Readers share their holiday memories

Mom's homecoming was best present ever

By Sonja Fischer

My most memorable Christmas was in 1948 when I was 4 years old. It didn't have anything to do with opening presents, playing in the snow or waiting up for Santa. It had something to do with what happened to our family that year, the month before Christmas.

My Finnish parents had just moved to California after selling their farm in Wisconsin. Dad took a job at the U.S. Steel plant in Pittsburg, Calif. He bought a little house in the Bay Area, and Mother and I joined him later that summer.

I was their only child, a little girl somewhat spoiled and full of mischief. It was an adjustment living in a housing tract after being on a farm, but we found the neighborhood friendly and there were several Finnish families in the area who later became our friends.

My father said the best part of the move was that he didn't have to shovel snow in the winter. Our next door neighbors were a Finnish family like us with a young daughter. Every Sunday, we'd drive to the Finnish Lutheran Church in Berkeley and they would usually accompany us.

It was a Sunday evening in November, and we were returning home from church. Dad was driving the old gray Studebaker. Mother and I were in the front seat next to him, and our neighbors were in the back seat. It was dark and I remember everyone was happily chatting away in Finn. I was tired and laid my head down on my mother's lap.

The next thing I remember was waking up and hearing sirens and a lot of commotion. I saw lots of flashing multi-colored lights. I didn't understand why we were stopped. I couldn't see my mother, and began to cry. Where was she? My father sat silent next to me. I just kept saying over and over, "Daddy, take me home!"

Dad tried to pick me up, but stumbled and someone lifted me from his arms.

A car had crossed over all four lanes of traffic and struck our vehicle head-on. The collision had thrust our car into the automobile traveling a few yards behind us. Our vehicle was crushed like an accordion. That night, they closed the highway for several hours as they tried to clear the wreckage.

My mother was most severely injured of the six of us. Her body had hit the dashboard at high impact as there weren't any seatbelts in those days. All her teeth were shattered and most of her ribs were broken on her right side. Her neck was almost broken and she had a great deal of internal damage. She was unconscious for several days. For a long time, it was touch and go. I had a compound fracture of my right leg and arm. Dad had a concussion and a broken arm. Luckily, our neighbors only sustained minor injuries.

After a stay in the hospital, Dad and I were able to come home, but Mother spent many weeks there in recovery. New friends cared for me when Dad returned to work and mother was still in the hospital. I missed her so much and sometimes cried myself to sleep. I remember visiting once and seeing her black and blue bruised face. It kind of scared me, but then she'd try to smile and I'd recognize her warm brown eyes.

A few days before Christmas, they released Mother from the hospital. She still was in a lot of pain, and her face showed signs of damage, but it didn't scare me anymore. All I knew was that she was home, at last. It had been such a hard time for our little family.

My parents died many years ago, but I still had a lot of wonderful Christmases with them, and later on, with my own family. However, in 1948, I will never forget when Mother came home and Dad and I received the best Christmas gift we could have ever imagined.

• Sonja Fischer is from Dayton.

Fewer gifts but triple the love during childhood

By Inez Deming Rough

This holiday season always brings back memories of my childhood and how we celebrated Christmas during the Great Depression of the 1930s. For many years, our Christmas holiday was completely devoid of almost everything that we take for granted these days.

My father was one of the many thousands of people who had to continually try to find a job to support our family of seven. I was the eldest of five children ranging in age from 2 to 9 years. We moved from Oklahoma to Texas and then to New Mexico where my uncle had a large farm. My father worked there making an amazing $1 a day. But at least we had milk products and eggs, chickens and fruit. My mother was a good cook and could prepare good meals from very little.

We looked forward to Christmas so much. We usually had a little bush for a tree and decorated it with strips of paper we had colored and whatever else we could make. We sang carols while we did this.

