The first Christmas my mom remembered
My Mom, Violet Coy Sedgwick, always grew radiant when she’d begin telling about the first Christmas celebration she ever experienced. At the time she dwelt with her parents Mike and Bessie Coy and several siblings in a 2-room log house Mike had built at their homestead on Lodgepole Creek, right where Chuck Grieves lives today.
Her eyes would sparkle as she recalled how they were invited to join Snowden and “Gusty” (Augusta Schmidt) Dixon and family at their home a few miles distant for the Christmas fet`e.
Mom might have been seven years old, maybe eight, at the time.
Naturally you’ll wonder why she hadn’t celebrated Christmas before that.
It had to do with poverty, and the unsettled conditions of a family that trekked by covered wagon from the Bull Mountains of Montana back to Taney County Missouri the long hot summer she was two years old, only to discover “you can’t go back” – and to realize that after living a few years in the wide open spaces of the West they heartily disliked the more populated, humid, timber-choked Ozarks. That realization caused her dad to jump a freight train and head for Douglas, Wyoming, where he remembered “liking that country where we crossed the Platte River” with the wagon the summer before.
A year or two, possibly more, intervened before Mike, fortunate to have found work with Charlie Carlson on the AU7 Ranch, managed to buy train tickets for Bessie and the children to return to Wyoming. He’d left them at Portia, Arkansas, in a rental house belonging to his uncle Sam Coy, who owned and operated a livery stable in Portia.
As the long months passed with no word from him they wondered if he’d met with tragedy…or had perhaps even abandoned them. Once they reached Wyoming they lived for a time in a rental house in Newcastle. Then they were housed on the AU7 Ranch headquarters while Mike cut and hauled logs from the Horseshoe Bend area of the Cheyenne River to build the homestead house.
The Dixons, lately from the Black Hills (whence “Snow” was an immigrant from Shropshire, England) had built a fine warm, sheltered and stylishly appointed dugout home along Dugout Creek in 1913. Even though Gusty wasn’t from Britain (being the first white child born in the Black Hills), she’d learned from Snow’s family how to put on a holiday party in the finest English tradition.
There was food the Coy kids had never even heard of, set off by sparkling silver and china, crystal punch bowls and glassware, all displayed on fine linen tablecloths. Eggnog and punch, perhaps hot roasted chestnuts, preceded golden brown fowl, probably a goose, with stuffing. Baked ham, oysters and cranberries, gravy and fluffy homemade rolls with sweet churned butter and colorful jellies crowded the tables. Sweets of many kinds were ready for the dessert course, surely including plum pudding, and some mincemeat pies made with venison Snow’s rifle had harvested.
Mother happily recalled the thrilling glimpses and tantalizing fragrances whetting their appetites for the meal, mixed with the unfamiliar comeliness and luxurious ambiance of the home. Lace curtains, satin chairs and pillows, colorful holiday decorations…greenery and candles amid richly sparkling oil lamps…perhaps even some gas lights.
Following a gastronomic binge never to be forgotten by the Coy children, sleigh bells were heard in the distance. They grew nearer, soon accompanied by staccato taps across the roof that could only be caused by tiny reindeer hooves! Hark – the jingling of bells invaded the adjacent parlor, where a locked door had kept all kids at bay. When everyone heard a hearty “Ho-ho-ho” behind that wall Snow Dixon hurriedly unlocked the parlor door and flung it open, revealing not only a stately evergreen tree dripping with brilliant decorations illuminated by multitudes of tiny candles, but also the jolly snowy-haired and -bearded Santa himself! Snowflakes melted on his red velvet hat and suit and his shiny black boots as he pressed brown paper bags of hard candy upon each small guest. While they peeped awestruck at the contents of those bags the jolly old elf literally disappeared, leaving no trace except for a distant tinkling on the frosty night air.
Those were my Mom’s and her siblings’ first glimpses of a Christmas tree…and of the legendary Old Saint Nick. That day generated their earliest, and forever fondest, memories of the holiday most cherished by children worldwide.
Even eighty years later Mom’s eyes would sparkle with the recalled excitement of those very first Christmas memories! Always appreciative, she never failed to marvel at and comment upon the kindness and generosity of the Snow Dixon family, exemplifying the true Christmas spirit through reaching out to those less fortunate and providing such an unequalled and amazing experience – not only for underprivileged children but also for the parents who no doubt regretted having always been unable to give them that kind of Christmas.
As Tiny Tim might’ve put it…God bless them, one and all!