My Forty Years Scribblin's
Personal Memories
A Different Kind of Christmas

This story was written in 1993 and published in the November-December 1993 issue of The Montana Journal. A Christmas wedding contributed another special memory.


I knew that we were going to Missoula for Christmas dinner and that dinner was the important feature of the holiday, but there was an added expectation that year because there was to be a wedding.

"What better time for a weddin' than Christmas day?" Grandma Mary Johnson said.

"What's a weddin'?" I questioned.

"It's when two people get married," she answered. "Now go and play. You'll see when we get there."

Plainly, this was to be no ordinary trip to town. She was busily ironing Grandad's one white shirt and pressing our Sunday best clothes, the only holiday preparations to be seen at our house.

At last it was bedtime. Grandad said, "It's Christmas Eve. You'd better hang up your sock, and maybe there'll be something in it in the morning." I hadn't seen anything that could possibly get into my stocking, but I went to bed full of anticipation, and it seemed no time at all until Grandad shook me awake.

"You'd better get out of there if you're goin' with us." I jumped up, my first thought being of my stocking. He laughed at my look of disgust when I pulled out two kindling sticks.

"Turn it upside down and shake it," he offered. Out tumbled a gorgeous length of pink ribbon, an orange, some chewing gum, and a fifty-cent piece.

We started out in the Model T, wrapped in blankets, with jugs of hot water at our feet. I felt really elegant with new pink bows on my pigtails, and in those long-ago days, a kid could drive a storekeeper crazy with a whole fifty-cent piece to spend at the candy counter.

The McGee house in Missoula was swarming with people shaking hands and calling out Christmas greetings, among them the most beautiful young woman I had ever seen. She moved only slightly because she couldn't really walk. She was clothed in a shiny blue dress with a hobbled skirt, the height of recent fashion in our far-western world. The more hobbled, the more fashionable, and the harder to manipulate. On her feet were shiny, black, high-heeled patent leather shoes. I, in my advanced moppet stage, was totally ignored, or more likely, endured.

When the midday feast was over, the chairs were moved to the "parlor," and I was instructed to "sit here and don't say anything." The beautiful young woman and a very dressed up young man stood in the middle of the room. The young man, almost as pretty as the bride, had oiled down his hair and waxed and curled his moustache. In front of them stood an old man who let loose a barrage of words that were not the least interesting to me. Then it was over. There was a lot of silly hugging and kissing, and most of the women were crying, and none of it seemed to make much sense. A table was brought in and a breathtaking wedding cake placed upon it. A lady announced that somewhere in the cake was a silver dollar, and some lucky person was going to get it. I was hoping it might be me, but somehow that particular piece of cake was handed to the bride's father. Of course, he tried to look surprised, but some of the men began to kid him, "That was a put-up job!" There was a lot of laughter, but I was inclined to agree with the statement.

At last, Grandad went out to check the old kerosene lantern that he carried as a precautionary measure. It often hung on the radiator to provide a glimmer of light if the carbide lights went out while he was feeling his way up the rough and rocky old Evaro canyon. Wrapped in the blankets with the re-heated jugs of water at my feet, I had already decided that I was going to get married so I could have a hobbled skirt and high-heeled shoes. As I listened to them rehashing the event, one thing still puzzled me. I seized the first opportunity to pose my question.

"Why did that old man make them promise to love cherries 'til they come apart?" I asked.

Grandad and Grandma Mary both hooted, and I hung my head, sensing that I had made some sort of a blunder.

"That old man," Grandma said, "was the minister. And what he said was, 'Do you promise to love and cherish 'til death do you part?'"

Well, by the time I married, high-heeled shoes were ordinary attire and hobbled skirts, thank goodness, were an unpleasant memory. But that long-ago Christmas was different, and one that I have not forgotten.