Ancestors, Legends & Time

Being very very good for Christmas at Look Over Lodge

Jeanne Newby

Christmas – a kid’s equivalent to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. And while I had no use for gold, I was a hopin’ and a yurnin’ for that pot or more accurately, Santa’s sack contained my horse. The horse Poppa had said we’d get if we ever moved to the farm. The horse he’s said might come Christmas – maybe – if we were very, very good!

Well, gosh darn, I had been good. Very, very good! At least as good as I could be. And now I was in the home stretch, counting down the days, minding my ‘p’s and ‘q’s, dotting my ‘i’s and crossing my ‘t’s, walking on eggshells. No time to fall off the wagon now, we were nearing the finish line.

Everything was “Yes Sir, I’ll do it for you, Poppa. Let me do it with you Momma. Why yes, Momma, I’d be happy to take the scraps out to the hogs. It would be a privilege and on the way back, I’ll bring in a load of firewood. Now you just take a load off and relax by the fireplace. Here are your slippers, Momma and a nice warm blanket for your lap. And Poppa, here is your slippers and pipe. Don’t you two worry about the dishes, I will do them when I get back. You know, doin’ the dishes is one of my favorite things to do.”

On and on it went. I was as sweet as sorghum…sickeningly sweet and just as sticky. I stuck to them like hogs on slop, volunteering for everything. I even invented things to volunteer for. “Momma, do you want me to dust the attic? Poppa, I was a thinkin’ there’s nothing I would rather do than clean out the septic tank. Can I do it, Poppa? Can I? I would do you so proud. It would be an honor!

Lucky for me, my most outlandish offers went unapproved. There were legitimate chores aplenty to keep me occupied and out of trouble. Winter started early and stayed longer in the early 50s. Snow tires were on by Halloween and chains soon followed. Just feeding the livestock took on a whole new dimension when you had to shovel your way out to the barn and sometimes even shovel your way back to the house. During extreme blizzards only Poppa would make the trek to the barn, and then he was aided by a long rope so as not to lose his way going to and from. The Plymouth station wagon stayed snug in the garage. But during extreme cold spells, its fluids and battery were brought into the kitchen for safe keeping.

Farmers had to be self-sufficient and capable of dealing with all situations. This was especially true if, like us, your farm was isolated at the end of a long private lane, well off the county road. When Ole Man Winter blew in a “Blue Norther,” you had better be prepared, because even the county road might not be plowed for a week or so. Then, your only option of escape in an emergency was to hike out to the railroad track and flag a freight train with a flare. Fortunately for us, it never came to that. On those occasions, when the ice and snow had us penned in and the power lines went down, we were mighty happy we had; a full propane tank, 16 cords of firewood, a backup generator, standby kerosene stoves, heaters, and lamps, candles galore, two large freezers packed to capacity, a deep well with an insulated pump house, and plenty of food for the livestock.

During Blue Northers, if you were lucky, the daily high would exceed 0 degrees F. At night, the temperatures would plummet to minus 20 degrees or colder. Stock tanks would freeze solid, requiring twice daily bucket trudges from the house to the barn.

Even Poppa’s hillbilly hot tub froze up. The hot tub was an oblong galvanized stock tank located outdoors over a trench in which a wood fire would be stoked. Turbulence was supplied by an electric battery powered trolling motor. Its propeller encased by a homemade screen wire cage to prevent toe-danglin’. The cage was an improvement prompted by painful experience, as was the wooden stool to sit on which prevented butt blisterin’. It took a lot of firewood to keep Poppa’s tub fire stoked, the water hot and battery warm.

One particularly bitter cold night, after enjoying his hot outdoor soak, he “flashed” back into the kitchen. Naked as a jaybird, the blustery north wind blowing on his rump, and he plumb forgot to stoke the fire and bring in the battery as he streaked for the house. That night, the battery froze solid and cracked. It was so cold that night, our snowman kept banging on the door begging to be let inside!

By now, Center Creek, while not frozen solid, was covered shore to shore with 6 to 8 inches of ice. “Safe enough for man or beast” as declared by Poppa after his official measuring before allowing Tom and me to venture forth (despite Momma’s protestations). We didn’t have skates, but we had a sled. We’d start at the top of the bluff behind Look Over Lodge and far above Center Creek. It was a fast and tricky ride to negotiate all the trees, the boat house and the boat dock before hitting the iced over river. While on land it was like being in the Olympic luge, exhilarating, to say the least. But man, when you hit the ice you were suddenly transported to warp speed. We were dizzyingly spinning out of control, hurtling downstream until we would crash into a drooping ice encrusted willow tree, which would bring us to an abrupt stop while showering us with a cascade of icicles. It was for these crash landings Momma had stipulated we must wear our Shank’s Army Surplus helmets.

Periodically, we would return to Look Over Lodge to warm up by the Yule log, dry our clothes, and be fortified with hot chocolate and Christmas Cookies, before returning to the slopes.

Christmas Eve arrived and we had hopes of a special gift from Santa. The excitement was too strong for us to fall asleep. Even being exhausted from the adventures of the day, our minds couldn’t seem to slow down enough to sleep.

But alas…The night went as fast as a blink of an eye when Momma was shaking up awake saying “It’s Christmas, Santa’s been here – time to open your presents. We bounded downstairs and tore into a treasure trove of presents, paper flying every which way. Here was everything two little boys could desire in duplicate, so neither of us could be jealous of the other…everything that is except our horse…our Christmas horse. Eyes cast downward, we dejectedly sighed, “Poppa where is our horse? You promised.”

“Did you look in your Christmas stockings?” “You can’t get a horse in a Christmas stocking” we said. Still yet, curiosity got the best of us. “Turn them over and shake them.” Following instructions, we shook the stockings and out plunked two horse biscuits and some straw. Confused, we asked, “What is that?”

“That” said Poppa, “is about as much horse as you’ve been good enough for! Now count your blessings and enjoy your toys.”

As always, Poppa knew best and in no time at all, we were lost in our make believe worlds of cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, etc. Yet deep down in our hearts we had learned a valuable lesson; It is in the giving, not getting that you are blessed. Poppa and Momma gave us their all. Love only grows when you give it away. It was indeed a “Christmas to yurn for.”

Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber office and other local retailers, such as Maggie Jane’s Gifts, at 8 S. Main St.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.