Of Christmas Spirit Past

I used to get it every December… in spades! That warm, wonderful felling
that comes over you, that all is right and beautiful with the world, and you
are exactly where you’re supposed to be in this moment in time. Feelings
of love for the beauty of the earth, for others, for this life… they would
expand our hearts and sometimes even bring tears. Tears of joy. A temporary
acknowledgement that everything was okay, really. That there was so much
more love and goodness in this life, so much more than hate and despair…
that the Christmas Spirit brought hope… hell, it was hope, to me.






Me and Mom, 1957

I used to wait for it, that feeling of Christmas Spirit. it was that important to me.
Far more important than the special joy of Christmas morning, with the toys and
the tree and all… as soon as I felt The Christmas Spirit, I was complete, at
peace. Christmas had indeed come again, and all was well.

For me, it came differently, every year. I know, I remember… because it seemed
so magical. Can I remember what I got for all those Christmases?
Hell no, not even close. A couple of electric train sets were highlights, but that’s
about it. But my Christmas Spirit? Yes, I remember nearly every one. One year
it came to me while I was upstairs in our apartment above the bar, decorating
our little tree as Mom had taught me to do, with the lights and the balls just so,
then hanging the icicles down very straight, one by one, until the tree shimmered, holding my eyes with a beauty and a sense of peace I couldn’t look away from.

On those tree-decorating evenings, which I did alone once Mom taught me how, I’d put on our five Christmas records and play them while I decorated and sipped an Orange Crush… which was a rare occurrence in itself. What were those records??
Percy Faith’s Joy To The World;
The Ames Brothers’ There’ll Always Be A Christmas;
Bing Crosby’s White Christmas;
Nat King Cole’s The Christmas Song;
and some organ and bell choir doing Christmas Favorites.

These records had become scratched over the years, and even skipped in a few
places, but I knew them so well I could hum along through the skips, never missing a beat. In later years I would replace most of them with CDs, and strangely, kind of missed the scratches and skips.








Mom & the big tree in the bar

One year the Christmas Spirit came to me while I was decorating the tree, with
the Ames Brothers’ Oh, Holy Night, playing. That overwhelming sense of abiding peace and magic flowed through me that night, and I felt like the happiest boy on earth.

It came to me one early evening, as I was walking back up the street from the
post office. The big Christmas tree, that the town always put up in the center
of town, was lit, and in the last glow of evening I stood right next to it, looking
up at it, feeling its power and beauty. The big lights (colored lightbulbs) swayed
gently in the breeze and I remember feeling that Virginia City had to be the
very best place in the world to be at Christmas.

And it came to me one Christmas Eve. As I was leaving church after the evening
service, Selma Brook grabbed my arm and had me help her down the steps to
the sidewalk. We stopped there for a moment, looking up at the cold, star-filled
sky, our breath billowing above us in the chilly Montana night. Selma squeezed
my arm, looked up at me and said softly, “Stevie, isn’t Virginia City the best place to spend Christmas?”
My throat got tight, and I hugged her. “Yes, Selma, it truly is.”

Then there was the day that Rena McDonald, our 5-8 grade teacher, told Ricky
and me we were to leave class for the afternoon and cut down a Christmas
tree for our room. Why she did that we will never know… perhaps to simply
get us out of there for a few hours?? Whatever… after lunch Rick & I left
school, dropped by his house for his sled and an axe, and headed for Rocky.
Rocky was a small mountain on the west end of town, covered with pine,
spruce, and you guessed it… rocks. We knew we could find a good tree
up there as we’d built a fort up there with rocks and trees the previous summer.
Remember that, Rick? We found what we thought to be a good tree, chopped
it down and dragged it back to town and up to the school right as class was
ending. Mrs. McDonald seemed surprised, maybe even amazed, that we did
exactly what she asked us to, and did it fairly well, for the tree was truly
beautiful, if a little too big. Big enough, in fact, that two of the bigger boys had
to get a ladder to get the lights on near the top. As Matt Stiles and Ricky’s
older brother, Ed, were decorating the top, the rest of us were trimming the
bottom, with Mrs. McDonald clucking around us,saying really meaningful
Christmas things like, “My, my. That’s very nice, Casey. You know this tree
will be dead within a week, don’t you?”
And there it was… that wonderful rush of Christmas Spirit, making the world
suddenly clearer, rosier, happier that it had been all year.

One of my favorite lines in our Christmas music was from the Ames Brothers
album. In the song, Good King Wenceslas, there’s a line –
“Mark my footsteps, my good page
tread thou in them boldly.
Thou shall find the winter’s rage
freeze thy blood less coldly.”
That would always remind me of how I felt with Dad when we went up into the
mountains to get our yearly Christmas tree. No matter how far we were away
from town, no matter how high up, no matter how cold and wintery and how
deep the snow, I was never cold, never afraid when I was with my dad.

But I have thought for some time now that the Spirit Of Christmas gradually diminished with age, and that it was, finally, replaced (with luck) with a sense of peace and contentment, as one poured oneself yet another glass of brandy. But then yesterday, while B & I were trimming our little tree and listening to Charlie Brown Christmas, it came suddenly to me again, as strong, as magical, as breathless and overwhelming as ever. And the tears came, as they have so many times before. The Christmas Spirit! It came again. It can still come…
I was wrong! Imagine that.

Steve Hulse

Merry Christmas from B & me!


4 Replies to “Of Christmas Spirit Past”

  1. Steveo, I just love your articles. You truly are a wordsmith! One of the things I miss is the “club date” around this time, where we played many Christmas songs. Some of the best times, musically, were centered around you, Paul, Jimmy, and myself. Pretty good group, if I do say so myself. Please stay well and don’t climb any ladders. Johnny Clark

  2. Well Mr. Hulse – you have done it this time! Here I am enjoying a little Single Malt and reading your article and you invoke the image of Rena McDonald! One of my lasting memories of her was when she made me hold my cold, nearly frozen hands out over the edge of my desk while she whacked them with a ruler. Seems I had been stuffing snow balls down some of the girls necks at recess…good grief!
    I think your reasoning on why she selected us to get the Christmas tree is fairly valid – when I tell my school teacher daughter, Melanie, about some of our escapades, she just looks at me and shakes her head…hmm.
    Yes – I do remember the fort – of the 50 billion or so rocks on Old Rocky, we used about 200 of the them – stacking them on both sides of this little dugout. We then chopped down about a dozen trees and laid them over the top creating a pretty cozy fort.
    The Tree your folks put up was a wonder for all to see each year. As you note – the tree just shimmered. Memories of Christmas! During some of the parties we host at Christmas each year, I have regaled our guests with stories about growing up in Virginia City and ending by telling them – for a kid – it was the best place to grow up. To this day – my grandchildren absolutely love to visit the city, but they have not yet had the opportunity to do it in winter – that might alter their impression.
    Once again you have drafted an outstanding story – I had intended to write this to you earlier, but every time I read the story I had too much mist in my eyes and couldn’t see to type. Well done, Sir!
    All the best to you and B!

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