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Christmas past recalled
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Seems a long time ago my mother told me about one of her first Christmas celebrations. The Christmas was 1930 and she would have been six years old.

As my mom recalled the events of this Christmas she told of buttoning her winter coat and tieing a scarf snuggly over her ears. It was a cold evening and the wind was howling out of the north on her family’s Phillips County farm. The rest of the family was already waiting in the Model-T Ford ready to head to Logan and midnight mass.

Mom would go to mass in the parish church in Logan that night. Later, after she and Dad married, she spent the next six decades attending mass at St. Martin’s parish in Sheridan County.

As she grew older, her step slowed from those youthful days, but her conviction about the true meaning of Christmas never wavered. Summing up my mother’s thoughts about Christmas is an easy task. Mom believed the Christmas season and the rest of the year was simply about caring for one another.

Mom always told us, "That is the ultimate Christmas story – God’s love for man and our own love for each other." Words she lived by.

Eighty years ago, church was the social center for life among rural Kansas people. Christmas was very much a religious festival and the highlight of Christmas Eve was going to church.

Going to church was a family tradition for the Becker family. All the children would dress in their Sunday best and unless you were sick in bed, you wouldn’t have dreamed of missing church service.

The trip to church in the Model-T was one not soon forgotten. As Mom used to tell us, the interior was outfitted with those cloth side curtains you installed during the winter to keep everyone warmer. The trip was still cold and Grandpa Bert, her father, always threw a lap robe over the children.

Like every other child at the time, Mom could not wait for Christmas and believed the day would never arrive. While she was in church, Santa would visit her farm home.

Although Mom never actually saw Santa, she absolutely, firmly believed in the jolly old man. And while she always understood the Christ child was the most important part of Christmas, the Becker family did a good job of balancing the two.

After they returned from Christmas Eve services, her mother would light the kerosene lamp and the children would gather around to open Santa’s gifts. No electricity back then. It was still just an idea folks dreamed of.

Growing up during the difficult times of the Dust Bowl Days, capital was scarce. Anything that cost money was rare at Christmas. Gifts consisted of something useful like clothing and one toy for each child. There were four children in the Becker family.

Mom always remembered the first and only horse she ever received for Christmas. She named the mare Dolly and as she told us, "I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I rode her nearly all day long."

While some of her neighbors cut a red cedar and placed it in their houses at Christmas, the Beckers didn’t have such trees in their pastures. Grandpa Bert erected some sort of stand with a pole and Grandma Rose, Mom and her brothers and sister would go out and cut branches from the evergreen trees they’d planted in the windbreak, They’d bring these branches inside and poke them in the stand to make their Christmas tree.

On most Christmas days, relatives would come to visit or the Beckers would jump in the family automobile and drive to see their cousins.

One of the special meals on Christmas day was always pan-fried chicken. Mom always said that was the best and her mother cooked the best.

My grandmother and Mom always made the best peanut brittle and fudge with walnuts. These had to be hidden until Christmas so the children wouldn’t snitch these yummy, tasty delights.

Yes, the toasty feeling of a wood burning stove, the smell of frying chicken and the anticipation of Christmas are memories my mother always cherished. She always said you never grow too old to enjoy this magical time of the year.

As she grew older and these stories were told and retold, she always made sure we understood the joy in the eye of the child remains always in the heart of the man or woman dedicated to caring and helping his/her fellow man.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.