Well, it is an established fact that the world is so large that Santa can’t get to every little town in the world on a single night. With some delicate negotiations, arrangements were made for Santa Claus to arrive in Sidney, TX on the Saturday, the weekend before Christmas. For the Feril cousins, it could not have worked out better because it just so happened that this was the time that we could all make it home to Sidney on that same weekend.
In the corner of the room, away from the fireplace, a wonderfully decorated cedar
Christmas tree would be positioned, with the “weak” side to the corner where it would not be noticed. Lots of decorations, the big colored bulbs that burned you if you touched them. Perhaps a popcorn string in the branches, children’s artwork, and tinsel… we were strong on tinsel. The tree could be clearly seen from window beside it from the outside if we arrived for the weekend after dark. It was that same window to which multiple tiny noses would be pressed when it was announced that Uncle Travis had just seen Santa’s sleigh crossing over the house. Due to the crowding at the frosty window, we were usually just a bit late to see it disappear over Round Mountain.
There were the standard presents, new pajama’s, a shirt and always socks or underwear. At 5-7 years old it was difficult to smile and act excited over underwear when a pocket knife or a toy gun was the real dream. Soon there would be the excitement of the toys. Adults were in kitchen chairs, hassocks, the couch or standing behind others ringing the outer walls. Children were in the middle of the floor, wrapping paper and ribbon encircling each one. Until the time for the Rabbit Dance was upon us. It was a rare and special time.
Parents played 42, a bridge like game using dominoes. The Feril men were fiercely competitive, analyzing each play and the implications for what was not played and why. By the second play everyone knew what everyone else had in their hand. Later, as chores were being done, some of the men might pair off to play straight dominoes. Some of the aunts played, although the mysteries of what was being prepared in the little kitchen seemed to hold them in that area more. Often they were gathered around the kitchen table making fudge, divinity, or some other specialty. Children were outside or upstairs, playing and telling their stories. Being the oldest of the plethora of cousins, I loved to tell stories about ghosts, or the Man With the Golden Arm.
Finally, we would be taken up the near vertical stairs to the great double beds. The mattresses were so soft that the covers threatened to swallow us up, and sheets so cold that the first 10 minutes you lay shivering under the mounds of quilts. We were always told not to get up anymore, but the truth is that with 40 pounds of quilts pinning you to the bed none of the boys would be getting up. I remember waking up a number of mornings to the hem of the sheet being frozen to the window.
Going downstairs, with Grandad lighting the propane stove, the fire place roaring and Grandmother backed up in front of it warming her legs under her housecoat… these are among my favorite recollections.
There would be chicken soup, a couple of the hens having given their lives for the main dish. Grandmother was really going all out when she added smoked oysters to the soup. They were black, chewy and distasteful, something akin to a black rubber band. I would finally give up and push it to the side of the plate.
Meals were taken in shifts, men, then children, then women. All were welcome at the table, but one took their turn. We played and wrestled and rode horses with all our cousins. Renewing relationships that always seemed deep but were very limited due to distance. The memories flood my mind as I sit to write.
Later, we would be taken from ranch house to ranch house, being shown off, having grown so much from the last year that our extended family could hardly recognize us. We could usually be recognized as the Feril’s from Colorado, or Michigan… wherever we were that year. We were usually in that blue Rambler American station wagon. When the car stopped, the doors exploded open and boys went everywhere, escaping their long confinement.
I am not sure where you will spend Christmas, or even the day that you will be with family to celebrate. If you ever get the chance, the weekend before Christmas, on that Saturday night… you might want to wander by the old Feril place outside of Sidney. On that night, the voices still linger in the air, echoing across the generations. If you happen to look very carefully to the starry sky, it is just possible that you will catch a glimpse of a sleigh just cresting Round Mountain before disappearing over the horizon. If you do, if you happen to see it… you will never be the same.