We were so excited when we went to bed we could hardly sleep, and in the morning, we raced to see what Santa brought us. We had hung our stockings on a nail by the old wood-burning stove and we were so delighted to find a lollipop or hard candy and an orange or apple. Our dad played games with us and teased us and made us laugh. Mom made a great breakfast and we were just so thankful for everything we had.

We were going to have company for dinner, so my father went out in the hills and brought back a big jack rabbit which my mother made into a great feast. And soon, my uncle, aunt and cousins came and we played, ate, sang and had a great time.

Having our extended family close was a great blessing, and with all the love surrounding us, we were less aware of those terribly difficult times.

My sisters and I had our paper dolls, which we had cut out of a Montgomery Ward catalog - we felt well-dressed since my mother could sew almost anything if she had a scrap of cloth. She taught us to do so many things.

It reminds me that Christmas is not all about material things. We survived because we learned about sharing and love and hope. It can be a wonderful time of the year even if your are poor.

• Inez Deming Rough lives in Carson City.

Wartime bride cherishes 52 years with her Marine

By Arlene C. Batis

The Christmas and New Year season was the beginning of my new life.

In 1944, I was stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., in the U.S. Marine Corps Women's Reserve. One hot July day, another lady Marine and I decided we should go to the beach. We'd just settled in when along came two Marines (we could tell by their short haircuts). The tall blonde introduced himself to me; his name was Hank. We all decided to go in the ocean to cool off, but there was a strong undercurrent, so we quickly got out.

Hank asked for my barracks number and asked me to go out the next night at 7 p.m. Well, 7 p.m. came and went, but I thought, "Men are just like buses, there will be another one along any minute."

Around the first part of October, I was called to the telephone, out in the lounge. After I said hello, the caller said, "Hi, this is Hank." I said, "Hank who?" He refreshed my memory and said he was coming over to take me to the movies. After the movie, I asked how he'd found me since I had moved to different barracks. It seems he was cleaning out his wallet and there was my name, Arlene Chapman. I never did find out how he found me.

For the next three months, we had a very good friendship started, and I thought I was beginning to like him. Suddenly, it was three days before Christmas and Hank said he would be going to Washington, D.C., for Christmas to visit his cousin, a senator from Minnesota. I spent a very lonely Christmas. I could not get time off.

Hank came back Dec. 30. He called me and made a date for New Year's Eve. I guess I really did miss him because it was good to hear his voice. We went to a movie and back to my barracks and sat in the lounge talking. Then I heard, "Will you marry me?" He said he would count to 10 for an answer. Wow, this was quick, so naturally, I said yes.

He wanted to get married the following weekend, so we could get a weekend pass to go to Wilmington. That was Jan. 6, 1945. It was a wonderful 52 years. We had three beautiful children and life with Hank was never boring. He became very active in civic affairs and played Santa Claus at the community center for many years.

He was my Santa, my prince (no white horse). He is gone now, but I have all the memories. Lucky me.

• Arlene C. Batis is from Carson City.

Carson's car-driving dog left wonderful memories

By Patricia Frevert Allen

On Dec. 3 we attended the Carson City Silver and Snowflakes Tree Lighting ceremony. As we waited for the event to begin, I thought back to previous years. Just as in years before, we had heard the chatter of the fifth grade students from a block away. They sat huddled together on the Capitol steps, and waited to sing Christmas carols. Many wore festive Santa hats. The Carson Middle School handbell choir also was waiting to play.

I remembered the ceremony of 2006 when, after a countdown from 10 to 1, the trees came alive with glistening, sparkling lights. Then we heard a police car siren, and as a Model T Ford truck came into view, we saw Beauregard, a beautiful golden retriever, proudly driving Santa Claus, who was seated in the back. Beauregard drove the truck up the sidewalk leading to the Capitol, and stopped in front of the building.

Dads with toddlers riding on their shoulders, and other adults and children gathered around Santa. Many older children and adults gathered around Beauregard. Released from his chauffeur duties, Beau became an excited puppy who jumped from one side of the truck to the other. He relished the attention and petting.

