-- Editor's note: The Herald's editorial board members have a Christmas tradition of taking a break from commenting on the issues of the day to offer personal reflections on the holiday season. This year, members were asked to reflect on a humorous Christmas memory.
Humor is in the eye of the beholder
I suppose it must be something inherited from the Norwegian side of the family. As Christmas approaches, we can lean toward excessive perfection, especially in our Christmas trees.
Perhaps it’s because folks who emigrated from a land of fjords and evergreen trees were driven a little crazy by their new setting.
Northern Minnesota was likely the best they found, and then they wandered west to the Dakotas and Eastern Montana, arid plains separated from the North Pole’s blizzards by only a few bits of barbwire.
Anyway, about the time I was wrapping up my 9th or 10th year, we brought home from the woods the perfect Christmas tree. It was a time so ancient that lots filled with rows of Scotch pines and Noble firs, all precise and pollarded perfection, did not yet dot our nation’s main streets.
This perfect tree required no human artifice. No tedious trimming, no transplanted branches suspended on strings. It gave rise to a family legend: The Year of the Perfect Tree.
Little did we know the result would be long December marches annually in the frozen, snowy forests of Montana’s Continental Divide searching for its match.
Our treks would continue until I was in high school. Our leader -- my older brother Bud, who worked summers for the Forest Service and knew where its most perfect trees lived -- by then was in college and captive until Christmas break.
So we set out in bitter cold and deep snow. Our first attempt at perfection was an abysmal failure. As the tree toppled, a series of sharp cracks announced several frozen limbs had snapped off. As we righted it, the damage was beyond repair. One side was bare.
So on we trekked. At a second tree, we feared a repeat. My intrepid brother Greg, a skilled axman, volunteered to climb up a ways, carefully top it and tip it onto the uphill slope, where Bud and I would attempt to guide it to a soft -- and intact -- landing.
Perhaps our brains had frozen by then, but it seemed a good idea at the time. Right up to the moment the tree began to tip. Greg suddenly lost his balance, bailed out of the branches after throwing the ax clear and landed on his shoulders. He somersaulted onto his feet, clearly unhurt.
It was so stunningly stupid and funny, I burst out laughing. Which nearly prompted him to take up the ax again.
Luckily, nothing was broken but the tree, which had bayoneted into the snow top first, cracking off about a foot. The rest was intact. After careful review, we concluded a bit of barbering could save its looks and send us home to a warm house.
The spell of The Perfect Tree was broken. Greg still bristles about it though. But Bud and I both think it’s one of our funniest family stories.
-- Ken Robertson
Debunking reindeer myth
On our small cattle ranch nestled up against the majestic Mission Mountain range of the Rockies, Christmas for me as a youngster meant a few presents under the tree, lots of cousins in sleeping bags on the living room floor and a lot of good homestyle cooking.
It also meant the cows got milked and fed a bit late and with a little more comfort, thanks to the new long johns and gloves Santa left.
One particular Christmas morning, the living room burst to life at the sound of bells ringing through the darkness surrounding the ranch house.
"That's Santa's sleigh leaving for another house," exclaimed one of my much older brothers to the group of children madly ripping through wrapping paper.
"It sounded more like that pair of cowbells hanging in the barn than sleigh bells to me," I responded; old enough to be skeptical but not old enough to be silent.
"There's no such thing as flying reindeer," I said, a little too loudly.
A hush fell over the living room.
"Well," said my brother, "that's true but the sound you heard was in fact Santa's sleigh leaving."
"You see the reindeer thing is just myth, made up by those folks from California who make the movies and stuff."
That made sense. In our neck of the woods, Californians were regarded with a mixture of disdain and amusement, and it was widely known they were the source of what threatened our quality of life. But that's another story.
"In California there are no elk so they used deer for the movies" he said.
We were fortunate to live in place where the only thing that separated us from the top of the mountains were trees and the creatures that blessed that land. Often herds of deer and elk could be seen feeding in the hay meadow. We all knew the difference between deer and the much larger and stronger elk.
