Excerpt for A Child's Christmas in the Rockies by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


Also By Buck Immov

Trouble at Saddleback Creek

Dodging the Hangman

Billy-the-Grandpa

A Child's Christmas in the Rockies

Published by Buck Immov at Smashwords

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living, dead, or otherwise is purely coincidental. Similarly, any resemblance to actual events is coincidental. You better believe it.

One Christmas was much like another in those mountain-town years ground down with the sound wound around the hound of yesterday’s steam trains whistling as I lay before sleep. That rumble, chuff, and clatter scattered the black bogymen that haunted my room in those days. They lurked near the cracks that led up to the attic, behind the doors that led to the closet, and they shared the dark space under the bed with the dust bunnies and the funny albums of aunts long past and invitations never sent. But they were afraid of trains.

All the Christmases blow up the white packed slide of our street and fly off the thorn-shaped north peak of Mt. Princeton in a scroll stolen from Frost, a long white ribbon flying off into the high blue. I leap high swiping at the scroll with my net and bring down the gas station sign.

The town was full of empty houses and, amazing, every one of them was haunted. Sometimes a window would be ‘accidentally’ broken and I and my co-conspirators, Billy, Johnny, and Chucky, would slip in and almost hear whispers that weren’t quite words and almost see flipping stove lids that weren’t quite moving. And we would flee shrieking from the uncanny and sometimes from the shrieking grannies that owned the empty homes.

Shacks weren’t worth back taxes in those days and dad picked up a few on a lot near our lumberyard. Looking in those shacks for ghosts, we found a gas station sign. In those days, a gas station sign was a slick, enameled disk a kid and a half high. Concave like a giant iron watch glass and floodlit at the end of a pole, it told you where the gas and all the free services were at 36 cents per gallon. The sign had an iron rim welded around it for fastening to the pole but Billy got his father’s sledge hammer and fixed that. Then we all three stood it up and rolled it towards the train tracks.

Down at the tracks was an old ramp of dirt and rocks. (With the inborn poetry of the mining race we all called it the ‘Big Hill’ because there was a smaller ramp a little south on the same track.) It was two stories high, steep-sided and ended at the road. They must have backed wagons and trucks up the ramp and onto the iron plate at the railroad end and then tripped a lever and dumped the ore into coal cars. ‘Must have’ I say because I never saw it used by anyone but kids with bicycles, wagons, sleds, and that giant sign. If anyone had told us to roll that sign up that ramp we would have maintained its impossibility until the Day of Judgment. But looking forward to fun we accomplished the task in ten minutes and laid the sign flat on its convex side. Then after argument and experiment had shown that we all had to push and nobody could just ride, we dogpiled on and were off hollering, yelling, spinning and laughing. There was plenty of room for all four of us on the sign, but the sign’s back was slick, too and you had to jump on carefully or you would end up stomach down in the snow watching the sign and its riders whiz to the bottom of the hill. There were many times the sign made it to the bottom of the hill alone leaving its erstwhile passengers flattened in various swing-the-statue poses on the ramp watching the sign whang into the ragged fence. You couldn’t steer it either and sometimes the sign would slide off the steep sides of the ramp and stop with a clank on a rock and we would all fly off the front end in an impromptu stack of kids collecting scrapes, bruises, and tears we never confessed to our Moms. (“Hunh? I dunno. Must have fallen down,” we would say.) Sometimes we would line up in a gauntlet and jump on the sign one by one as it went past. That was a good way to send it over the side and into the rocks.

But sometimes the sky would turn hard and the wind would howl glinting down the unplowed street and all the grownups would gripe around their gritty stoves. Unplowed the street was, but the snow was packed flat and that made it time for another kind of slide. Dad’s lumberyard sold doors and between the doors was broad door-shaped slabs of protecting cardboard. Protecting, that is, until we slipped them out to the whistling breeze in the cold road. There, masted and sparred with the costliest mahogany molding, the cardboard caught the breeze and, seated on sleds, down the street we went. You couldn’t see where you were going because cardboard isn’t transparent and ran into quite a few parked cars before we got the hang of it. We startled many a motorist too, particularly when we, driven by a particularly good gust darted across the icy Main Street flying blind before the wind. (We inspired many a nerve-shaking swerve; in that tractionless winter town; we probably caused more heart attacks than cholesterol.)

“Did you have Christmas trees in those days?”

“Oh yes, and none of these forty-dollar needle droppers either. When the day came we went rolling to the lawless woods. There were bears and mountain lions in the woods in those days. Johnny said there were mountain gorillas, too, but there weren’t. You could chop any tree you wanted. Poppa used to chop two or three, sometimes a big one we would just use the top of, and Mommy would pick. (It never made a dent in those endless woods; endless compared to us then. There are more people, now.) Once Poppa gave me a dull old axe; it was as tall as I was. I felt formidable, a young Paul Bunion, though I probably didn’t look it. Or act it either since I hit poor little neighbor Phyllis with the flat side on my backswing. I thought it wasn’t my fault since I told her three times to look out and she didn’t look out. Well, we all bore scars from something. Then we would truck the tree home and set it up and trim it with glass balls, brittle birds with fiberglass tails, long strings of hot lights, and antique German ornaments Grandma had brought over when she came. And always before the year turned, a wild, flying rumpus would send the tree crashing over in a glitter of sparks and flying glass and stern reprimands. Everything always ends with cleaning up and only the broom will be with us forever.

“But what about the presents?”

