I can still remember my Christmas Eves as a child as if they were yesterday. It was always the same thing: an agonizing wait for Dad to get home from work, a hurried light supper, and then the anticipated trip to Grandpa’s farm.
Grandpa Carlson was retired and living on a few acres where he had some pasture land, a coop of chickens, a cow, and a big mix-bred mongrel named Sam.
Grandpa lived by himself in a small white-frame house nestled in a valley with towering snow-covered hills on both sides. Grandma Carlson had died years before my brothers or I were born.
I can remember dad pointing up the road through the flurry of snowflakes and announcing that Grandpa’s house was at the next turn-off. My heart always started to beat faster when we approached the drive.
The house looked like a picture on a Christmas card. Smoke from the wood stove curled up through the dark night. Dim light from kerosene lanterns showed through the frost-coated windows making the interior appear warm and cozy.
Sam always lumbered out to the car his backend wagging furiously, begging for a pat or an affectionate hug.
There was always a path dutifully shoveled for us and I can still hear Grandpa’s loud, happy laughter call out even before the door was opened. My aunt would flutter about receiving packages and making sure everyone was warm and comfortable. My brothers and I each got a strong hug from Grandpa. I always took a deep breath inhaling the familiar pipe tobacco smell in his clothes.
A stone coffee pot set on a glowing grate on the wood stove in the kitchen. Coffee aroma wafted throughout the house mixed with the enticing smells of fresh baked bread and rolls.
Immediately, I went to the Christmas tree cut but a few days before in the pasture and decorated with strings of cranberries, popcorn and Christmas balls handed down from generation to generation. I thought it was the most beautiful tree ever.
Grandpa passed around the usual bowl of candy corn and jelly beans and laughed and talked excitedly. His eyes sparkled and his face was crinkled with happiness.
After a cold glass of milk and a newly baked sweet roll, Grandpa would take center stage and in his broken Swedish accent, tell us about his Christmases as a child in Sweden. Everyone listened and laughed at the appropriate places even though we had heard the stories many times before.
And then as the big pendulum clock on the wall chimed eight o’clock, my brothers and I would look at each other and smile with knowing anticipation. Grandpa would light his pipe and cock his head to one side as if he had heard something mysterious outside. Brushing back the curtain, he would turn to us and nod: “He’s here!” he would proclaim.
Then, he would turn and stride from the room. We all sat silent listening to the clack of the closing of the screen door on the porch and the whistling of the night wind.
And then, not five minutes later, Santa came through the same door that Grandpa had left. Santa had the same clothes, the same stained old felt hat pulled low over his eyes, and the same pipe stuck between his teeth as did Grandpa. In fact, the only thing different from Grandpa was a scraggily cotton beard hanging from his chin. Santa had a thick Swedish accent and the same merry twinkle in his eyes and his clothes gave off the same pleasant tobacco smell as Grandpa. But, he went right to work presenting us all with a bag of hard Christmas candy and a shiny silver dollar.
We all hated to see Santa turn and leave, but we knew he must. Perhaps, in those days children were more naïve and innocent or perhaps we knew very well that Santa Claus was Grandpa. But, they were so much alike in giving and loving that they were one and the same in our eyes.
When Grandpa died many years ago, I asked for his pipe in remembrance. And every Christmas Eve since, I look at it and remember back to those many Christmas eves years ago and think about my Santa Claus Grandpa.
(Nolan Carlson: Vinspire Author)
SUMMER AND SHINER is a great adventure story of youthful adventure set in the Flint Hills of Kansas. It makes marvelous reading for middle school boys and girls. Throughout the book, in Huck Finn fashion, Carley experiences the adventures of a boy growing into manhood. The inseparable friendship of Carley’s Native American blood brother, Troop, along with a pet racoon named Shiner, constitutes a barrel filled with adventure, danger, and fun. Travel back with Carley to a simpler time….a time for growing up, adventures and SUMMER AND SHINER!