always maintained a sort of chuck box in his vehicle that held survival essentials for a picnic or stranding. The rectangular metal box usually contained a loaf of Rainbow bread, a bottle of French’s yellow mustard, an onion, a couple of cans of Spam and Hershey bars. And a pint of Canadian Club whiskey for warming emergencies. He also threw in a machete, a length of heavy tow chain with hooks on the ends and the giant jack. We would need them all at some point on our Christmas tree hunting party.

The weather was usually sunny, windy and the temperature in the fifties.

The five of us piled into the pickup’s cab and drove up to the Hualapai Mountains foothills. Dad turned off on a rutted dirt road and drove about a mile through the scruffy junipers, cactus, and scrub oak. He parked off the road and unhitched Sputnik. We loaded the gear in Sputnik’s small bed. My sister Rhonda and I rode on top of the spare tire. Dad and Mother sat on the front seat with my little brother because he got carsick in the back.

Maybe it was my praying that saved me from that miserable mal de auto my sister and brother suffered on these thrill rides. More likely I didn’t get sick because I didn’t like running behind the car. Which was my dad’s cure for car sickness. My brother could have been a marathon star for all the training miles he put in behind various vehicles during his childhood.

Dad loved driving Sputnik off road, over boulder fields and side-hilling in steep terrain, taking us where no wheeled vehicle had gone before. I preferred easing down sand washes that flowed through rock-walled canyons. The smooth ride over the sand was what I imagined riding in a horse-drawn sleigh over snow was like. I asked Dad if that were so because he knew pretty much everything.

“I don’t know. Haven’t been sledding in the snow. But I have an idea.” He stopped beside a big clump of cat’s claw bushes and ordered everyone out. Dad pulled the tow chain from the back, hooked one end to Sputnik’s spring shackle and dragged the other end to the bushes. “Stand back,” he yelled and climbed in the driver’s seat. The engine revved, wheels spun sand, the chain snapped taut and Sputnik leaped forward. A rusty boat-looking thing popped out of the cat’s claw on the chain’s hook.

“Hop on, kids,” Dad called, grinning. “Let’s go sand wash sledding.”

“No, Raymond,” Mother cried, spreading her arms to hold us back. “What is that thing? It looks dangerous!”

“It’s a 1939 DeSoto car hood,” he said proudly. “A great car.” His smile faded at her worried expression and he added, “Perfectly safe. I’ll go slow.”

And away we went on our first desert sleigh ride to the tune of Jingle Bells . . .

Big sister

Little sister,

Baby brother, too

Dashing through a desert sand wash

On an upside down car hood

Behind a 65 horse V-8 open sleigh

On an Arizona December day.

Chasing Horny Toads Christmas Tale–Chocolates and a Machete

Monday, December 19th, 2016

cht-xmasChocolates and a Machete

Christmas tree hunting in the Arizona high desert was hungry work. The six Hershey bars in Dad’s chuck box tormented me with the naughty question: Who gets chocolate bar number six in a family of five?

There would be no answer to that until we stopped for lunch, which wouldn’t happen until Dad found the right spot. He was very choosy about picnic location—there had to be water. Since he didn’t carry any water on our outings that meant we’d be lunching at some stock tank with a screeching windmill again. Babbling brooks or golden ponds ideal for picnicking were not to be found in the Mohave Desert.

I once asked Dad why we didn’t have a canvas water bag hanging from our car like the tourists flowing through Kingman on Route 66.

“Don’t need it,” he said and gave me a big wink. “Besides, big boys don’t carry water.”

Years later when I asked the question again, Dad remembered when he was a little boy growing up on the Rucker ranch on the Colorado River, that his father, big brother, and men used to ride out for the work day without canteens. Hence, a little cowboy, longing to be a big one, believed that big boys don’t carry water. Because a Rucker can find it in the desert or learn to do without. About noon, Sputnik rolled into a small clearing with a big round, three foot high, metal stock tank. A tall windmill’s blades squawked leisurely around in the light breeze, pumping a trickle of water through a pipe into the top of the open tank.

Eureka! Dad’s perfect picnic spot. He let down Sputnik’s tailgate and Mother unpacked the lunch on it while we kids milled around the clearing.

“Rhonda, don’t climb on the tank,” Mother called and handed Dad a tuna sandwich. She opened the Fig Newtons and poured him a paper cup of iced tea.

