Christmas in Curry – '55

"…and through the woods, to the grandkids house they came.."

It must have been the winter of '55; my grandparents on my Mother's side came to Curry. With the inherent distance separation of the "territory" of Alaska, they were almost so many elderly strangers to me, but they came laden with presents, starting with two kittens. My kind of people; but so OLD! No matter. Their visit was one of the more interesting times there. I confess that Curry was sufficiently small, that it didn't require a lot of novelty to be 'interesting.'

My grandfather insisted on staying in the same room that President Harding stayed in. If I remember the stories correctly, he once stated that Harding's death was an act of God – funny that he still wanted that 'honor.'

Harding came by boat to Seward, then took the railroad north, for the 'golden spike' ceremony, held at Nenana, South of Fairbanks. Harding died in San Francisco, following the Alaska trip. Rumor had it that his wife poisoned him, over his infidelity. Supposedly, it was the "Teapot Dome Scandal" that got him poisoned, but common sense says that it takes a lot of access to poison a President.

Dad put my grandparents in a room, one door beyond the fire doors. Given the date of Harding's 1923 "pre-addition" visit, that couldn't have been Harding's actual room. Funny, that the details were never discussed.

My grandmother was a very quiet lady; legally blind. Leave it to a kid, I asked her to draw me a picture of a butterfly. The poor lady struggled with that and it didn't come out very well. She drew it on green construction paper, with a pencil. My mother nearly died when she heard of my request, but Grandma said it was quite alright. The only grandson had to be spoiled, I guess.

Dad was his usual busy self, Mom was busy keeping the grandparents entertained – and keeping us kids out of trouble.

My grandfather was a retired Presbyterian minister from Colville, Washington. I was the only male grandchild he had; and I was more 'special' than I cared to be. He seemed to sense his age and wanted to make the best of our time together, which meant that I lost much of my free time, in the process of the 'legacy' which he wanted to leave. In particular, he wanted me to learn wood-working, his favorite hobby. He brought up a handful of wood-working tools for me, and taught me their uses. In the 'lessons' we built a small table together – well, I guess I should say that I watched him build it, listening to the details. It was 'kinda' interesting, but I remember my preference to escape and play. Kids can be inadvertently cruel, in their own way. Sadly, the wood-working hobby never caught on with me.

I remember being fascinated by his Masonic ring; the square and compasses on a red stone. For some reason, I never asked about it, as interesting as it struck me at the time. A lot of the railroad workers had similar rings, maybe it didn't impress me all that much. Ironically, that was to become his greatest family legacy, in my adult years. I didn't know that Masons are prohibited from recruiting; I was in my forties, before I asked to join. I was almost disappointed that it wasn't the 'secret society' that it's fabled to be. Remembering how principled Grandpa was, it would have been unlike him to associate with a 'secret society;' I should have guessed. Anyway, he left me that much.

My sisters, Karen (older) and Julie (younger, got their fair share of attention and presents, as well. I remember that Julie got one of the fanciest tricycles that I ever saw – pink, I remember. Karen got a bicycle; I didn't get a bike, for some reason. I had to learn to ride hers. There was a source of sibling rivalry, let me tell you!

I guess it was the small town minister in him; Grandpa was quite the promoter. Winter was definitely there, with all the snow in the world. I can remember after he left, we got four feet in 24 hours. Having moved from Whittier, I wasn't all that impressed with the snow depth of Curry.

Anyway, with all the snow and the Christmas season, Grandpa built the first fire in the fireplace in the hotel lobby in years, honoring the new snow and the skating party which had been arranged. Most in Curry came out for it. The hotel had quite a selection of recreation gear, including skates, so participation was high. One of the railroad workers ran a fire hose over to the tennis court, across the tracks, and flooded the court, making a skating rink – the fun was on. Most of the kids had skates of their own, so everyone got to go skating. Those who didn't have skates shared with others. I can still remember the kind of laughing and screaming one would expect of a bunch of kids.

Well, you can't have a kind grandfather, winter and skating without the requisite hot chocolate; he did great. It must have been awfully cold, I remember so many running into the hotel, to warm themselves at the fireplace – as a requirement, versus novelty.

While he was there, he assisted the Reverend Urban in a church service, held in the 'school house' portion of the hotel. That was located in the southeast corner of the old annex building – then connected by the added-on hallway. A church service in Curry was quite a rare event.

That year Mrs. Pine, the new teacher, organized a kid's Christmas Choir for a presentation in the hotel lobby. I think we had all of ten or twelve school-age kids, so everybody participated. Naturally the entire town attended, as they always did, as for the ACS movies and Friday-night BINGO.

Grandparents are cool – that was a record year for Christmas presents, naturally. Dad hadn't yet gotten a bar license, so it was a rather quiet Christmas, otherwise.

I can't quite remember if I was a pain or entertainment, but I always liked playing with my toys in the hotel lobby. In the black-and-white patterns of the tile on the lobby floor, I found many an airport for my DC-7 model airplane. Having been spoiled by Cliff Hudson's occasional airplane rides, Cliff started something he never possibly could have imagined!

Christmas was good, that year.

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