In recreating my best and worst memories of Christmas, I'll never forget the best. It was 1928 and I was 12 years old.
I was born and raised on a cow ranch six miles east of Payson in Star Valley. We rode an old school bus to school in Payson, but the day of the school Christmas play, it had snowed all night and there was almost a foot of snow on the ground. The old bus could not travel over the snow-packed road and though Dad tried and tried, he couldn't get our Maxwell car to run.
My little sister Beryl and I both began to cry. Dad said to us, "Do you want to ride the horses to town?" Of course we would! So, he went to the barn and saddled the horses, Pet and Pinto, while our mother dressed us in warm clothes and packed our costumes for the Christmas play that night.
I was in the 7th grade. There were only six of us in the entire grade four girls, Helen, Vivian, Kathlyn and myself and two boys Steve Neal and Sammie Garrels. Our part of the play was patriotic and because I was the tallest in the class I was Uncle Sam. Mother had made me a nice costume (shirt and pants) of red, white and blue striped material, and a tall paper hat that she put in a box and tied to the back of my saddle.
By the time we left the ranch it had stopped snowing. About three miles toward Payson we met Harry Howell, the Gila County road maintenance boss. His truck was pushing a five-foot-wide scraper that he was using to clear the road.
When we got to Aunt Marie and Uncle Walter Lazear's home in town, it was late afternoon. Aunt Marie started getting Beryl ready for the play while I took the horses over to Mr. Guy Barkdoll's ranch where they would be fed, watered and kept in the barn. Mr. Barkdoll had a mule saddled and I rode behind him back to Aunt Marie's home.
Meantime, Aunt Marie had Rose, Dese and Beryl all ready for the play and was waiting to help me get dressed. The paper hat was crushed but she pasted it back. My part in the play was to hold and wave the flag and lead the flag salute. Then everyone in the play and audience sang the "Star Spangled Banner" and "America."
I had always strived and prided myself in school toward perfect attendance every year. Mr. L.P. Williams was our principal that year and he ruled that I was not to be counted tardy because of "extreme effort" riding six miles on horseback in the snow to the school play. Beryl and I stayed the rest of the week with Aunt Marie, then rode back to the ranch on Saturday morning.
Christmas came on Sunday. Mother had made Beryl and me a pretty dress each and we each received a doll and a pair of new shoes. My two brothers, Andrew and Bill, received a new shirt each, bib overalls, shoes and a pocket knife.
The first thing Bill did with his new knife was cut off the bib and suspenders! (No cowboy ever wore overalls)- and because he was the baby of our family, he didn't get spanked for mutilating his new britches!
That year we had a lovely, tall pinion tree that we cut on Tonto National Forest. No permits were needed in those days. We looked for and cut down the tree we thought was the prettiest, decorated it with strings of popcorn that we all had to help string, and 13 real ornaments (badly worn). We used them over and over each year. On top of the tree was a large shiny star, handmade. A star shape was cut out of a large piece of cardboard and we covered it with foil saved from Hershey candy bars. It was beautiful! We were never allowed to use candles. Our homes were all built of local pine lumber, so we had to be very careful with fire.
The Very Worst Christmas
My very worst Christmas was 1932. It was a heartbreaking year for cattle ranchers, as the Great Depression was at its very worst.
In February at Ogilvie Ranch, our hearts were broken as our mother died of tuberculosis and surgery complications. A part of us died with her.
In April, the Payson Bank went broke and closed due to unsecured loans to the ranchers that they could not pay back. They couldn't sell their cattle for any price. The U.S. Government instructed the cattle people to drive their cattle into the canyons where they were shot. Ranchers were paid $15 for a cow and calf.
Everyone in the Rim country had plenty of food and homemade clothing and were comfortable in their homes. But there was no money.
Christmas that year at our ranch was our worst. We put up our usual Christmas tree, but without mother we were very sad. On Christmas eve, Aunt May and Uncle John Lazear came with a nice package for each one of the four kids. Each contained a beautiful pair of warm flannel pajamas made by Aunt May on her sewing machine. She brought Daddy two mincemeat pies. We had a big turkey and everything that went with it. As Uncle John was leaving, he gave each of us four children a silver dollar.
Yes, there is a Santa Claus, and a dear Lord watching over us at all times!