Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Christmas Story

When I left work yesterday, I was so tired that I could barely swing my leg over the bicycle to pedal the several blocks home. It was "EVERYTHING IS 25 CENTS" day at WabiSabi. And as we had to clarify to just about every customer coming through the door, everything means everything!!! By the end of my shift I had racked up nearly 1200 25-cent items on our one little register. I know it doesn't equate to big $$$$, but it was quite impressive watching folks hauling out stereo speakers, breadmakers, espresso machines, 3-piece suits or lamps....all for 25 cents each.

WabiSabi is Moab's non-profit community thrift store. From the Japanese, it is the WabiSabi belief that beauty lies in the imperfection that surrounds us, that new is not necessarily nicer, and that our discards could very well be our salvation. Yesterday, there was hardly a Moabite who wasn't trying to be saved.

Because Moab is a rather eclectic town, our donation-based inventory is quite unique and impressive---the racks and shelves at our two stores are filled with name brand, lightly-used, and/or pure funk. Between the mountain bikers, river runners, climbers, jeepers, backpackers, and plethera of other recreationists or second-home owners, somebody is always upgrading equipment and belongings. We get the hand-me-downs.

I was more than relieved to see all the Christmas gee-gaws flying out the door, being the bah-humbug that I am. I have no tree, no tinsel, no ornaments, no lights, no cards....and as some probably think, no tradition, no sentimentality. Probably true, but it's stressful enough watching other people deal with Christmas; and I have no boxes to store. I watched people cramming crap in their baskets, running around tighter than a spring, glad to be on the outside looking in.

But there was one Christmas for which I spent a great deal of time preparing, and the memories of it are so tangible to this day. Maybe no subsequent Christmas could ever match up. It was the 1989 REIDUNION at the Grizzly Ranch in Paradise Valley, Montana. Doug planted the seed a year early to see if the idea would sprout amongst his three sisters. There was interest, but coordination, timing, arrangements, were key.

We said we would do the leg work, looking for "the place" to hold the event. Everyone agreed on spending five nights in Montana. There would be about 15 of us, moreorless. Two ground rules were established, but they were critical:

  • Every family member would only receive ONE PRESENT, and all presents had to be HAND-MADE. Names would be drawn to determine the giver and givee.

  • Family members would pair up to cook Breakfasts and Dinners. Names would be drawn to determine the pairs.

Doug and I held the official drawing, and with a few minor adjustments, announced the results. Pairs were told to submit their 'grocery lists' prior to departure so food could be bought in one lump sum. It appeared that we would be consuming copious amounts of butter, wine, beer and cream. Yum, yum, yum.

Doug and I scouted out potential locations for the Reidunion fete. We didn't want it too close to town and its amenities, wanted to be able to ski out to cut a tree, wanted to sled and toboggan, had to have a huge fireplace, sleeping for 15, needed good kitchen facilities, etc. The Grizzly Ranch is tucked away in Tom Miner Basin in Paradise Valley south of Livingston, MT. Removed from just about everything except drop-dead views, we decided it worked.

After arriving, we assigned chores, and some skied off to the National Forest in search of a Christmas tree, with sled in tow. The decoration elves were busily prepping clothespin ornaments, construction paper cutouts, popcorn and cranberry strands. Did I mention and all decorations had to be hand-made? Luckily, Doug's family boasts some extremely creative sorts so the tree was spectacular.

I'm sure everyone has over-indulged at holiday gatherings, so I won't dwell on that aspect. But over those five days, some of my fondest family memories remain---the water balloon fight, the Christmas pageant, and the opening of the gifts.

One evening, creatively prompted by alcohol consumption, the re-enactment of the Nativity began. With hooded jackets draped over our heads, an afghan wrapped around a stuffed animal, and a few shawls and scarves tied loosely, we assumed our roles without direction. The 'play' unfolded without script---some gentle lowing of animals in the background, soft soothing cooing of townspeople, and Mary and Joseph did Christmas Montana-style! The way they all performed without a hitch, I honestly thought that Doug's family must have done this every year. Then I found out that they were just such hams.

