Friday, November 28, 2014

The Way it Was—Canyon City, Colorado The Day After Thanksgiving 1953

Downtown Canyon City Colorado just a few years after the episode described.  Envision those hills snow covered and the skies leaden.


It was 1953. My father was the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce in Canyon City, Colorado.  We rented a big old stone ranch house just outside of town.  Kit Carson was reputed to have signed a treaty with the Utes underneath a massive old cottonwood in the back yard.  Behind the tree was a big screen house and beyond that the barn, assorted sheds and outbuildings, the caretaker's cottage and the spring house built into the side of hill with its entry way of cut sod.
The day after Thanksgiving the men from town—the merchants, their sons plus some of the teachers from the high school, police and sheriff's deputies, and even a real cowboy or two came to build the Christmas street decorations.  They had two farm wagons drawn by enormous hairy-footed draft horses filled with cut spruce boughs.  The sharp smell of the sap still running fresh from the cut branches knifed through the crisp air. There was a lot of laughing and shouting and some cussing as the men brought armloads of the boughs into the screen house.
They wore black and red checked hunting coats, overalls, wool caps with the earflaps down and yellow workman’s boots caked in mud.  My dad stood out-tall, slim and handsome, his gray Stetson on his head, bundled in a maroon corduroy jacket and olive twill trousers from his Army uniform, shoes slick soled and polished.  He pointed this way and that, creating order out of the chaos, sure authority resting lightly on him. He would take his turn with the bundles and the other work, an extra hand where needed.
They strung heavy wire between steel fence posts sledged into the frozen ground by the screen house.  They carefully wound the boughs around the cable twisting bailing wire to hold it in place. They twined the greenery with garlands of silver tinsel off of big reels. They laced strings of multi colored Christmas lights along the length of wire.
Inside the screen house on trestle tables made of rough planks other men made wreaths for the lampposts. Inside each wreath was a celluloid sign with a light bulb inside. Some were green and said Happy Holidays others were red and said Season’s Greetings.
Even larger wreaths were made to tie to the center of the garlands.  Multi-pointed stars or bells made of canvas and painted with bright red and yellow air craft dope were suspended inside the wreaths and lit from inside with a light bulb. The work went on for hours while the men laughed and smoked and sometimes took pulls from pocket flasks and passed whiskey bottles.
Coffee boiled in enormous enamel pots.

Meanwhile the wives had taken over the kitchen. Mom built a wood fire in an old range on the screened-in back porch.  Two big enamel pots of coffee—one white and one blue with white speckles—bubbled on the fire. Stacks of heavy tan coffee mugs from the cafe downtown sat on a redwood table. The men would stomp up the back steps knocking the mud from their hoots. They would remove their sap-encrusted gloves, blow on their hands and then wrap them around the mugs steaming with scalding black coffee.
Inside was a flurry of print dresses, clouds of flour and high pitched chatter. Pies were going into or coming out of the oven. Thick stew simmered in enamel pots that matched the coffeepots on the porch.  Into the stew went potatoes, carrots, turnips and celery, jars of last summer’s home canned tomatoes, huge white lima beans that had soaked in the dish pan over night, and chunks of beef, venison, and the remains of more than one of yesterday’s turkeys. There was corn bread and biscuits, jar s of pickled beets.
At noon the men lumbered in and piled the food on enamel and steel plates and then took them outside to eat sitting on the fenders of their Buicks, Packards, and Studebakers or the running boards of battered ranch pickup trucks.  When the feast was gulped down, the women took turns over the steaming dishpans, scrubbing until their arms turned pink.
When assembled, the decorations looked something like these.

By mid-afternoon the job was done. The screen house and yard were strewn with trampled spruce twigs and scraps of tinsel.  The garlands were carefully laid out in the wagons that had brought the boughs.  The men got into their cars and trucks. Horns blaring they drove off behind the wagons to string the five blocks of downtown Main Street with the decorations.
Silence descended on the yard with the gray coming of evening.  A boy danced with unimaginable excitement.  Christmas was coming.