We had a pretty good Christmas here at the Taylor Ranch. When calves are $2 a pound, it sure helps make the holidays jolly. We put the money right back into circulation and bought a few nice Christmas presents for family, young and old.
I’ve tried to remember the most memorable Christmas presents I got as a kid, and I can recall a few. I remember my Jensen model steam engine, my ‘ricochet racer’ car launcher and a few others.
And I try to remember the Christmas Days that stand out in my mind. Growing up, they were all pleasant, with family, food and gifts. I remember a couple times when I was sure I had heard Santa’s sleigh bells and saw reindeer tracks in the snow along our driveway.
I remember the first Christmas with the family of the woman who would become my wife, and the crystal candlesticks I gave her that still lights our table today on special occasions. It was that Christmas when I found the lucky almond in my bowl of Norwegian rømmegrøt and won her family’s Christmas bell traditionally given to the person who discovers the almond.
But one Christmas that really sticks in my mind is one where I was not home, or with extended family, or found myself giving or receiving some material gift.
It was five years ago this Christmas, and it started with my then 4-year-old son and I boarding the east bound Empire Builder train at our quaint old brick train depot in Rugby, N.D. We would travel and sleep through Christmas Eve night to get to St. Paul, Minn. There we borrowed a car and drove to Rochester Methodist Hospital, part of the Mayo Clinic system, in Rochester, Minn.
We walked into that hospital on Christmas Day, 2008, and went to the intensive care unit to wish my mother a Merry Christmas, or as merry a one as it could be in that place, on that day, under those conditions.
Mom knew I was coming to spend Christmas day with her as she went from ICU to her hospital room recovering from the surgery and complications as doctors worked to rid her of a stage four ovarian cancer.
She knew I was coming on the train but she didn’t know her 4-year-old grandson would be on that train too. He walked her hospital room door with all his 4-year-old energy and earnestness and exclaimed, “Merry Christmas, Grandma!” First he gave her a hug and then the gift he’d been carrying since we left the ranch. He thought the gift was for Grandma, but it turned out to be the K’Nex building set he had wanted. Grandma handed it to him after she began to open it.
I can still hear him running down the hall with that box of K’Nex rattling in his hands as we moved Grandma from the ICU. I can see him playing with it on the floor by Grandma’s bed, and I can see the smile on her face as he recited his part in the Sunday School pageant for her. She proudly had him recite it again for the nurse when she came in making her rounds.
It was a quick trip. We spent Christmas Day with Mom, drove back to St. Paul and got back on the Empire Builder, now westbound, to return to the ranch. But it will always be one of my most memorable Christmas Days — despite the fact that we weren’t at home, we didn’t have a big meal and we didn’t have a Christmas tree or stacks of gifts in that hospital room.
But, the three of us had the gift of each other’s company, and Mom had the gift of a grandson’s smile to brighten her day.
And, because of that Christmas day five years ago, I learned that life’s best presents don’t come from a store wrapped in paper and bows. Sometimes they come on trains and are wrapped in footed pajamas. ❖