"Deer couldn't pull Santa's sleigh up and over mountains that high," he said, pointing out the window to Haystack Mountain, "So he uses elk."
"Elk are much, much larger than deer -- nearly as big as cows -- so Santa uses cow bells."
"And you," he said to me, "have you ever seen elk in the meadow on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day?"
I had to admit I hadn't.
"They're at work" he said.
-- Gregg McConnell
Every way but funny
It's that time of the year again when members of the editorial board are assigned to write a Christmas story. This year the topic is our most humorous Christmas.
Well, I can remember -- and have written about -- Christmases that were:
1. Religious: As a member of a boy's choir at an Anglican Church in Bradford, England, caroling around the usually wet and damp parish from midnight to 6 a.m., waking up the parishioners with soprano voices and at places being invited into homes for heart-warming ginger wine (non-alcoholic). And then singing at the morning and evening Christmas Day services.
2. Impoverished: Well, not really, but starting work in the Tri-City Herald newsroom on Dec. 12, 1960, coming from Idaho with no cash reserve, renting a one-bedroom duplex off Kennewick Avenue and Kent Street in which I, my wife and three-year-old son squeezed. And having the publisher of the Herald (at that time, Glenn Lee) give out gift certificates for stores that had not paid their advertising bills. My reward after two weeks of work was a $16 certificate with which we bought a lamp.
3. Heart warming: Having the whole family around every Christmas Eve. We are blessed, in this age of dispersed family, with having four of our six kids living in the Tri-Cities (and another no further away than Boise), and 10 of our 12 grandchildren and both great-grandchildren here in the Tri-Cities. On Christmas Eve we eat, play games, exchange presents and toast our good fortune. I have tried to revive my boyhood carol-singing tradition (but in the house). However, they're not interested, and my voice has not been worth listening to since it broke 64 years ago.
4. Heart rending: That would be this Christmas. There will be a massive void in the family gathering this year. The beloved matriarch of the family -- my mother-in-law, Merle Thompson -- died just 10 days ago. A wonderful woman.
But humorous? Search my feeble memory as I might, I can think of nothing humorous about my Christmases. I leave it to my fellow editorial board members to tickle your funny bone this Christmas.
I'll just wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope you will be as fortunate in life as I have been.
-- Jack Briggs
How Santa got his limp
My memories of Christmases past are plentiful and sentimental, with many a fond thought associated with the holiday season. But this year, we were asked to recall our funniest Christmas memory.
I have memories of fun holidays but can't recollect a moment of true hilarity on Dec. 25 with a toppled Christmas tree or a super silly surprise.
Our laughs come more from the predictability (Did mom remember to take the rolls out of the oven?) and the camaraderie that come from time spent with a small, close-knit family.
If I have to pick one memory -- and I do -- it is a direct result of this column a couple of years back. We were asked to come up with our fondest childhood memory of Christmas, and I wrote about my dad's annual threat to snare Santa in a trap if I didn't go to bed in a timely fashion on Christmas Eve.
So I wrote about the Santa trap, a mythical mechanism that I had never seen but always imagined as a child. The column ran in the paper on Christmas Eve. And when I arrived at my parents' farm for breakfast on Christmas morning, what to my wondering eyes did appear but Santa's amputated leg in an old rusty trap on the front porch.
It does exist and so does he! The Santa trap had materialized and had nabbed a bit of the jolly old elf on his way into the house to stuff stockings. The delight that my dad and his helpers took in creating the scene for me was undeniable. And the surprise and joy of finally seeing the Santa trap was priceless.
I think it's true that the kid inside all of us never really outgrows the magic of Christmas. At least I never want to. The appearance of an actual Santa trap complete with a Santa's leg brought delight and a good chuckle to all ages in our house.
And it helped create another great memory by bringing something from my childhood to life as an adult, thanks to this very newspaper column. It's hard to deny that kind of magic.
