Tony Vagneur: It’s been a long ride home, but things are gonna be all right
Maybe it’s too late to write about Christmas — that was a couple of days ago and we’re moving into the New Year now, no time for looking back. Or not.
It’s been different for me this year. I haven’t shared it with anyone, but it started a few days before the 25th. Maybe it’s having grandchildren, that’s part of it, I’m sure, but that doesn’t explain the depth of thought about my parents, wondering about them at Christmas, reflecting on their lives and what it all may have meant to them.
We had a round coffee table, about 5 feet in diameter, a foot-and-a-half tall, that stood in the corner of the living room, between two large picture windows that showed a wondrous view of the Woody Creek valley. That’s where the Christmas tree sat, right in the middle, and that’s where the magic of Christmas morning happened.
There weren’t many surprises under the tree, but enough, maybe two or three each year, that kept me entertained over the winter and perhaps through the summer. A Tonka truck. A farm set, with horses, cows and sheep. My first pair of skis, not the previous hand-me-downs but brand-new store bought, that were my pride and joy, and what a surprise they were. When I was in the fifth-grade, I got a turntable with a 45-rpm recording of my favorite song of the day, “Daddy Cool,” by The Rays. Must have driven my mother and siblings crazy hearing that over and over again in the background.
We checked out the area around the tree, then mom went to work on making breakfast and dad went out the door to feed the cows. Catch the team, harness, hook them to the sled and travel the mile or more to the feed ground. Load the sled several times, feed it out and then do it all in reverse. It was a holiday, a day of remembrance, all right, but you can’t explain that to hungry cattle or horses. Animals like routine, and they like it timely. He’d already milked the cows before we kids got up, which must have got him out of bed way too early.
When I was older, I’d help him feed. If our hired hand was a family man, we’d give him the day off. If he was single, nothing seemed better to him than spending time on the feed sled with my dad, just like he did every winter day. Maybe afterward, he’d go to town and visit friends or eat dinner with us.
That round coffee table, with a tree on it, keeps coming back, the centerpiece of our Christmas holiday. We’d go far up the Woody Creek road, permission from Stanley Natal granted, and find a great tree in the pines along the creek, which coldly and quietly burbled through his ranch. Along with my younger brother and sister, there was the agonizing wait with cold fingers and toes while my parents decided on the best looking one, then dad sawing if off, and that was the easy part. We had to get it decorated to my mom’s exacting vision.
The years rolled on — Gramps died and we moved into his big house. The entire family came to our house for Christmas day, and it was all memorable and exciting. Then college and after, spending those Christmas days working on the ski mountain or running a seven-day a week business and keeping up the social scene. There were celebrations, but it never was the same as those early years.
My daughter was born, then the divorce. Trying to celebrate Christmas with a child living in two separate households is almost impossible — the continuity, the good feeling of family and unity isn’t there. Especially for the child. My daughter and I went snowmobiling every Christmas Day — starting in grade school through her college years — that was our celebration and our tradition.
She’s married now, with two children and a strong marriage. Her kids have no idea how fortunate they are to be growing up in their family. Things will be OK for them. Watching their excitement at life is invigorating for me.
And for the first time in what seems like eons, I feel some of the Christmas magic coming back into my life. Not for the gifts, not for the midnight church. Just for recognition of “us,” of family. Maybe, as the song, “Long Ride Home” by David Starr says, “I’ve been a long time gone.”
I miss my parents, and I like that. My daughter and her family make my purpose, whatever it is, worthwhile. My partner, Margaret, holds my hand in the cold night air, and everything will be all right.
Thanks to fellow cowboy in spirit, Lee Duncan, for sparking my thought process. Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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