Su Lum: Slumming
Aspen, CO, Colorado
We spent our second wilderness Christmas in an A-frame cabin (no water, no electricity) next to the Burma Road School, a Quonset hut where my ex-husband Burt taught 13 students in grades one through eight.
The school had a generator for electricity and oil heat and was lavishly equipped by the state with new desks, the latest texts and workbooks, cartons of sports equipment, reams of paper and grosses of pencils, pens, crayons, rulers and other educational paraphernalia.
The school was in its second year of operation. The first teacher had left abruptly in the middle of his contract, and after three months, we could understand why.
By the middle of December, we were embroiled in a woods feud that flared up out of nowhere and led to hostilities that were so deep that we ourselves were out of there and back on our own land by January.
In contrast to the merry Thanksgiving with the Burma Road homesteaders sharing a dinner of homemade bread and pies, rice, canned vegetables, barbecued moose and sweet-and-sour moose ribs, we were embadgered in our cabin with our 4-month-old daughter Skye.
On Christmas Eve, we drove 50 miles to town to get the mail, but not a single box from friends or family had arrived. This was back in the days before life in Aspen turned Christmas into the holiday from hell. In 1962, we were overflowing with sentimentality and swept up in the romance of it – good will to all, our baby’s first Christmas, and there we were with everyone hating one another and not even a single box from home.
Well, there were plenty of Christmas trees for the taking. Burt cut a perfect one, and that night, as a heavy snow began to fall, he got out his tin shears and cut the lids of tin cans into sunbursts and stars to hang on the tree while I glued paper chains out of construction paper. The box of decorations we had brought to Alaska sat in our trailer in Anchorage.
We had been asleep for at least an hour when we were awakened by the sound of caroling coming closer and closer. “Hark the herald angels sing” … who could that be?
We sprang from our bed and looked out at a blizzard. “Glory to the newborn king. … “
What appeared to be two pack animals came into view. “Peace on earth and mercy mild. … ” The animals shed their packs and turned into my brother and our friend Callie, who had been working over the holidays at the Anchorage post office.
They had intercepted our Christmas packages, driven through the storm as far as they could and then hiked for three hours to our cabin, laden down with presents – the Christmas cookies, handmade mittens and sweaters, boxes of candy, Mother Goose, a stuffed Pooh Bear, records and books, booties and cigarettes, brandy and popcorn and all the warmth and love we so badly craved that Christmas.
I’ve never been much of a believer, but I believed in Santa Claus that night.
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The past sneaks up on us in the strangest of ways, and I don’t mean bounty hunters flashing those “Wanted: Dead or Alive” posters in our faces.