By Larry Wayne Tippetts
This is the 10th of 10 winners in the Deseret News annual Christmas writing contest, “Christmas I Remember Best.”
It was late fall of 1961. We were sitting around the dinner table when Dad announced he wanted to move back West. We had been living in three Midwestern cities for five years, but had moved to Minneapolis only four months earlier.
I was acquiring a new group of friends and had just made the basketball team at my high school, but we missed the mountains and our large extended family in the West. Although we had never lived there, Boise, Idaho, sounded appealing to him.
Dad never did believe in hiring someone to do something he could do himself, so we started building a trailer to haul the accumulated possessions of a large family. Our plan was to drive to my uncle’s ranch in Montana for Christmas, then travel to Boise to establish our new home.
Dad and Mom talked to the older children, asking if we could forego Christmas gifts in light of our financial circumstances. We agreed, but felt our youngest sister, Debbie, should still be remembered. Consequently, the last item packed was a doll that was protectively wrapped and placed at the top of the precariously high load.
On an overcast day with a light snow falling, we loaded our family of eight into the old station wagon and headed west with all of our earthly possessions trailing precariously behind. Not far into North Dakota we hit icy roads and blowing snow. Traveling along an isolated wind-swept section of the countryside, we heard a loud “clunk,” and the trailer swerved out of control. Dad managed to stop the car along the side of the two-lane highway. An inspection confirmed his suspicion that the axle on the trailer had broken. We left the trailer beside the road, praying no one would steal our belongings, and drove into the nearest town to find an inexpensive motel.
Unable to find a replacement part, we spent several days living in very discouraging circumstances. It was only later, as an adult, that I fully appreciated the disheartening situation we were in, and realized what courage my parents demonstrated at that time.
Eventually, Dad, my brother Danny and I drove to another town to pick up a needed part. Dad was in a creative mood, composing some of his original silly songs and poetry, and kept us constantly laughing. Was he really that lighthearted, or was that a father’s attempt to shield his sons from a gloomy situation?
Returning to our trailer we were relieved to find it undisturbed. We repaired the axle and continued on our journey. By this time, Christmas was two days away. Debbie started to express concern that Santa would not be able to find us, and we were all depressed about the thoughts of spending Christmas Day driving cross-country.
Christmas Eve found us several hundred miles from Uncle Blake’s ranch. We were road weary and fatigued, but during that night, a sort of magic seemed to settle over our journey. The sky was clear with a full moon reflecting off the snow-covered fields. Only an occasional farm home or small town detracted from the complete stillness. We started to look for Santa in the clear night sky, assuring Debbie that Santa knew where to leave her Christmas gift.
We love to sing, so we began to harmonize on some favorite Christmas carols. “Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie ...” Never in my short life had I felt such unity with the babe of Bethlehem. “Silent Night, Holy Night!” Truly it was, as we traveled through the stillness, the younger children asleep with heads on the lap of an older brother or sister.
It is difficult to put into words what happened that night, but I shall never forget the feelings of security and peace despite our road weariness and cramped muscles. As I write nearly 60 years later, I feel deep gratitude for my family and a profound sense of unity for that shared experience.
We finally arrived at Uncle Blake’s ranch about 8 a.m. Christmas morning. While cousins rushed out of the house to greet us with happy hugs and hellos, Danny and I climbed to the top of the load and removed the precious gift. The doll had become a symbol of not letting our obstacles get us down, and we were determined to accomplish that one traditional Christmas act of giving. We went through a back door and quickly placed the doll under the Christmas tree just before the rest of the family came in the front door.
Words are inadequate to express our feelings as we watched the eyes of our little sister light up with joy at the realization that Santa had not forgotten her.
Larry Tippetts lives in Sandy.