As I remember, Christmas at Dillard’s was a big deal. Oh, it was not because there were lots of toys for all the girls and boys, because that generation hadn’t been born yet. No, Christmas was a big deal because… well Christmas is a big deal and Dillard was the real deal.

There were only about 11 families living in the community where I was raised. From the river to town was roughly 10 miles. So, we did not see one another very often. Seems like most of the women got together on Sundays, the men got together every Saturday night for the fox hunt and both men, women and children found themselves together celebrating Christmas on Christmas Eve in Dillard’s front yard. The men were mostly around the bonfire drinking coffee, the women around the wood cookstove in the kitchen and kids were running around chasing one another and mostly staying out of the way.

My favorite memory of the Christmas celebration was the kids all sitting on the front porch and listening to Dillard talk about Santa Claus and his reindeer.

He talked about Santa Claus like he was an old friend that he had known for years. I got the impression that they met a few times during the year to make sure Santa’s list was up-to-date and right. Dillard would look at each of us directly in the eye and with his gravelly and kindly old voice ask us, “Have you been good this year?” I’m sure that both of my regular readers remember that I hung around Dillard all year long; hunting and fishing and learning unimportant grownup stuff that he insisted would be good for me when I grew up. So, asking me had I been good was always a tough question because he pretty well knew how much I hated the 2nd grade, homework and girls… and not necessarily in that order, so I just nodded and hoped that Santa would be in an extra good mood this year.

He also told us stories about Santa’s reindeer and that was the most exciting part for me because I loved critters. And the idea that there were deer that could fly made for a great story. I wanted to know where they stayed the rest of the year and why I’d never saw one. We’d clamor for Dillard to sing Tex Ritter’s song about Rudolph. He was a pretty good country singer plus we liked to hear him try to remember all their names. He almost always remembered Rudolph and Donner, but I’m pretty sure none of them were named Daisy or Fixin’. But the song always came out right so it could be that my second-grade teacher had them wrong. Lord knows, there were lots of things she didn’t have a clue about… like when squirrel season started or what was the limit. It makes you wonder how she was even qualified to teach the second grade. But that’s a story for another day.

Then, over in the shank of the afternoon, the women came outside with the men and everybody gathered round the big old fire and just sang Christmas carols. Oh, it was fine… just fine. Then they brought out the popcorn and the kids began to string up the popcorn. With a needle and thread, we made strands of popcorn together to decorate the tree. It was great fun to try to make the longest string and I could have won if dumb old Lesley Johnson hadn’t of been sneaking a handful of popcorn out of my bowl when my back was turned. But even through the disappointment of losing the “longest strand of popcorn” contest, I had to admit it was an inspiring sight to see the tree so richly decorating with strings of popcorn drooped around the huge cedar tree freshly cut and smelling good!

A final cup of coffee, one last story and it was time to get back home to our own beds and wait for Santa.

Laying there, I felt loved, safe and secure with the “anything is possible” dreams about a jolly old fat man being pulled all over the world by his flying deer guided by a reindeer named Rudolph… and of course anchored by old Daisy and Fixin’. This night I was not an orphan, this night I was not forgotten, and this night I had it all. I then drifted off in peaceful slumber reserved for those who feel truly blessed.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night… except dumb old Lesley Johnson, you popcorn stealer!