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Mader: My grandparents Christmas memories

Although December is one of my favorite months of the year, it's also one of the most stressful. Finding the perfect gifts for friends and family, writing Christmas cards, baking cookies, helping at school special events and decorating the house often seem like extra tasks to pile onto an already overloaded to-do list.

To keep myself focused on the simplicity of Christmas, I love hearing stories from my 89-year-old grandma Evelyn. She and my grandpa Walt (who passed away a few years ago) loved to tell about the simple Christmases they had when they were kids in the 1930s.

Evelyn spent her first few years of life living near Coyle, Okla. She and her brother Jim moved with their parents and three grandparents to Colorado when Evelyn was 4.

The drive to Bennett, Colo., was long and it was hard for them to find a place to live. After much searching, they finally found a shack along Kiowa Creek about 5 miles north of Bennett. The place was simple and only amounted to a basic shelter from the winter. Typical of the times, there was no plumbing, electricity or telephone.

Back then, Christmas was only celebrated for a day or two — there wasn't a whole Christmas season like there is now. Evelyn will never forget her first Christmas Eve in Colorado.

"It was cold and windy with snow on the ground. Jim and I only knew it was Christmas Eve because the grown-ups said so," she remembered.

"Everyone except my Grandpa Eads was sitting around a table. The room was dimly lit by a kerosene lamp, which we always used for light after the sun set. My dad said, 'What was that noise?' Jim and I hadn't heard anything, but suddenly we heard bells and a voice saying 'Ho, Ho, Ho!'

My dad, who never normally let us open the door after dark, told us to open it and see if there was anyone out there. When we did get the door open, there were tracks in the snow and a small green table and two little green chairs just our size. We knew it had to be Santa stopping by to leave us a special gift! We had no Christmas tree or decorations, but that was not important. Santa had found us in Colorado!"

Evelyn lived in many houses during her growing up years — the family had to move around to find work for her dad and grandfather — but Santa always found her no matter where they moved.

Evelyn's family was very poor and they never had a tree, but somehow the family always managed to have a good Christmas. Santa never forgot to bring Evelyn and her siblings a small present or two.

Evelyn didn't realize her folks were poor. She felt content with the small gifts she received because she was able to spend lots of quality time with her family.

My grandpa Walt grew up along Kiowa Creek too and his family was poor just like Evelyn's. One of his favorite Christmas memories is of the year that he and his siblings made their own Christmas tree.

"One year Walt's family had no money to buy a Christmas tree," Evelyn said. "So he and his brothers went along Kiowa Creek searching for something that looked Christmassy.

They found a branch on a cottonwood tree that fit the bill and they chopped it off and proudly brought it into the house.

There they proceeded to wrap each branch with green crepe paper. Then they strung popcorn on thread and carefully draped it around the tree. They made paper chains and a cardboard star to finish the job.

Walt said that at the time he thought it was the prettiest Christmas tree he had ever seen."

That Christmas, my grandpa didn't think he would get any presents, but he and his brothers secretly made toys for each other out of scraps of wood. His sister learned to crochet, so she also made secret little gifts for her brothers. Even though it was the family's poorest Christmas, it turned out to be their best.❖