This holiday season, the Wyoming Public Radio news team is sharing stories about memories and traditions that stand out to them. Inside Energy reporter Madelyn Beck grew up at the dead end of a dirt road in Manhattan, Montana. There, the days often looked the same, hard to distinguish one from another, but there are smells and sounds that’ll bring her back. Here, she explains the sights and sounds that bring her back to Christmastime.
My memories of Christmas all sort of mash together. The caramel corn and fudge-topped brownies my mom made for Christmas presents. The dozens of sparkly cards. I would save every one, even though no one else wanted them. I'd even keep the ones from the bank. Before you knew it, it was Christmas Eve. We would eat turtles -- no, not the animal or the chocolate patty. But french bread baked with a thin layer of crab and a hefty layer of cheeses, usually involving colby jack and pepper jack. We were a bit too broke for this when I was really little, but it started up again when I was a teenager. We would also go to my Aunt Ellie’s house where we exchanged early gifts with my cousins. It used to be only one present, but as we got older, the rules relaxed and we opened everything. At some point at my aunt’s house, we would eat too much -- especially the crescent rolls -- and wait for the song. You see, Ellie’s plates have the 12 Days of Christmas on them. Of course, there may be one or two at the table who are too cool to sing or don’t want to participate, but they are forced. My father, who distinctly disliked the whole event and my aunt’s boyfriend, could be heard in gruff monotone. I can still hear him. "Five golden rings." Then, of course, we would go home and fight about whether to leave the Christmas lights on in the tree. My father was paranoid that it would burn down the house, even though they were the newer bulbs that don’t get too hot and he meticulously watered the tree. My sister, mother and I usually won out after a yelling match, and the tree lights were left on. Then came Christmas day. When we were little, we’d get up early and my father would move at a glacial pace that nearly sent my sister and I over the edge. My mother tried to keep us sane by allowing us to open up Christmas cards and dig through the stockings. When we were about ready to BURST, my father would come downstairs, taking his dear sweet time. Sometimes we were supposed to eat breakfast first. But usually, that didn’t happen. And we’d tear into the boxes and Christmas bags. Well, tear isn’t the right word. We still wanted to reuse those bags and bows again. I usually handed out the presents. I was the youngest, and the least patient. Still am. And in the end, somehow, my parents always scraped together enough to get us what we asked for, no matter the price. Even when I was little, I realized that it was a really big deal that they could get me my own little TV with a VHS player. I never asked for something that big again. I felt terrible for having asked in the first place. After everything was open, my dad would start putting together the big presents like a grill or new chair to assemble: taking them out to his shop next door (he was a mechanic), while the rest of us started playing with whatever we got. I would usually read whatever nerdy book I asked for and we would watch whatever movie mom put in our stockings. One Christmas night, I vividly remember laying on the weird gold-brown carpet on the landing at the top of the stairs. I fell asleep after about the twentieth time listening through my brand new tape in my Walkman. It was Now That’s What I Call Music! 6: colloquially called Now 6. Singing Backstreet Boys, and blasting out Destiny’s Child and U2, I fell asleep, not questioning what was going to happen next or caring what I had to do that next day. I miss those moments. They’re pretty rare nowadays, as an adult. But for these coming holidays, I hope you all can experience that feeling of simple, worry-free joy.
Happy Holidays everyone.