Soon it was time for Santa to depart. Beauregard climbed back into the driver's seat, assumed a serious demeanor as befitting a chauffeur to Santa, carefully put both paws on the wheel, and waited quietly for the sheriff's deputy to give the signal to back up. Then he glanced over his shoulder and slowly backed onto Carson Street.

Behind every well-trained dog is a patient and kind trainer. In this case it was Bill Williamson, who worked with four dogs over four decades. Buddy drove the Model T in the 1970s, followed by Beaver, Budd, and Beauregard in the subsequent years.

Bill never revealed his training methods. His role was that of a relaxed passenger. His right arm rested casually on the side of the truck, and his demeanor was calm and unconcerned. But if Beau, or any of the other dogs, needed his help in any way, he was right there for them.

Bill and Beauregard are gone now; Bill succumbed to cancer this November. Beau had died a few weeks earlier in October from lymphoma. They will both be remembered. We will take pleasure in recalling the joyful memories they gave to us.

• Patricia Frevert Allen is from Carson City.

Like magic, snow and Santa always appeared

By Peggy Green-Wilson

My husband retired five years ago after spending 32 years with a Bay Area fire department. Every year, right after Thanksgiving, an invitation came out and sign-ups began for the Christmas potluck. Prominent in the text of the letter is "Let your children know that we are expecting a visit from Santa."

In the weeks leading up to the party, a few of the firefighters with pick-ups volunteered to drive up to Dodge Ridge to fill their truck beds with snow. Others began to collect craft supplies so the kids could make ornaments or gifts for their family members.

As the magic day drew closer, a couple of apparatus lockers were filled with gifts labeled with each child's name. A local business donated a 20-foot tree. As each 24-hour shift finished, the next shift arrived to add to the sparkling lights and ornaments. The firefighters were always busier than usual during the holidays, but they really got involved as the excitement built.

When the big day finally arrived, all of the fire trucks were parked outside, and tables and chairs brought in. Presents were stacked underneath the glorious tree. Everyone brought a side dish or dessert (including many of the retired firefighters and families) and the city provided tri-tip and vegetarian lasagna plus soft drinks and water. What a feast!

Amazingly snow appeared just outside the rollup door, and the kids bundled up to make snow angels and snowmen. The regular firefighters on shift at Station 1 were the hosts, including a certain captain who, shall we say, was a little more rotund than most. All were in full uniform, making sure everyone had plenty to eat.

The alarm sounded and the hosts donned their turnouts and jumped on the truck, sirens and lights blaring then fading as they went to the call in another part of town where a certain red outfit and a driver were waiting. The firefighters attending from the other two stations took the hosts' places and the party went on seamlessly.

Moments later, over the intercom, came the announcement: "3945 returning to quarters with a guest."

The truck, decorated with wreaths and garland, swept up to the back door and Santa hopped out, laughing and shaking the snow from his boots.

The children all found a seat surrounding the tree while Santa settled himself into an overstuffed chair. A teenager or two who had graduated from excited child to knowing helper wore elf hats and would hand each child's gift to Santa.

Santa greeted them by name and invited each to sit on his lap for a picture. He seemed to know everything about each one. How could that be? The present was just what they wanted. The smiles were everywhere.

At the end, there were always a few adults who were beckoned by Santa to receive a special something - a proposal and engagement ring, a car key for a teenager, airline tickets for an anniversary. Now everyone was grinning, and Santa called for a sip of cider for the road. His driver would help him up onto the truck, and they waved as sleighbells sounded instead of sirens.

Everyone moved on to desserts, and the kids started to show each other their gifts and play. The loudspeaker comes on: "3941 returning to quarters."

The host firefighters in their turnouts, smudges on their faces and clothes, pile out of the truck. They wanted to see Santa too. Curse the luck - missed him by a few minutes.

Oh well, there will always be next year. Santa always stops at Station 1.

• Peggy Green-Wilson is from Carson City.