-- Lori Lancaster
Rockin' around the tree
It was Christmas morning of 1998, when I awoke with excitement to see what presents lie beneath our Christmas tree. Usually I was slow to open my presents, wanting to enjoy every little moment, but this particular Christmas morning I decided that tearing off the paper in a hurry seemed much more appropriate.
That was until one particular present stopped me in my tracks. I had asked Santa for a special boom box and CDs. In my stocking I had discovered two CDs that I asked for. I was very hopeful that under the tree was a boom box just for me.
There was one present under the tree that I was certain was holding a boom box. I tore off the wrapping paper to see that the outside of the package did, in fact, show an image of a boom box just as I had wished for.
However, the box felt pretty heavy and something inside rattled strangely as I shook it. My mom and dad eagerly watched as I tore open the box only to see the horror and dismay on my face as I looked into a box full of rocks!
Instantly, I burst into tears and ran straight to my room. My mom and dad had been sharing with me that if I was naughty that Santa could bring a lump of coal or a box of rocks, but they didn't really mean it did they? In my own mind I had been a good all year.
Feeling guilty of their Christmas tricks, my parents soon came into my room and told me to look around the house for the boom box in case Santa left it in a secret hiding place.
I wasn't so sure about this since I was still feeling pretty traumatized, but it didn't take me long to find where the boom box was hidden.
My mom and dad assured me that although I had been mostly good they felt I needed to learn some important life lessons.
The experience certainly taught me to never take presents for granted and to appreciate everything I have. Thirteen years years later, I look back on the experience and think of how funny my parents were in teaching me such an important life lesson.
I'm not sure I will ever do the same for my children on Christmas day, but nonetheless I have been humbled ever since!
-- Kayla Pratt,
-- Editor's note: Kayla Pratt contributes to the Herald editorial as part of an experiment in reader participation.
Arose such a clatter
My son has survived his teenage years. To people that actually know Chet, this may come as a surprise. But it's true, he's 20 now.
Most of his youthful antics can be chalked up to boyhood exuberance. But a few of his stunts can only be described as "Chetisms."
In particular I'm thinking of a few years ago when he was on the roof helping his dad put up Christmas lights.
So, he's on the roof. It's December. He's wearing his Santa hat. There's the chimney. And he was raised on Dr. Seuss. (My bad.)
You can probably see where this is headed but if it's been a while since you've read How the Grinch Stole Christmas, here's a refresher.
"Then he slid down the chimney. A rather tight pinch. But if Santa could do it, then so could the Grinch. He got stuck only once, for a moment or two. Then he stuck his head out of the fireplace flue."
Our friend Dr. Suess either had a loose grasp on reality (which I strongly suspect) or he had never actually been inside of a chimney (something my son can now boast of). If the good doctor knew more about chimneys, he would have realized that, depending on the design of your chimney, it's nearly impossible to stick your head out of the flue.
In our house, it can't be done. But Chet didn't know that.
He wriggled down the chimney with the idea he was going to pop out the fireplace and surprise the family.
He was partly successful.
When I heard him pounding on the inside of the chimney and yelling "open the fireplace," I most definitely was surprised.
And Chet was pretty surprised when I told him it didn't open and he was going to have to get out the same way he came in.
Our home was built in 1964, and we bought it four years ago. We have never used the fireplace. The damper is bolted shut and probably has been for years.
The chimney was only a few inches bigger around than my kid. With his arms straight overhead, he used the edges of his toes and the tips of his fingers to shimmy down the chimney.
Right before he got stuck, the chimney opened into what is known as the "throat." The walls are wider in the throat and his feet had nothing to grip onto. He fell the last foot or so.
He was probably 15 feet below the chimney opening with his arms stuck straight over his head, standing on the closed damper.
Chet was able to lower himself into the chimney by employing his sheer Ninja skills. He had to be rescued by his mommy and daddy and a rope.
It wasn't funny at the time. And it's only slightly humorous now. I don't recommend anyone try this at home.