“We would wake up in the early gray, drag our blankets quietly across the cold floor, and wrapped like Red Indians, hold pow-wow with our presents. (We were careful not to wake up our parents; they were tired from wrapping Christmas Eve toasters and mixers for last-minute husbands. Mom always used purple-berried juniper to spruce up the bulk-bought wrapping paper.) I remember mostly the big pink and pearled dolls for sister and the electric trains for me. Those trains were always in working order too, unless Mom had left Pop and his pals alone with the eggnog and the undone job while she and the sisterhood attended the services on Christmas Eve. Those trains had fancy cars that threw out milk bottles if you pushed the right button and sometimes cows that rolled down a ramp and once a magnificent magnetic crane that loaded triangular chips of iron into a coal car. A quick trip to the lumber yard office yielded many empty bolt boxes and soon a small cardboard and crayon town sprang up along the tracks with trees and straw-railed stockyards and people riding the coal cars until sister got them and put them back in her doll house. There were always soft packages from aunts. We never bothered to open those; who cares about clothes at Christmas? That’s like homework on the Fourth of July. Did Juliet say, “Oh Romeo, Romeo, wherefore did I put the dustmop, Romeo?” No sense of theater, some of those aunts.

Those toys lasted a fair amount of time, many of them, unless I got to playing ‘train wreck’ or something. I never got a Red Ryder BB gun cause mother figured I’d shoot my eye out, but I always got a gun that would shoot something. Once I got an Edward G. Robinson tommy gun that shot plastic bullets and went out and blazed away at my friends and lost bullets in the snow. After about a week the stock came off and I asked Dad to fix it. “It can’t be fixed”, he said. I was better off than the visiting little brother that broke his gun before ten on Christmas morning by hitting his big brother with it. His parents gave him his big brother’s gun figuring big brother had started it. Who knows, maybe he had.

“Did you have cookies and stuff?”

My Momma used to leave the lumberyard early to make us warm chocolate cake for after school so you can guess what it was like when she sunk her teeth into Christmas cooking. She made truffles of chocolate grown on the dark shores of the Amazon surrounded by groves of blood oranges of the deepest purple fertilized by black roosters fed on pulp of those oranges and slowly boiled under a deep gold sun in cauldrons of cinnamon wood stirred with spoons of nutmeg. She covered the round chocolate spheres in light powered sugar made from the pistils and stamens of sugar cane flowers grown on the high, flying slopes of the Mountains of the Moon and mixed with pollen gathered by birdwing moths as big as your hat from flowers no man has ever seen blooming. And the wild turkey raised on almonds and blueberries was stuffed with chestnuts from the warmest river of Chinese Turkestan, brawn from the noblest boars of the Urals, apricots dried with saffron on high plateau of Kashmir, and bread from red wheat grown in the bends of the Po river in years when the clouds of Vesuvius tempered the Tuscan sun. (It was a good thing we could get the ingredients wholesale.)

After dinner, Mom and Pop kind of cuddled in the one big armchair while sister quietly put socks on dolls and I loaded the last train going north and Bing Crosby dreamed of a white Christmas and the Andrews sisters J-J-J-Jingled all the way-ee-yaaa though they never said exactly where to. There was never much argument about bedtime on this night at least when, replete with released suspense, wild imaginings, and sophoric turkey we went right to bed and didn’t even need the whistle of the 9:52 to Denver to chase the black bogymen back to their cold lairs under the bed. Only Santa magic has power on Christmas.

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About the Author


I grew up in a small town in the middle of the Colorado Rockies. I fished and hunted and rode horses over Saddleback Pass to fish the Frying Pan River. Up there, Colorado was still Colorado. You could catch a hundred fish a day, if you wanted to. The deer would walk into camp, look around, shrug their shoulders, and walk on down to the lake. The Coloradoans were Coloradoans in those days, too. We took this sheepherder and his dogs along once. We were drinking coffee around the campfire and one of his dogs came up and put his foot in the sheepherder's coffee cup. The sheepherder reached down, grabbed the dog's foot, took it out of his coffee, set the foot down, then picked up his coffee and drank it. Loaned us some good horses, though.

I remember being a real little kid riding in Daddy's pickup when he was feeding his cows on the Hayden ranch. He would open one corner of the bag of oats, half-open open the pickup door, hang the bag outside, and drive along scattering oats with one hand and steering with the other. One time he got stuck and couldn't dig out. He told me to wait there and, in a little while, here came Mommy in the other car. What excitement!

I graduated from a couple colleges, Reed and the University of Oregon, and got a job as a professional diver, a marine biologist. We counted things or caught them: fish, sea fans, kelp, rocks, and mud. I learned about attending to business when the claw of the sea puss was hovering around my hind end. We used to set lines of 50 shark hooks inside the surf line to catch shovelnose sharks for research. You had to sit in the skiff and wait for a chance, then run in and set the lines before a big wave threw the boat, together with a tangle of shark hooks, shark lines, anchors, and weights, on top of you. Once I was about to pull the line and looked up and saw a huge wall of water coming. I remained calm and said calmly to the kid running the motor, "Point the boat toward the open sea and go that way."

And he said, "Hunh?"

Then I realized that calm had its drawbacks and did my D. Duck impression, "Go that way, go that way, go that way fast. Wak, wak, wak, wak !!!!!!!"

Just before a wave breaks, it throws up a little spray. We went over three of them before we got outside. After a while, we went back in and pulled the lines. Got enough sharks to go on with.

I taught college for a while because when a diver gets old and decrepit and can't do his job any more, they fire him. The very reverse is true for a teacher. Recently, I decided to take a break from teaching for a while and write a book or two.

I am grateful for the inspiration I got from Paul Newman’s Butch Cassidy, Larry McMurtry, C. S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower, Ambrose Bierce, Suzy Kelly, Louis L'Amour, J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, and, especially, my old Grandpa Bill.




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