Memories of wartime return this Christmas

By Nikki Campbell

Perhaps the one memory which comes to mind most vividly is not the one most joyous or the one most heartbreaking, although I've experienced both in over 90 years.

The one I recall most vividly is the one I seem to be seeing come alive again before my eyes. Another Christmas, another war and another time for us to be bringing our young recruits from camp into our homes for Christmas Day.

We lived in Tujunga, Calif., on a hill overlooking the San Fernando Valley. The mountains rose up right behind our home. Above the city of La Crescenta, just east of us, was one of our Army's military outposts. We were at war with Korea, and our government had strategic military installations in the Hollywood Hills and ours near Pasadena, to guard against surprise attacks.

Our churches were advised of the young Army personnel miles from home and lonesome for family and home cooking. We had three daughters, ages 9, 11 and 15, and all were eager to share our Christmas dinner with the young men guarding our home. We called the base and asked to invite two of the soldiers to dinner. My husband drove up to the base and brought them home with him.

We were a typical family of white extraction at that time. The only black people we were familiar with were in the movies. Our young Army visitors were two very young, very uncertain African-American kids far from their homes in Alabama.

The tallest one, a very sweet, well-mannered youngster, was expecting his first child any minute, and he was hungry for home. We asked him if he would like to talk to his wife and he said, "Oh, yes!" My husband took him into the living room and gave him the phone, and we all went back to our dining room and I went on with preparing to serve up dinner.

He was told to talk as long as he wanted to. He must have talked 20-30 minutes, and when he came back in, he thanked us and the look on his face was one of enlightenment.

He and his buddy looked at us for the first time then as if we were truly their friends. They were so happy and our girls treated them like big brothers. We let them talk about home and they ate up a storm. We packed up a box of food and candy and cookies to take back and share. We all got into the station wagon and drove them back up to base and we all gave them hugs and kisses and our address and phone number, to keep in touch.

Just remembering these dear, sweet young Americans and realizing we are still fighting wars and our young ones are still risking their lives makes me wonder what our Prince of Peace, whom we celebrate the birth of, must be feeling this Christmas time.

I can still feel the love and emotion we felt for those dear young men fighting and dying for a country which then was not allowing them (in Alabama) to drink at a water fountain with whites.

• Nikki Campbell is from Carson City.

Las Vegas transplants came to love white Christmases

By Connie Corley

Whenever it snows at Christmastime, it brings back memories of our first Christmas in Carson City.

We moved to Carson City in the fall of 1996 from Las Vegas. I had done a lot of research on the area, such as rainfall and snow levels, just to make sure about this region of Nevada. I grew up in Las Vegas and never spent a Christmas holiday away from Las Vegas.

Our inaugural Christmas here brought many firsts for me and my family. It started snowing in mid-December for almost a solid week and I even got "snow days" from work. Our cars were buried in snow and the wooden fence around our front yard disappeared.

I did not recall my research mentioning this much snowfall.

I thought, "How do people do this every year?"

We could not get out of our driveway and I could not do my Christmas shopping for our daughters, 2 and 5 at the time. Usually I would have all the presents bought and wrapped by this time. We finally got our car out of the driveway on Christmas Eve and my husband drove, because I was petrified of even getting into the car, and driving was out of the question. We drove to the old K-mart and he took the girls to one end of the store and I became Santa on the other end.

On Christmas morning I knew I had to buck up and be happy and cheery for our girls, but in the back of my mind, I missed my family and friends back in Vegas. After the girls opened all their presents, my husband said to me, "Well, are you ready to pack the car?" I looked at him and asked where would we go? He said Vegas. I had that car packed and ready for the road trip in 30 minutes.

We got to Vegas with about 5 inches of snow still on the top of our van.

Well, that was many Christmases ago, and when it snows now, we look forward to our white Christmas and spending it with our dear friends in Dayton and Carson City. This area and the people are why we love it here and would not want to be anywhere else during the Christmas holidays or any season.

• Connie Corley is from Dayton.

