I have been spoiled throughout my life with warm homes and great food. Christmas is a perfect time to be thankful for all we have while reflecting on the past. This, too, is an excellent time to remember those less fortunate or our soldiers serving overseas.
Christmas with my family from those golden days when my parents and grandparents were still around created a lot of work. The women in our family cooked unbelievable amounts of food and wrapped piles of presents. We certainly were not rich, and today I wonder how they afforded the holidays?
We seemed to have more snow in those days. I remember one Christmas morning waking up to a white world, probably at least seven inches of new snow on the ground. The sky was clear and sunlight seemed to bounce off the beautiful landscape that resembled a Christmas card.
My mother had purchased one of those Christmas trees from the Sears store where she worked that seemed to be made from aluminum foil strips with blue bulbs. The light through our farmhouse window across that artificial tree made a blinding reflection.
I, of course, at age 14 was outside diving in snow banks when my grandparents and great grandparents arrived for our Christmas celebration. I loved my grandmother’s Jell-O salad with the orange slices, walnuts, grapes and little marshmallows.
After they arrived and all presents were stacked under the tree, we all held hands and prayed before lunch and the feast commenced. We generally had turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, corn, cranberries, salads, dinner rolls and cake for desert.
Then we opened presents. My grandfather had brought a long, well-wrapped present that caught my attention, especially when I found my name on it. My imagination rolled over and over, wondering what it could be. I had an idea, but knew it couldn’t be what I wanted most, grandpa’s old single-shot Winchester 16-gauge shotgun. No, he wouldn’t part with his favorite rabbit shooter. Would he? I wondered.
Grandpa told everyone that I was to open the first present, the long box. I laid it across my lap and sat for a moment, almost afraid to see what was in the well-wrapped package. Then I started unwrapping, slowly at first and then very quickly.
Everyone’s eyes were on me as I tore the final strips of red and green Christmas paper wrapping, yes, I still remember the colors 50 years later, and gently slipped open the box end. I pulled out one of my most cherished possessions to this day, grandpa’s shotgun.
My mother had to remind me I had other presents to open because I did not want to lay the gun down. I slipped the catch sideways to look down the shiny barrel. The stock had some light scratches and a deep scar from previous hunts, but grandpa had used stain on these “war wounds” and I didn’t care. That gun was the most beautiful thing this 14-year-old had ever seen. Another package had a box of 25 Federal shotgun shells, the hulls were colored coded purple.
After lunch and all presents were opened, my grandparents sat and talked for a bit before driving home. Dad and I slipped on our winter garb and walked down to the timber by way of our north pasture to make sure the cows had enough hay.
Dad carried his old 870 Wingmaster he had purchased at the PX in Japan before being shipped home from the Korean War. We started hunting a strip that my grandfathers and great grandfathers had hunted. I held my new gun with both hands, occasionally studying my new prize.
A rabbit jumped up and I slipped back the old hammer, took careful aim and missed. I only had one shot so dad rolled the rabbit. Disappointed, I slipped another 16-gauge shotgun shell in the tube and walked on toward a water gap Dad and Grandpa had built years before.
We took a couple of steps and another bunny jumped up. I automatically slipped back the gun’s hammer, picked up the rabbit on the BB-style sight and squeezed the trigger. The rabbit rolled in the snow from sheer momentum and stopped.
My father and grandfathers had long before made a pact to only shoot enough quail or rabbits for one meal, so we started walking home. This pact was made because every meal was important and free meat was always welcome, especially succulent rabbit. Two bunnies would fry up nicely and made a fine Christmas dinner.
Only my mother still remains in these new days of political correctness where you can’t say Merry Christmas. We still talk about those beautiful days of my youth when the snow was bright and our older family members shared the holidays. Today we have a new batch of family and my grandchildren love our old stories and their new days of Christmas.
So Merry Christmas dear friends, I hope all is right in your world, if only in memories!
– Kenneth Kieser, a veteran outdoors writer and member of the Waterfowlers Hall of Fame and National Fresh Water Fishing Hall of Fame, writes a weekly outdoors column for The Examiner. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.