But I will say I love that kid and am looking forward to seeing what his "Chetisms" will look like during the next 20 years.
With any luck, he might even survive them.
-- Shelly Norman
Stick with the partridge
When I was 10, my teenage sister's boyfriend bought his parents a squirrel monkey for Christmas.
He must have been a good-looking boy, because he clearly wasn't much in the way of brains. In my elementary-school innocence, I thought it was the greatest gift ever. But at his age, he should have known some basic monkey lore.
The two key facts for anyone thinking about buying a monkey are: 1) Monkeys are mean, and 2) have sharp teeth.
There are other drawbacks, such as a tendency to throw feces and a general disposition that's described as sociopathic in humans, but the teeth ought to dispel any notion of making one of these demons a pet.
Sure, the look cute in the movies, but you don't see the burly handlers armed with tranquilizer guns standing just off screen.
The boyfriend took possession of the monkey a few days before Christmas, and my sister, who is normally brilliant, agreed to store it at our house until it was time to surprise his parents.
I came home soon after, and predictably, my attention was immediately drawn to the caged monkey in our living room.
I think I actually said, "Oh, a monkey!" as I went to have a closer look. The cage door was barely open a crack when the monkey hurled himself against it and scrambled into the Christmas tree.
I approached, "Hi, little fella," and he showed his teeth, emitted a shriek, the memory of which still makes my skin crawl, and began to pelt me with Christmas bulbs.
My sister came in to express her thoughts on the inadvisability of opening the cage in the first place but otherwise wasn't much help.
Fortunately, my older brother came home before the monkey caused too much damage. He made a grab for the monkey but got a look at its teeth and thought better of that plan.
Clad in ski gloves and a heavy jacket and armed with a blanket, he was able to snare the animal without harm to either party -- which was somewhat of a Christmas miracle.
With the monkey safely in the cage, the three of us headed to the kitchen for well-earned milk and cookies. About halfway through the second Oreo, we hear our little brother in the living room.
"Oh, a monkey!"
The three of us shouted, "No!" and sprinted to the living room. Too late, of course.
Another thing about monkeys -- they're really fast.
-- Chris Sivula
Delayed but meaningful
A few years back, our Christmas came on March 18, via The Polar Express.
Our son, his wife and their two young boys could not make it up here for Christmas that year, although the boys especially had been counting on it.
But it was a year when fierce winter storms closed some airports, cutting short our Christmas plans.
Three months later, we picked them up at the Portland airport and had a long, relatively quiet drive back to the Tri-Cities.
I say relatively quiet because the older of the two boys, Henry, then about 9, had gotten hold of one of his parents' cell phones and began texting his grandmother from the far back seat. She was in the front seat next to me.
There was a flurry of activity as four different people got into the act of explaining to her how texting worked. Even 4-year-old Gavin got into the spirit of "Instructing Grandma."
Well, she was Grandma Bonnie in polite conversation, but on the cell phones she was given the moniker "Newbie" -- by a 9-year-old!
We got home late and the boys were astonished that the house was ablaze with Christmas lights. After settling down from that surprise, and the indoor decorations, including a twinkling tree, they tumbled into bed for a Texas-sized night's sleep.
On March 18, we opened presents. The turkey and pumpkin pie drew lots of praise.
The cookies were devoured, the stockings emptied of their treats, the presents happily opened in record time.
Then came the big surprise.
At 4 p.m. Hank and Nancy Sauer showed up at the door, ringing bells and ho, ho, ho-ing.
It would be the first reading that year of The Polar Express, something Hank has made a tradition in the Tri-Cities, for thousands of children and nearly as many adults.
He had a rapt audience.
At the end of the enchanting story, he and Nancy did what they always do, they gave us each a bell to remind us of The Polar Express and how, whether we're four years old or in our 70s, we are supposed to believe in the magic of Christmas, regardless of what day it's celebrated.
-- Matt Taylor