"Girls’ night out" (Oh, and Christmas light judging, too)
by Penny Zeller
It was official ” Dec. 20 would not only be the night to judge the best-decorated house in Ranchester, Wyo., but it would also be Girls’ Night Out. At 5:25 p.m. the three judges climbed into the chauffeur’s car and headed to Ranchester.
The honorary judges were from Heritage Towers in Sheridan, Wyo. This group of spunky senior citizens dressed in warm sweaters and coats for the short trip to Ranchester. The group included Helen Warnke, a priceless treasure of a gal with snow-white hair and an ornery smile; Helen Ellis, a soft-spoken and sweet petite brunette; and Rita Kaminsky, a classy and stylish youngun’ at 71. Their fun-loving and generous chauffeur (and services coordinator for Heritage Towers), Nancy Drummond also served as a judge.
Ranchester residents signed up to win a snazzy video camera donated by Gibson Family Hardware, S&T Trucking and J.R. and Cathy Moore. To be eligible, the contestants had to decorate their house and/or yard with Christmas lights. There were 13 contestants in all.
Once in Ranchester, the group followed their tour guides for the evening, two kind gentlemen known to them only as “Luke and Zac.” As they approached each home, Luke and Zac communicated with the ladies by walkie-talkies. The ladies then voted on a scale of one to five, with one being the worst and five being the best. These completely unbiased judges “oohed and aahed” as each house was passed and agreed that this would definitely be a tough competition.
Some homes were decorated with the patriotic lights of red, white, and blue. Some had projectors projecting “mini Christmas movies” on their homes. Still some homes displayed “chaser lights” and others included Nativity scenes, angels, Frosty the Snowman, reindeer, and Santa Claus. One home even had their windows decorated from the inside for an especially festive effect. At each home, the judges speculated on the hard work and creativity that went into the decorating. “The lights were very nice, very beautiful, very very wonderful, I thought,” remarked Helen Ellis, who was squeezed in the backseat.
Finally, about a half-hour later, the votes were tabulated and a winner was announced. Allan Moore (472 2nd Ave. West) was the winner with his icicle lights, green trees, and all-around best lights. Allan will also be the proud winner of a new video camera to film all his Christmas memories.
Helen Warnke thought the Engford home should’ve won. “I gave it a five, but it should’ve been a 10, it should’ve won.” Helen had tried to sway the other judges to her thinking, but they held fast to their decision.
“It’s a shame only one prize because there were about four of them,” Rita said of the number of homes she thought could’ve taken home the prize.
“I agree that it’s too bad that more couldn’t have won,” said Nancy, who added, “It was fun being the chauffeur. It’s very rare that when I take my people out from the Towers that I don’t have fun.”
Many other homes were decorated in Ranchester, but they had failed to sign up. The judges agreed that some of them definitely would’ve been in the running had they signed up.
After the judging, the ladies decided to continue their Girls’ Night Out by going out for hot chocolate. Sitting around the table at the restaurant, they started to reminisce about Christmases gone by.
“The one that stands out most in my mind …” started Rita as she closed her eyes and told of the time when she was a little girl of about 3 years old. Her family was very poor, growing up during the Depression in LaCrosse, Wis. She woke up first on Christmas Day to find two “Didy Dolls,” little dolls that if you fed them with the bottle, they would wet their diapers. One doll under the tree was dressed in a white dress with blue circles on the fabric, and the other doll was dressed in a white dress with red circles on the fabric. Rita knew that one doll was for her and one was for her sister. She picked up the doll she figured was for her sister and blew holes in the rubber pants. She then went back to bed. Later, when she and her family awoke to celebrate Christmas Day, Rita ended up with the doll with the rubber pants she had blown holes in.
“Another best Christmas was when I got skis and white figure skates,” Rita said, recalling a Christmas when she was 12 years old. Today, Rita is very active and loves to cook, bake and knit.
Helen Warnke, who will turn 90 this coming February, remembers Christmas in her small South Dakota town. Her face lit up when she spoke of a Christmas when she was 6 years old. Her favorite doll had disappeared and her brothers taunted her and told her that she deserved for her doll to be missing. On Christmas Day, much to Helen’s delight, she received a new doll with several doll clothes. “It had a big face and was a China doll. It was a real good doll.” Oddly enough, Helen never did find her old doll.
Helen said she wished she could’ve been a tomboy growing up, but she was not allowed to play with her brothers or other boys. “I had to be a lady,” she said sadly. Today, Helen is a dynamic and independent senior citizen, who has so many social engagements that she is rarely home.
Helen Ellis, a quiet 87-year-old, told of how she was so excited during a Christmas when she was 5 or 6 and received a pair of slippers as a gift. Her family lived in Laurel, Mont., at the time, and she recalled having to wear high black laced shoes all the time until she received her leather slippers. She was then allowed to wear the special slippers to church and during holidays and only had to wear the high black boots to school. Today, Helen enjoys reading and relaxing.
Nancy’s recollection of a special Christmas was living in Michigan when President Eisenhower was in office and her dad worked several jobs as a milkman and as a Chevy car salesman (even though he was a devout Ford man). “We had to wait until Dad got home to open the gifts, but it was worth it,” Nancy says. She remembered receiving a record player as a gift that year.
Soon the evening was over and the Girls’ Night Out came to a close. It’s very likely that come next Christmas season, these three ladies and their chauffeur will head out once again to judge Christmas lights and to enjoy hot chocolate and special memories.
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