No, this is not one of those corny “Best Christmas”classroom assignments, but, it’s close.
Sitting in the deer woods last month, I had lots of time to think, and what I thought was, “What am I gonna write about in December?” Obviously, the simple answer was “Christmas.” Columnists always write about Christmas in December, just like when we have to write about Mom, Dad, veterans and other greeting card stars on their respective holidays. I think it’s a rule somewhere in the back of the AP Stylebook.
But, after more than 40 years of trying to fuel the Christmas spirit with sappy memories and weary platitudes on the true meaning of Christmas, I’ve used up about every new angle I could find, so I just fell back on a theme my 10th-grade English teacher might have assigned our whole class in 1962 — “My Best Christmas Ever.” But, I couldn’t narrow my pick to fewer than two.
The first was the Christmas right before I turned 8 (I was born on Dec. 30), and we were still living on a rented farm at the edge of Republic. My imagination stoked by books and movies on King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, I was fascinated by that age of chivalry and heroes in armor jousting with lances from the saddles of their sturdy chargers.
Santa, taking note of my passion for all things medieval, brought me a complete set of well-armed knights and horses, as well as a tin castle with towers at each corner, a working drawbridge and all other accoutrements of a 15th century English fortress.
I don’t know what ever became of that castle and knights as I grew older, but I still rank Arthur and his band right up there with the Texas Rangers (not the football team).
I couldn’t think of any Christmas gift to beat that castle, but Santa Claus could. Just eight months before we moved from Republic to 39 acres of wilderness near Elkland, I got a genuine man-size hunting knife with a faux-staghorn handle and a real leather sheath. To top that, he brought both me and my younger brother, Russell, faux-buckskin Davy Crockett shirts, complete with fringe on the sleeves and lace-up collars, just like those the frontiersmen wore on TV.
I don’t recall asking for either, but Santa was a pretty savvy guy in those days. You’d almost think he lived with us.
I’ve thought about that Christmas knife often through the years and come to realize age 9 was pretty young for a boy to be wearing the envy of Jim Bowie around his waist.
It was likely most inappropriate that I wore it to the extended family Christmas gathering that night — sheath and all 10 inches of knife on a belt cinched around the waist of my Davey Crockett shirt as if I were out to open a “bar,” rather than a Christmas gift. I do recall some of my aunts being quite shocked, but they didn’t know me as well as Santa did — they didn’t know I was actually with Davey in the wilderness of the Great Smokies over the winter of 1956-57. I really needed that skinnin’ blade.
Christmas, of course, is always special — never more real than for a youngster still excited about what he will find under the tree, and largely unburdened by that old adage about it being “more blessed to give than receive.” That notion takes a mite growing into — takes getting past that age when the best surprises are plastic knights and “just like Dad’s” hunting knives.
Jim Hamilton is a freelance writer and former editor of the Buffalo Reflex. Contact him at email@example.com. ©️ James E. Hamilton 2019.