Guess it’s a matter of age, but since it’s almost Christmas time, I’ve spent some time remembering Christmases past, especially when I was younger.
Christmas is definitely a time for kids, and when I was a kid I was really into it. I really believed in Santa Claus, helped by the fact that my younger brother saw Santa Claus on Christmas. To hear him tell the story, it had to be no other than merry old St. Nick he had seen roaming our living room on Christmas Eve.
My parents were certainly not rich. My father worked hard to support a growing family of six on one income. Today it sounds incredible, but in the 1960s it was possible. And, even that, I remember all of us kids usually getting the thing we wanted the most every Christmas.
One year my younger brother and sister had had enough of all the Christmas hype and decided that the morning of December 23 was the day to wake up and run to the Christmas tree and open the presents. Only 3 and 4 years old at the time, they couldn’t read a calendar, and just knew that one morning soon they could open the presents, so they decided to start the party early.
When my parents came down to the living room, all the presents under the tree had been opened, including all the presents for my grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends. I’m sure my siblings were disappointed to only find bathrobes, slippers, gloves and perfume in the boxes.
My mom wasn’t happy having to repackage everything, but it was a fun Christmas memory.
I enjoyed that my parents made Christmas special and created the tradition of Santa Claus leaving an unwrapped gift under the tree for each of us children. It was really fun running around the living room and seeing the brand new this or that sitting there under the colorful tree lights.
Around the time I started hunting, my wish list ranged from toys to things that would be good, fun, or useful to have in the field. It was around the same time that I started making Christmas lists, just so my parents would have some ideas on what to get me.
Always a dreamer, I created lists of dandies. I would start big and go from there knowing, realistically, that I was not going to receive any of the best items listed. But it was fun to think that there might be a slim chance of maybe receiving one of the “big” items on my list.
It was also around this time that I started reading outdoor magazines. My dad was a subscriber to Outdoor Life and Field & Stream and every month I read them cover to cover. It’s a lie. I looked at every page of the magazines including the classifieds of all the tips and tricks that would make your day in the field more successful or safer, but these are the hunting stories that I actually read.
I still remember reading Jack O’Connor’s stories of hunting Dall’s sheep in the mountains of British Columbia or mule deer in Colorado. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, to have a job like hers? Hunt all over the country and write about it.
While big game hunting was an almost unattainable dream, the stories of bird hunting struck much closer to home, as this is what I was able to do with my father during my early years of hunting. . We were hunting pheasants and ducks in the lower Yakima Valley, and I was doing it with a hard-earned 16 caliber single shot shotgun.
In the magazine articles, the authors would hunt all the birds with a pump shotgun, or they might hunt with a double barreled shotgun, especially if they were in England, Spain, or elsewhere.
So, starting when I was about 13, a double-barreled shotgun always appeared at the top of my extravagant and often long Christmas wish list.
Each year more items appeared on the list, including one or two that had four wheels and a motor, but there was always a double-barreled shotgun side-by-side.
Somewhere along the line, my dad must have decided it would be fun to really surprise me with the one item that was on the list every year. I think I was maybe 17 that year, and I would like to tell you that I was more than surprised by the little pump-action gun placed under the tree on Christmas morning. But I can not. I knew it was going to be there because a few days before Christmas my mom asked me to go bring the groceries back from the trunk of her car, totally forgetting that this was where my dad was hiding the shotgun.
I’m not much of an actor, but I tried my best to be surprised. The joy of receiving the shotgun was not faked. And as long as I live, I will never forget the look of happiness and satisfaction on my father’s face this Christmas morning.
I received much more than a desired shotgun that year. It was then that I learned that the joy of Christmas really is giving. I thank my father all the time for giving me such a beautiful gift.
• Rob Phillips is an award-winning freelance outdoor writer who has chronicled Northwest Sportsman for over 30 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org