Longtime Rifle residents share Christmas memories
Last year I asked several longtime residents of Rifle to share some of their special Christmas memories and it was such a hit that I asked several more to relate a yuletide story of long ago.
Often it is said “Christmas is for children” and for most of us that is true. When shifting through our thoughts for that special holiday memory, we often go back to the innocence of our childhood when concerns were minimal and all the people we cared about were around us. It was a time when the sounds of laughter, colorful lights, sweet smells from the kitchen, the story of the birth of Christ, and peeking through frosty windows in anticipation of a visit by the jolly old elf, all became ingrained in our being and formed the traditions we practice throughout life. The following is a collection of memories of Christmas long ago by those who grew up in the Rifle area.
Paul A. Bernklau
In 1930 when my dad and mom got married, Dad made a promise to Mom’s mother that they would come back to Oklahoma every other year for Christmas. He made good of his promise, as long as Grandma Priebe was alive. She lived in a very small town in north central Oklahoma called Nardin.
From the time of my birth in 1934 until Grandma passed away in 1945, every other year we went to Oklahoma. If the weather was good Dad would drive down in the old Model A which would take the better part of three days (no interstates or tunnels under passes in those days) or we would take the train. We would board the train in Rifle and go by way of Minturn, Buena Vista, Salida to Pueblo where we had a four-hour layover, then on another train line to Newton, Kansas, where we had a seven-hour layover. Finally we would take a third train to Blackwell, Oklahoma where one of Mom’s brothers would meet us and take us seven miles west to Grandma’s.
If you have ever been to Newton, Kansas in December in the 1930s and 1940s the depot left a lot to be desired. There was a gas fired heating stove with poor ventilation ( I can still smell the fumes) and if Mom hadn’t brought blankets I know we would have frozen to death. Not to mention the wooden benches we had to lie or sit on.
The return trip wasn’t much better except we only had a three-hour layover in Newton. Pueblo was still a four hour wait. You also had to bring your own food as there were no places to get food in the train stations at that time. Mom would pack homemade bread, butter, cookies, cheese, spam and whatever foods that would not spoil in a large box.
While I served on the Colorado State Fair Board, the Harry Vold Rodeo Company would bring horses for the board members to ride in the State Fair Parade to the Pueblo rail yards. One year myself and some of the other board members took a tour of the old depot. It was a beautiful two story building of red sandstone. The inside waiting room, which is now a large dining room, still looked the same, however the floor is what caught my eye, one inch, octagon shaped marble pieces. During the long layovers there of my childhood I remember, for the lack of anything else to do, I would try to count the tiles. Sure kept me occupied but I could never count that far to finish the job. My sister Darleen never did try to count the tiles, too boring for her so she played with her dolls.
The old Model A lacked a lot for a heating system. The heater was a hole in the floor board between the driver and passenger seat over the exhaust system. There was a sliding panel over the hole that could be moved by hand to let heat in from the exhaust. This is why you had many blankets and layers of clothing to keep from freezing to death.
This is my remembrance of Christmas in the early years of my life growing up in the west. Have a merry, merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
The Langstaff family were among the first settlers to arrive in the Rifle area around 1882 or 1883. John J. Langstaff homesteaded west of Rifle. He had never married so when he died in 1917 he willed his property to Bart Langstaff, a younger brother. Bart Langstaff married Henrietta Worral in 1890 and they had seven children.
Henrietta died of scarlet fever and pneumonia in 1909 leaving 8-month-old Ira and my father, Albert, who was only 3 years old at the time and 5 other children ranging in age from 5 to 15. Growing up without a mother it was difficult to live day to day, so holidays such as Christmas were low in priority.
Albert married Clara Harris in 1929 and the Christmases I remember were always a special time for Albert and the whole family. We had visits from Santa and always found gifts under the Christmas tree.
On Christmas day we always gathered at Grandpa and Grandma Harris’ for dinner with the extended family, aunts, uncles, cousins and usually some of the neighbors in the rural community. No one enjoyed Christmas more than my dad.
Maryhannah (Hansen) Throm
I have many memories of the Christmas programs by the students and teachers at the Fairview School on West Divide Creek. After 75 or 80 years, the memories all kind of blend together.
The Fairview school house was very near the (Fairview) church and all the Christmas programs and many other community functions were held in the church. There was a stage there with a curtain that could be pulled and also seats for the spectators. There was probably seating for 70 or more people.
Every kid in the school had a part in the program. There were plays and songs and poetry. This is where I first saw a production of Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol.” My brother, Joe, was Scrooge. (Joe Hansen passed away this year.) I think he was in the eighth grade and I would have been in the first grade. There was always a huge Christmas tree with mostly homemade ornaments. We used lots of crepe paper and glue.
When the program was over, Santa Clause came and handed out the gifts. The students had drawn names earlier and there was usually a gift for the teachers. We had two rooms and two teachers at Fairview and usually about 40 pupils. Each child received a bag of goodies; hard candy, ribbon candy and an orange and some nuts. This was put together by the parents. I don’t know who paid for it, I remember my mother and dad helping to put the bags together.
We learned all the Christmas carols as well as the “fun songs” like “I’m Getting Nothing for Christmas Cause I Ain’t Been Nothing But Bad,” “Up on a Housetop,” “ Here comes Santa Clause” and “Jingle Bells.”
Peace on Earth and goodwill to all.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year from all of us at the Rifle Heritage Center.
Alan Lambert writes Western Memories, a monthly look at history stretching from Divide Creek to the Grand Valley. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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