Everyone was chomping at the proverbial bit on Christmas morning, anxious to learn the official present-opening order. The ultimate decision was left in the hands of the youngest family members---they could open first or let the oldest open first (and thus be last). Darrell, the unofficial elder of the extended Reid clan, thus began the opening festivities. One by one, working down the chronological pecking list, we each discovered how our chosen "elf" had been toiling away on our gift all year.

Bearing in mind that within a family of 15, no two members will have equal or identical artistic or skill levels. And the ages ranged from single digit to probably 50. Everyone was travelling about 700 miles and would have to transport their presents enroute. The Christmas elf families had to put all this into their equations. I can imagine the brainstorming sessions going on, as everyone eventually figured out what they wanted to make and then what they realistically could make. I'm sure there were a few (who will remain nameless) with young children, who were thinking "raw deal" every so often. But, nothing was ever said.

I think it goes without saying that no one, no one, was disappointed that morning. In fact, everyone was overwhelmed....not only by the 'present' itself, but by the creativity that went into it. A life-sized black plastic bag leaned against the living room window, as if a peeping Tom. It hardly went unnoticed, but no one would admit they knew it was Doug's present. When his turn came, nephew Andrew hefted the body bag inside and dumped it in front of him. Black plastic flew and RamCrow rose from the depths. Half Rambo, half scarecrow, RamCrow was a twist on GI Joe. Imagine a skeleton of metal fenceposts wearing olive drab and camo Army fatigues, topped off with helmet and goggles. He was, of course, amply stuffed. He rode the 700 miles from Seattle to Montana in his body bag on top of the Oldham VW bus, and I couldn't help but be reminded of National Lampoon Vacation. RamCrow adorned our Bozeman yard in various postures for a few years, just outside the fence. At night, more than a few people caught their breath to accidentally look up face-to-face into RamCrow's crooked googles. Over time, pieces of his uniform started walking off. Finally, when a couple neighbor kids asked for the rest of him, we let him go with dignity.

I could go on and on reminiscing about everyone's gifts, who made what and who received what. Instead, I'll send out the request for stories from other family members about what you remember. Here's the gift list as I recollect (fill in the holes or correct, please).

  1. Darrell:
  2. Leslie: Funnelator (John)
  3. Doug: RamCrow (Andrew)
  4. Nancy: Flavored Oils & Vinegars (Darrell)
  5. Peggy: Turned Wood Boxes (Nancy)
  6. Tony: Yard Salmon (Sarah)
  7. John: Framed Watercolor (Peggy & Tony)
  8. Amy: Fisherman's Knit Sweater (Leslie)
  9. Sarah:
  10. Noah:
  11. Andrew:
  12. Anna: AnnaDido Stationery (Noah)
  13. Ellen: Wooden Cradle (Doug)
  14. Kate: Purple Polka Dot Shoes/Book (Amy)
  15. The Extra:

For any non-family members who happen to read this, I recommend borrowing this event and tweaking it to fit your family. It's not easy to pull off, it takes lots of commitment, it requires some sacrifices and it takes work. But it's the only time I have ever liked Christmas. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Anonymous said...

What I remember, besides all the wonderfull meals, is that on Christmas morning, everyone was so absolutely concentrated on the gift being opened that they had made, as opposed to what they were receiving. One gift opened at a time. The only Christmas without a Christmas morning frenzy.

And I remember going out to get firewood very early Christmas morning and seeing Ramcrow leaning up against the living room window. I thought it was the caretaker's son being a peeping Tom. I yelled at the damn thing, still not realizing it was my Chrismas present. I think it was the only time I ever yelled at my Christmas present to behave itself.

Anonymous said...

With the encouragement of Mom that Sarah would actually like it, wrote out a poem that I had done in class (I was only in 2nd grade, so I think it was something about horses) on watercolor paper and Mom framed it.

One of the things that I remember most was the massive afternoon of sledding that we had. I had seen a toboggan before, but never actually thought that we were going to sled in it (or on it as I remember Uncle John doing), even as we drove from Colorado with the toboggan from the attic strapped to the top of the Suburban.

A few more gift holes, Darrel also received a painting of Mom's that had been framed. Noah and Andrew received a giant floor pillow and quilt (not sure which went to which) from Kate and Ellen, constructed with care by Mom.

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah, and that last comment was from Anna... just digging out from a Vermont Northeaster!

Judy said...

