My Forty Years Scribblin's
Personal Memories
Christmas Memories

This account was written in 1992 and published in the November-December 1992 issue of The Montana Journal. Mildred insists that the family have a tree for Christmas.

It was the winter of 1919-20. I had lived with my aunt and her family since my mother’s death in 1909 when I was 19 months old. The Mackie family had come through some very lean times during homesteading days on LaValle Creek. They moved to the Evaro area around the onset of World War I, only to suffer the rigors of the 1918 Flu.

Christmas on the lonely homestead had only been briefly noted, but now we were out where there were school and country socials, and my playmates were talking of holidays, vacation time, and something new to me—a Christmas tree. The idea so intrigued me that I could think of little else.

“Can’t we? Can’t we please have a Christmas tree?” The little ones didn’t have much of an idea what a Christmas tree was but they joined in.

“We don’t have any trimmings,” my aunt said, trying to discourage the idea.

“That’s all right. We can just have a tree,” I argued.

“Well, I suppose we could string some popcorn,” she mused. My spirits soared. I had never seen anyone string popcorn!

“But you’ll have to go and get it yourselves,” she stated. My uncle was working away from home, but there were any number of fir trees on the place. She gave us an earful of instructions, and we two eldest sallied forth to cut our tree. We chopped and we tugged and we dragged it home. We forgot the ax and had to go back to retrieve it, but it was a labor of love. We had snow down in our overshoes, and my aunt was dismayed to see that I had torn a three-cornered hole in my best gingham dress, but that was a small matter.

Auntie drove a couple of small nails in the unpainted wall and helped us anchor our tree so it wouldn’t fall over. I’d never had so much fun as I did stringing those long strands of popcorn and draping them around the tree. Then she mixed flour and water paste and showed us how to put paper chains together.

Grandpa and Grandma Johnson were coming to spend Christmas day with us, so dinner was to be a big event. My aunt and uncle had gone to Missoula and brought home cranberries, the first I’d ever seen. Nobody told us they were to complement the baked chicken and dressing so we made a pie out of them! There was a big pumpkin for pumpkin pie and a bunch of celery, a vegetable rarely seen at our house. I was deemed old enough to help with the dinner preparations and, as I worked at the kitchen table, I could glance into the middle room and admire the tree. I don’t remember whether there was anything under it that year. We kids of the Mackie family weren’t used to a lot of presents in those early days. But the warmth of the old wood heater brought out the green woodsy scent, and I went often to breathe in the aroma.

However, all good things must come to an end. Now dinner was over, the grandparents were gone, and so was Christmas. We pulled out the string and ate the popcorn. The ensuing years brought other trees with baubles and tinsel and even candles, but none were so fulfilling as that first little tree with its few homemade trimmings and the real Christmas that we made for ourselves.