Ghosts Of Christmas

‘Tis The Season, Alright
; .

Holidays are warmer with a nice fire in the stove or fireplace, a lesson Dave
learned many Christmases ago. He’s gathered many a log from a snow-covered woodpile.

For as far back as I can remember, the Christmas birthday I shared with my sister, who came along three years ahead of me, has been a double bit axe — and both edges have left cuts here and there.

It has been a time of joy and family gatherings, but eventually the families began to thin and drift apart; no more Christmas Eve gift sharing at my aunt and uncle’s house, no more Christmas mornings for the kids at grandma’s house with more presents, a tasty breakfast, crackling flame in the brick fireplace and — with any luck — some time outside with snow on the ground.

Grandma left us years ago, and the aunts and uncles have passed on as well. The children with those big eyes and bigger smiles have grown up, and instead of toys and games, there are new, warm socks, maybe a nice shirt or pair of jeans under the tree; things we can use through the year instead of just things to enjoy and delight for brief periods. My personal favorites are lantern mantles, propane bottles for my camp stove, flashlight batteries; stuff that just might provide some degree of comfort next fall in the High Lonesome.

There was the Christmas my dad helped my aunt purchase a new Smith & Wesson Model 53 revolver for my uncle. It had two cylinders, one in .22 LR and the other chambered for .22 Remington Jet, a warp speed centerfire cartridge based on the .357 Magnum case necked down to .22 caliber. At the time, with its 8 3/8-inch barrel, it was the biggest handgun I’d ever seen. My uncle spent lots of time that evening just getting his hand used to it. He became very skilled with that sixgun. Years later, when I learned he had sold it at a gun show, it half broke my heart, but hopefully it found a good home with someone who reloaded, and knew how to care for such a great small game wheelgun.

Those Christmas Eve gatherings were great for reminiscing about the recent hunting season, planning for the one next fall and getting a laugh about food or mud, being snowed out of the high country; all the things that make better stories than actual experiences.

The last Christmas my dad was alive, more than 50 years ago, I gave him a stag-handled hunting knife. I was attending college and it was what I could afford (I paid my way without a student loan!). When he died the following spring, I got that knife back from his second wife. It now belongs to a grandson he never knew.

Before he passed away a few years ago, my uncle and I had one of our final telephone chats. It was during that conversation he revealed he had sold all of his firearms. Here was a guy, who had hunted and owned guns his entire life. We had spent many a weekend hunting the big timber and nights around a warm stove in the camp tent, and it just seemed unimaginable for him to have sold them off.

Gone were a pre-’64 Winchester Model 70, a Model 19 Smith & Wesson and at least one other handgun of unknown origin. My uncle and aunt had no children of their own to will those guns, so maybe they went to a good home as well. But I subtract this from the Christmas stories, choosing instead to remember him and that long-barreled S&W emerging from the box with the ribbon and holiday wrap.


Christmas is for the kid in all of us. A brightly lit tree surrounded by
stuffed holiday animals; they make the ghosts of Christmas feel welcome.

How to Raise Eyebrows

When my sons were about 8 and 6, respectively, we hosted Christmas Eve at my house, which meant a nearly 50-mile drive by two aunts and uncles, one of two grandmas, my brother and I can’t remember who else. We made sure they had as good a time as possible.

When my boys unwrapped their single-shot .22-caliber bolt-action Marlin rifles, there were some murmurs and a few raised eyebrows, but that was all. Besides, the family had feasted on ham, turkey and a venison roast, which had come out of the smoker only about 20 minutes before they arrived, and it was delicious. Since it’s bad form to lecture the host who just fed you well, I figured I was on pretty firm ground.

The time I subsequently spent with my boys, teaching them to shoot and take care of their rifles, never seemed enough. Nowadays, I know it wasn’t, and if I could have one thing at Christmas it would be to get back the time I should have spent with them when I was off working somewhere.

Now the aunts and uncles and grandmas are gone — ghosts of Christmases past — while my brother still hunts with me when he’s able, and a quiet Christmas seems like a well-earned holiday treat. I’ll likely talk to him and my sister (her claim to fame is that she graduated from high school with Ted Bundy) this week, and share a few pleasantries and memories. But there won’t be a big family gathering because there is no longer a big close-knit family.

Ever notice how one person usually provides the family with its center of gravity, and when they’re gone, gatherings become fewer and farther between?


It’s Not a Blessing

Being born on Christmas is a novelty that wears thin after a few years of sharing it with an older sibling, and trust me, I’ve heard all the Christmas birthday jokes at least twice.

Only many years of life and some basic math led me to the inescapable conclusion about how my parents celebrated my dad’s March 14 birthday. The clock must have broken at some point, however, since my brother came along on May 25 of my 7th year.

One Christmas, the kid next door got a Daisy BB rifle designed to resemble a Model 94 Winchester. It was a remarkably accurate specimen. One summer evening after making sure nobody else was around (hey, weren’t you ever 12 years old?), we set up a range in the hallway of my mom’s house and commenced to shooting wood kitchen matches set up in front of an Army surplus wool blanket for a backstop. That was the first time I actually taught somebody about sight alignment and trigger squeeze, and the importance of knowing what was beyond the target. Evidently the experience left an impression, considering the dozens of people I’ve taught to shoot real guns since then — not in my mom’s house, of course.

I don’t know what ever became of the neighbor kid. I think about him occasionally. We hiked the mountains together, but we drifted down different paths. He’s another ghost of Christmas, red hair, freckles and all.


If you can, set aside some time over the holidays to get outside, maybe
looking for a winter rabbit. It’s a good time to remember friends and family
who have moved on and are somewhere huddled around a warm campfire.

If I’m Lucky

If I’m lucky, there are still several more Christmas celebrations over my horizon. If so, I’ll always be in good company. My dad, uncle and grandpa all seem close by at this time of year, and so are some of my long gone pals with whom I’ll hopefully one day share the campfire again.

The holidays are a good time to remember all of those who didn’t make it completely around the sun since this time last year. Good memories come with age, and age gives us the temperament and perspective to make all of those memories good.

The ghosts of Christmas are a sturdy bunch, and we owe them a lot for helping make us what we are, and reminding us how much we miss them.

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