Actually as a non-Reid/Procter member, I remember that Christmas in Montana. Ron & I had been invited to spend an afternoon with you all at the Grizzley Ranch and partake of the wine, beer, cream and butter fest. I think that each pair of cooks tried to out do the previous cooks in amount of beer, wine, cream and butter usage! What a fun family. Thanks for including us that year.
Ron & Judy Hess

leslie said...

As I recall when we asked the children whether they wanted to give or get first they wanted to give first. So we started with Kate and worked up the ranks with Darrell giving last. And you are right Anna, he got a beautiful watercolor done by Peggy, I think given by Tony. The extra person was Sebastian, an exchange student from Germany who we took in when his host family kicked him out. He recently got in touch with Sarah via Facebook on the internet, his connecting comment (you need to remind the person you are trying to
connect with how you know them) was "the most amazing Christmas ever". I also remember two little girls who took a bath in the jet tub and used up all the hot water! Uncle Doug and Sebastian judged the cookie decorating contest, Kate was baby Jesus and Andrew and Ellen were Mary and Joseph, we built an igloo, there was Gus the goat who followed boys from the bunkhouse and sometimes butted them, the funnelator contest over the barn was amazing, two hundred yards or so, Peggy and I cooked breakfast one day but I can't remember with whom or what we cooked for dinner. As I was packing up stuff in my house I came across the entire computer printout of our attempts to organize another Reidunion saved by Darrell, if anyone would like to see the endless back and forth let me know, I can send it when I move into permanent digs in the spring. It was a lot of fun but I have also enjoyed other Christmases in my life.

nancy said...

Wow, lots of gaps in my memory. Thanks for the input. Kate must have a pretty impressive Resume, including a performance as baby Jesus and child slave labor hand-stitching a quilt (whadda mean 'constructed with care by Mom'?). I spaced out the igloo construction, wild tobaggon runs, Ron and Judy's welcome visit, an excuse to judge everything, and much much more. What was up with Gus the Goat? Isn't he in the book "W" was reading when 9/11 happened? I have secretly coveted a Peggy Euser watercolor for years, patiently waiting until her retirement when she once again picks up the brushes. And perhaps the most ingenious idea was the Yard Salmon (constructed by Sarah) which soon exploded into a home-based business for Leslie, and a booth at the Sweet Pea Festival in Bozeman.

I know that all of you who have created yearly traditions for the holidays that fill your memories with good thoughts. But for me, the old grinch, this was as good as it gets, and I thank you all for making it so.

Anonymous said...

Hello to all, and Merry Christmas!!

I just wanted to add a few things...most importantly, we also had a cookie decorating contest, which I won of course. The three Euser kids were given the three Oldham kids, and we were given the incredible chance to create something for Sarah, Noah and Andrew. "I" made Noah a huge pillow, "Kate" made Andrew a quilt, and Anna wrote Sarah a poem and drawing, I think. That was the best Christmas ever and I love to tell the story to my friends and their families so that they can all be jealous of how awesome our family is!!!

love you all,

Noah said...

Here are a few random memories; sitting in the small cabin that Sebastian and I and maybe another kid or two slept in, and smoking cigarettes. We would sit in front of the fireplace and blow the smoke into the open stove door. Naughty naughty...
Also driving up the road at night, towards the cabin with the van full of people, Dad in the front seat, Doug driving, and Dad saying "Doug...Doug....Doug...there's a deer...there's a dee..DOUG!" Just as a huge dear or Elk leapt in front of the van and it's hoof hitting the edge of the bumper. It saw the lights of the car and ran straight for it as they are prone to do.
I also remember driving up that road during the day and seeing these massive haybails that had been rolled up into cylinders and stood at least 10 or 12 feet high, with no footholds of any kind, yet deer standing on top of them grazing.
Watching a pack or coyotes (I assume they weren't wolves...) chasing a deer way way up on a ridge above the cabin.
I wore those red union jack long underwear and that ridiculous leather coat the entire time. Not a great look for me.
Thats about it, I did receive the quilt, Andrew got the pillow. We also all got hats and gloves made by someone (Nancy?) that were imprinted witht he words Reidunion.
What about the games of heart? Peggy shooting the moon and essentially whopping all of our asses at Gin.
Fun times.
We should do it again now that I am a better cook.