(Host) Commentator Willem Lange has been going through his old diaries, and found the first Christmas he spent away from home, just fifty years ago.
(Lange) It was a long ride, fifty years ago, from Cleveland, Ohio, to Brownwood, Texas, on a round-backed Greyhound bus. For a kid like me, who’d never really been west of Buffalo, it was a fantasy come true. I was going home for Christmas with a college friend from Texas.
It was before the days of interstate highways. I’d never even imagined, country as flat as the prairies – Indianapolis, St. Louis, Joplin, Tulsa, Oklahoma City. But west of Fort Worth the land began to resemble my fantasies. Tumbleweeds piled up against roadside fences; broken windmills leaned drunkenly away from the wind; brown, dry fields stretched away to a horizon as flat as the ocean.
It was a 30-mile drive from Brownwood to the ranch. Limestone ledges rose on both sides of the highway, and the road began to wind through hills. Lines of trees marked the courses of creeks. The temperature was just above freezing. We passed abandoned farmhouses every mile or so. Oil wells bobbed up and down like feeding shore birds.
The faded ranch house stood in a square of live oaks, surrounded by machine sheds, a corral, a sagging barn, and a tiny bunkhouse. We waited for our following dust cloud to blow away, then carried our bags across a springy board porch, and into the kitchen.
The kitchen was closed off from the rest of the house and heated by a cast-iron stove. My friend’s father tossed a couple of chunks of gnarly wood into the stove, sniffed at a kettle of pinto beans, and showed me my room.
It and the rest of the house were about ten degrees colder than outside. The wind blew up through the floor and ruffled the curtains at the loose window sashes. But there were plenty of blankets, and a couple of bricks to heat up in the kitchen and take to bed with me.
They were having “a blue norther” – what we call a nor’easter. Every living thing in that part of Texas was hunkered down and waiting it out. The old man took me around the place and pointed out cattle and deer sheltering behind sand bluffs in the creek bottom; jackrabbits crouching in clumps of grass; ducks and geese hiding in cattails beside the ponds.
I kicked the bricks out of bed around midnight. The storm petered out by morning. We gathered pecans all day and spent the evening shelling them – one cracking and three picking – and threw the shells into the living room fire.
The Christmas tree was a little mesquite hung with tinsel and wild seed pods.
On Christmas Eve we drove into town. The Methodist children’s choir sang on the front steps of the church in the starry night. They sounded just the way the original shepherds must have: “Angels we have heard own hah…”
This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, wishing y’all a lovely holiday season.
Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.