Even in hard times, look forward to good things to come

By Ann Bednarski

What I am thinking about daily is that it has not exactly been a ho-ho-ho happy Christmas season for me.

As I recover from an Achilles tendon rupture surgery, there has been lots of time to ponder what would make this Christmas a memory to cherish and share.

We all know 2009 has been a long and trying year for many people. It is time to look forward to a new year.

Here are some of my offerings of ways to spend the remainder of this December:

• Express yourself in well-selected gifts to give.

• Profess your faith as you praise the Lord's day of birth.

• Confess your need to splurge every now and then; allow yourself to enjoy it.

• Repress the gnawing urge to criticize a member of your family. It is more important than ever to be united.

• Process each day with pride in living a good life.

• Fight depression with the power of your convictions; God does bless America.

• Really possess your dreams and goals; own them and invest in them.

• Embrace the essence of this Christmas season of hope. Enjoy.

• Comfort the oppressed with simple acts kindness - aim to get them obsessed with success, freedom, and choice.

• Believe this recession will end. Keep evaluating what are the true necessities. Remember the best things in life are priceless.

In 2010, pledge to examine and assess our U.S. Congress. Make your voice heard so you are represented. Complacency leads to apathy, the forerunner of dependence. A nation completely dependent on government is enslaved. Let freedom prevail.

God bless America! Merry Christmas!

• Ann Bednarski is from Carson City.

The best gift ever: Finding the secret to happiness

By Elaine A. Harris

December 1931 saw the financial hardship of families throughout our little town of Layton, Utah. As a 10-year-old, however, I was oblivious to all of this. All I knew was that it was almost Christmas, hands-down the best time of the year.

Fortunately, my father was a schoolteacher, and as such, was one of the few people in town who had a steady income. My younger siblings and I anticipated a wonderful Christmas, just as we had enjoyed in years past. We were not disappointed.

On Christmas morning, we woke up to gifts for all of us, displayed beneath a tall, beautifully lit Chrtistmas tree. On the mantle hung our stockings filled with the coveted oranges, new toothbrushes and ribbon candy. While my father admired the new outfits my mother had made us, my sister and I cradled new dolls and my brother set up his new game. Life was good.

Later in the day, as was our yearly tradition, we went to my paternal grandparents' home down the street for dinner. Tantalizing aromas, the beautifully decorated tree, the happy squeals of cousins and the exchanging of gifts reassured us that the magic of Christmas we had felt that morning was alive and well there, too.

The following day, after we had arranged all our gifts under our tree at home, we piled into our Model T and drove the 50 miles south to my maternal grandparents' home in Lehi, anticipating yet another big family celebration. Since we were the only cousins who did not live in Lehi, we were always treated like royalty when we came to visit. As we stepped into Grandma Evans' house, we were greeted by yet another beautifully decorated tree guarding unopened gifts for us.

Just a few minutes into our exchanging of gifts, we heard an animated knock on the door. Grandma opened it to find the next-door neighbor children, a boy and a girl close to my age, whom we often played with when we came to town. They had seen our car and had come over to see if my sister and I could come over and see what they had gotten for Christmas. They were fairly bursting with excitement. How could we resist?

The girl grabbed my hand and practically dragged me across the lawn, chattering the whole way about the wonderful Christmas they had had. When we stepped inside the door, all that was standing in the living room was a small Christmas tree with no lights, no ornaments, no tinsel, no star. In fact, the only thing hanging on the tree was the sum total of their Christmas - a hand-knit scarf for the boy and a pair of knit mittens for the girl. In an almost awed voice, the girl whispered, "Isn't it wonderful?" Although I was initially taken aback, it was impossible not to be caught up in the moment of their genuine joy.

That Christmas 78 years ago, I learned a lesson far more valuable than the new doll that waited for me at home. I learned that happiness does not come from having everything you want. It comes from wanting everything you have. That was the best gift I received that year.

• Elaine A. Harris is from Carson City.


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