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Memories of Christmas past

Heather Smith Thomas Published on 24 November 2015
Frosty morning

Christmas is the celebration of the most important event in history – the birth of Christ. At Christmastime, we pause in thankful remembrance, realizing all the things this event means in our lives today.

Our lives would be very different if Christ had not come into this world to show us the way to the Father.

Jesus was born into this world as a human so we could more readily relate to Him. His coming gave us a chance to understand that God the creator is also a god of love. Many of Jesus’ parables likened God to a loving father – which is something that most humans can understand.

Christmas is the celebration of that love and God’s gift to us. In humble gratitude we exchange gifts at Christmastime as a way of honoring His love, as a symbol of the greatest gift.

Christmas is a special time for families because this earthly unit is the closest thing we have that can remind us of the unconditional love of our Heavenly Father. We are His family, His children.

Often the tradition of gift-giving gets in the way of the real meaning of Christmas, and we get bogged down in all the hurry and worry of getting ready for this special holiday instead of viewing it as a holy day.

We get busy sending out cards and letters – which is actually a nice side-effect because it may be the only time we reconnect with special people in our too-busy lives. We ponder and stress over what to get for our friends and family members as Christmas gifts.

We spend money on things we probably would never buy otherwise. It’s easy for the true spirit of Christmas to get lost in all the glitter and commercialization of this special event.

There was one Christmas for me and my husband, Lynn, however, when we were too poor to worry about the tangible side of Christmas, and the only thing we focused on was the intangible and wondrous aspect of this celebration. It was 1966, our first Christmas together here on Withington Creek.

Heather and Lynn Thomas

When we got married that spring, we were too poor and too busy for a honeymoon; we went home to his rented farm near Gooding, Idaho, to milk the cows.

He had a dairy because it was a way to get started with cattle. Bankers were more willing to loan money for a dairy operation than a beef cattle ranch.

frosty morning

We both grew up near Salmon, Idaho, on ranches – and our dream was to have a ranch. That fall, our opportunity appeared. One of the ranches next to my parents’ place became available and we could start buying it.

We had a farm sale at the dairy and sold our cows – except for two springer heifers, one of which would become our family milk cow, and a few bottle calves.

We packed our meager belongings and made the move from the farm at Gooding to Withington Creek in late November, with the help of friends, family and a borrowed truck. We hauled two horses, two Angus cows, the dairy heifers (one of which had calved) and two tractors.

One tractor was lashed to a sturdy flat-bed trailer Lynn built. Every inch of that trailer was loaded with stuff, some of it in barrels nailed to the trailer.

We pulled it with our 1961 Ford pickup, and it was loaded. There were seven big calves in the back under a tarp. In the front we stuffed personal belongings, one dog and four cats (in a cardboard box) and us.

We were pulling such a heavy load that we barely made it over the steeper grades through the Craters of the Moon, landmark in central Idaho, crawling along at less than 10 miles per hour. Our little caravan must have looked like something out of Grapes of Wrath.

The ranch we’d be buying was not vacated until after the first of the year, so we – and our animals – camped for more than a month at my parents’ place, farther up the creek. The cows lived in the corral, and we milked our young cow in the old sod-roofed shed.

The day before Christmas, we were hauling hay we bought from a neighbor, sawing a load of firewood, and I was helping Mom with preparations for Christmas dinner. That night, we hung stockings by the fireplace, and Lynn and I felt badly that we had no gifts for each other or our families.

So we drew pictures of what we would have liked to give, wrapped those silly little drawings and put them under the tree. It was a comical Christmas but also a blessed one because we knew we didn’t need to give material presents. We had the most important things already – God’s love and our love for each other.

Winter cattle

We’ve had 48 Christmases together since that first one, and are about to celebrate our 49th Christmas here on the creek. We are surrounded by our wonderful family. Our parents are long gone, but our son, daughter and their families are here on the creek; our biggest joy is watching our grandchildren grow up on the ranch. We enjoy them enjoying Christmas.

There have been many gifts exchanged over the years, but the most memorable gift-giving experience was when we had nothing to give but the pictures we drew for one another. Truly, it was the thought that counted, and the acknowledgement that love is the most important part of Christmas.

Heather Thomas is a freelancer based in Idaho. Email Heather Thomas.

PHOTO 1: The Thomases’ barnyard on a frosty morning.

PHOTO 2: LEFT: Heather and Lynn in December 1966 standing in the “front yard” of the log cabin on their ranch on Withington Creek. RIGHT: Lynn and Heather Thomas today.

PHOTO 3: The Thomases’ barnyard on a frosty morning.

PHOTO 4: The Thomases’ upper ranch on Withington Creek on a December morning. Photos courtesy of Heather Thomas.