The Ghost of Christmas Past

Gather ’round the fireside, my millennials, and let you hear a tale so strange and distant you will find it hard to believe. It is a Christmas tale even more bizarre than that of a hipster bearded, body challenged, part time, remote office employer and his staff of special needs persons of diminutive stature who engage in the non profit, fair trade distribution of recyclable (aka returnable) gifts via an all terrain, off road snow vehicle powered by an 8RP, non-fossil fueled, grass fed team of reindeer, with guaranteed worldwide OVERNIGHT DELIVERY!

Yes, my dears, even stranger than that. And now that I’ve got your attention, here’s another challenge for your suspension of disbelief…
In the distant time of which I speak, Amazon was only a river!

 

Before there was merchandising, there was sharing.

This is a story told by a school teacher who was one of the first teachers at Graeagle’s Mann Elementary School (now the Queen Bee Boutique) and the daughter of one of the earliest permanent settlers here in Mohawk Valley (better known now as the crux of The Lost Sierra). The following is reprinted here from a publication by the Plumas County Historical Society and written by Louise McKenzie Knickrem in the early years of the 20th century:

                          McKenzie Ranch now known as Whitehawk Ranch and Golf Resort

There was always much coming and going at the McKenzie Ranch. In early days when work was purely seasonal (as lumbering and harvesting crops.), it was important for the young men of the area to find a place to stay in the winter. It was a common question, “Where are you wintering?” and needless to say, two or three would answer, “We are wintering at McKenzie’s.” With six boys of her own to “bed down”, mother just had to put another bed on the floor.

Many of the valley folks called our ranch the orphan’s home. A boy by the name of Albert Willet, abandoned by his parents when he was eleven years old, stayed with us until he was seventeen. When he wished to go to Idaho to do some “buckarooing” he was given an outfit, horse, bridle and saddle. The five Cook children, who lived on our ranch, spent much time with us after the death of their mother.

On Sunday the miners came down from the mountains for a good Sunday dinner. While visiting, father cut their hair and mother read the newspaper to two of them who were unable to read.

Bloggers note: It is important to point out here that all of the foregoing was offered with no expectation of payment which becomes apparent now as we continue…

 

People were no novelty to us when we opened our home to guests in 1935. The only difference now was that we had to charge them. We spent many worried nights for fear the cream would sour, or the dogs would bark and keep our paying guest awake.

Now my dears, I see you squirming in your seats, but wait, it gets better…

Christmas at the Ranch
by
Louise McKenzie Knickrem

One can hardly write about the McKenzie Ranch without telling something of our Christmas festivities. They were really terrific. I hesitate to write about them for fear that nostalgia might make me overdraw them. However, the grandchildren who can remember will bear me out in my statements.

When we were real small we hung up our stockings on Christmas Eve. At daybreak we crept down the stairs to see if Santa had come. and sure enough, he had come in the night and filled our stockings to the top. At the toe was an orange. This was a real treat, as we had oranges, in those early days, only at Christmas. Perhaps some peanuts and maybe a popcorn ball. Often a pair of mittens from Grandma (held together with twisted yarn), or some needed clothing were in, or around, the stockings. Then each of us always had a wonderful toy, be it a doll, a drum, a game, or a horn. Once I had a toy piano which had twelve keys. I think perhaps this present gave me more pleasure than any gift I ever had.

Then as we grew older, we clamored for a tree, although our oldest brother always said that he liked hanging the stockings best. Since the forest was at hand, we had access to some beautiful fir trees. Nevertheless, many times the boys would have to go back several times to get a perfect one. The top might not be just right, or the branches too thin on one side.

 

Fortunately, as the children of our family married, they settled in the valley. It was then that our Christmas began to gather momentum. All the married children and their families came home for Christmas. They continued to do so as long as our parents lived.

The celebration lasted three days and two nights. Our older brother lived at the ranch, so the “tree” and Christmas Eve celebration was held at his house. We did not wrap our packages in those days, we just tagged the article and hung it on the tree. I still remember little pieces of jewelry hung so high on the tree that we couldn’t read the name.

The tree was decorated with red polished apples, strings of popcorn, and in the later years, some strings of cranberries. Several rows of tinsel around the tree, a few ornaments, with the dear little wax candles, made for us, something to behold.

After the arrival of Santa and the giving out of presents, amid blowing of horns, beating of drums,, etc, the refreshments were passed out. There were peanuts, popcorn, all kinds of homemade candy with emphasis on molasses pull candy. As the last round of refreshments we usually had apples, and in later years, oranges.

On Christmas morning it was a tradition with us to get up early in order to be the first in wishing each other a Merry Christmas.

The Christmas dinner was held at the old house. Our oldest sister came several days ahead of time to help. She made pies (pumpkin and mince) and several kinds of cake. But potato cake was a must. Of course we also had “duff” or plum pudding to most people. The fruit cake had been made shortly after Thanksgiving.

Our Christmas preparation for the big dinner consisted of three turkeys, a boiled ham. seven stewed chickens (always seven), and I recall a few times wild duck.

Our father always peeled the potatoes, quantities of them, and mashed them when they were done. Canned corn in earlier days, but later years a casserole dish of onions and cheese, which has become custom with us to this day. Then fruit salad, home made bread or rolls, wild plum jam, pickled peaches, cranberry sauce, and stalks of celery were our decorations in jars up the center of the table.

The children ate in the kitchen, with ironing boards for benches placed from box to box. Of course the children had finished eating and were off to play in the big horse barn long before the grownups were half through.

For those who had chores to do, the men folks would go home and then come back for the evening festivities. This consisted of dancing in the big kitchen, card playing and trying out the new games in the dining room, and reading or visiting in the “parlor”. About midnight we reheated what was left of the seven stewed chickens, and with cold turkey, dressing, cranberries, pies, cakes, etc., we ate again.

As our number ranged from thirty to fifty, it was impossible to bed everyone down. So the women and children went to bed and the men folks played cards, talked or napped in their chairs ’til morning.

Breakfast was another meal. It began with cooked rolled oats, then home-cured sausage, ham and bacon, and baking powder biscuits – big ones. Later years we had fried oysters which our father always tried to get when available. This custom we still carry on.

After looking at everyone’s gifts, visiting and straightening up the shambles, the various families began to gather up their things. You may well know this could be quite a task. Before leaving, we finished up the scraps, and the families went home.

Another Merry Christmas was over.

May your Christmas be merry and bright as the memories we share with one another on

My Front Porch.

Love,

Leah

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