Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Christmas in the Pines

I’m sure everyone has Christmas memories of people, places and presents. Being 70 plus years of age, I have many.

Christmas always means family and friends, and my first memory of Christmas was in Colorado, when we joined Uncle Les and Aunt Vivian for Christmas. Dad and Les were both going to schools in Colorado, and we would see them whenever we could. The next memory is of the elderly couple that owned the little grocery store down Harrold’s mainstreet, next to the Coyote Bar, that invited us over for Christmas dinner when I was in the third grade. They lived in the back of the small store, their living area separated from the store by a curtain hung on a wire. Mom was concerned that I wouldn’t like the dinner of oyster stew, and spent much time fussing over me, until she realized I actually was enjoying it. Christmas was always special when the aunts, uncles and cousins would gather in Grandma’s little cracker box of a house, the dining room filled with people and presents, everyone talking and laughing and sharing the kid’s excitement of opening gifts. The best part of those Christmases at Grandmas was listening to Dad and his family tell stories and enjoying being together again.

When I think of Christmases past, I think of certain presents, like the mechanical horse and the boxing gloves I got while in Colorado. I wanted to ride the horse but Dad wanted me to try and punch the punching bag so he could laugh when I missed it. A small phonograph with two or three 45 rpm records was a special gift when I was in the third grade. “Sixteen Tons” was a big song then, and I played that record so much Dad asked Mom to hide it. The next year was the Red Ryder BB gun Christmas, when just about every boy in my class got one. That was also the year I learned where Santa Claus really lived. A puppy was my Christmas present when we lived in Mobridge. I was a lonesome little boy and that puppy became my best friend. A Mossberg, bolt-action 20 guage shotgun was a special Christmas gift when I was old enough to start hunting. Boots, hats, chaps and vests filled my Christmas stocking over the following years, but there was one Christmas that will always be my “best” Christmas.

When Dad decided to move back to Harrold from Colorado, Mom and I rode the bus to Green Cove Springs, Florida, to spend a few months with Mom’s family while Dad got a barbershop up and running. It was late in the fall, and I enjoyed the warm weather, and the time I had playing with my Florida cousins. I helped Uncle Chuck feed his chickens, sat on Grandma’s porch and picked oranges off her tree, listened to Uncle Floyd play his guitar and harmonica. When Christmas time neared, my older cousin Jerry and I went out into the woods behind their house and found a tree that Jerry cut down. It was warm and there was sand instead of snow on the ground, but it was fun dragging that Christmas tree home and helping decorate it. I kept asking Mom when Dad was coming to get us, and she would only say, ‘soon’. Christmas was just a few days away and all of a sudden I was really missing my dad. Christmas Eve was gift-opening time for Mom’s family, and as we began to open gifts I remember opening a small box with a Roy Rogers wrist watch in it! It had a picture of Roy and Trigger on the face and I loved it. About that time the lights of a car came into the yard. Mom got excited and ran out into the night while my Aunt Alva kept me occupied. I wondered where Mom had gone, and began to worry when suddenly the door opened and my dad walked in. I ran to him, jumped into his arms and hugged his neck as tight as I could. He laughed the laugh I had been missing. I don’t think I left his side all that

evening, jabbering to him about my adventures in Florida, listening to him tell about how he had found a real pony for me to ride when we were home, and about how my puppy was doing. Christmas is a time of giving, and it is always great to get and give gifts, but, for me, the best Christmas gift I ever received was having my Dad with me for Christmas when I was a little boy