“Don’t touch that!” Mother yelled at my little brother. He dropped the cow pie.

Dad set his food on the tailgate. He picked up my brother and held him over the water tank. “Wash,” he ordered. Gary splashed his little hands in the cold water.

My sister came running, “I want to wash my hands, too.” She got her turn as I stalked the Hershey bars in the open chuck box.

Everything in that box was Dad’s property, which we did not touch unless invited. Had he forgotten them? Would he share? I chewed it over as I munched my tuna sandwich.

Even in winter, when the food came out yellow jacket wasps zoomed around us, making touch and go landings on our sandwiches. Everyone knows yellow jackets prefer Chicken of the Sea, but they will just as happily take a bite out of soft, young kidskin. And they scared us kids badly.

We ran around the tank, flapping arms, screaming and dodging wasps, while Dad and Mother lunched together, chatting and laughing, on Sputnik’s front seat. Finally, Dad reached into the back and pulled out the machete. “Kids, it’s time to get your tree.” He handed me the long, sharp knife and nodded toward the biggest hill. “Head up there and pick out a tree. If you need help chopping it down, yell.”

Wooooohoooo! I got to pick out our Christmas tree and chop it down, too! I loped up the hill with the little kids running to catch up with me.

“Let’s get this one. It’s just my size,” Rhonda said, putting one hand on top of the short bush and the other on her own head.

“That’s not a Christmas tree. It’s a baby juniper,” I chided. “It’s too little, anyway. We need a really big tree.”

Higher and higher we climbed into the piñon pines and IT there stood all by itself—tall, fat, and kind of pointy at the top. The perfect Christmas tree.

For such a big tree, not much of the trunk showed beneath the low branches. I circled it, looking for the right place to start chopping. I couldn’t wait to yell, “TIMBER!”

“Stand back!” I ordered the little kids and grabbed the black electric tape-wrapped handle with both hands. I swung hard.

Bong! The blade bounced off the bark, and my stinging hands almost dropped it. The machete had barely made a mark on the trunk. I backed up and reconsidered my attack.

“Let me do it,” my sister demanded. “I know how.”

“No! I’m supposed to do it.” I swung again. And again. And again. All the machete did was make the tree mad. It shook off short needles and pinecones. And threw sticky pitch at me. I was covered with it.

“Daaaad,” I yelled down the hill.

He was leaning back, feet up on Sputnik’s dash, his tan stockman’s Stetson pulled down over his eyes. Dad sat up and jumped out. He jogged up the hill and inspected my tree. “What’s the problem?”

“I don’t think I know how to cut a tree,” I confessed and handed him the machete. Even though he hadn’t really told me how I felt like I should have been able to cut that tree down. And I was pretty sure he did, too.

He made several quick chops. The tree bent over. One more chop and it separated from the stump. Dad grabbed the tree by the thickest branch and dragged it off the hill. We ran along behind our beautiful tree and tried to help him load it in the back of Sputnik. The job got done with some crushing and cracking, especially when my sister and I sat on it for the ride back to the pickup.

When we got home, Mother herded her three pitch-covered, grimy children into the bathroom to clean up. Dad fit the tree to the stand he’d made from the steel front wheel of an old tractor. It wasn’t painted or finished, just wiped of grease and dirt, and, most important, functional, which bothered me even then. Dad and I would have discussions over the years about my “concern for appearance”, he called it. Then he would repeat his personal mantra, “Shine she may run she must.”

Of course, my perfect tree was anything but. In and out of the house it went; Dad whacking off trunk and limbs until it fit not only through the front door but in the small living room. The huge hole was turned to the back, which unfortunately was to the picture window.

Once cleaned up and in our jammies, we kids decorated the tree and each other with tinsel. Yes, we threw it. Mother was very allowing of our Christmas decorating. We made paper chains and hung them around the room and on the tree along with anything else we thought pretty enough.

Every night we’d turn on the tree lights, turn off the lamps and put a record on the hi-fi stereo. Mother and Dad loved music, big band, pop and popular singers. We sat around the glittering tree, listening to Johnny Mathis sing Chances Are, and sorted our wrapped gifts into appropriate piles. We nearly wore them out by Christmas Eve, the most magical day of the year when all wishes can come true, even in Kingman, Arizona.

 

Chasing Horny Toads–Desert Christmas Tales

Sunday, December 18th, 2016

cht-xmasAuthor’s Note

 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!