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Memories of Christmas on the ranch

Katie Wheat Photo

By Kate MacKenzie

Special to Okanogan Living

This time of the year makes one reflect on the Christmases of childhood. It was a simpler time back then, unlike today with all the hype on TV and in Christmas movies.

Christmas on the ranch was different – we were in the middle of nowhere – well about 15 miles up from nowhere. Christmas was a community affair, and there were six families living on the ranch and a bunkhouse for the single guys. There was also cook, who was quite marvelous. Billy could cook anything and it was the best food ever. He went overboard at Christmas, and cooked all the English special foods of the season. He made great fruit cake, the best shortbread ever, and his cinnamon rolls were over the moon.

However, my mom was not to be outdone, as she would bake fruitcakes, also. She would start in September, because there had to be enough time for the rum to soak into the cake. I remember the year she made a white fruitcake. My dad and I hated walnuts, so it had almonds and maraschino cherries. She decided to throw in juice from the cherries and that year we had pink fruitcake. Looked funny but I still remember the great taste.

Getting the Christmas tree was an adventure. We did not ride out on horses and drag the tree home, which is a great way to ruin a perfectly good tree. Instead, we used a war surplus Willy’s Jeep. That rig went everywhere and hauled Christmas trees home safe and sound. Most of the time we picked out a scotch pine.

There was little money for store bought decorations so we made our own. It was back in the '50s so there was tinsel and silver icicles. The lights were old-fashioned but we did have a string of bubble lights. They had to sit straight up and down so the bubbles would go up the candle-shaped light. The smell from that fresh tree was something I will always remember.

On Christmas Day my dad got up early because cows do not care if it is Christmas, and they needed to be fed and milked. He gave some of the hands the day off because he always took New Year’s Day off.

Christmas morning was fun. I got up early to check my stocking. It was only a few years after World War II so many things were in short supply. I always got some “Japanese oranges” mandarins, they were the treat of the season (we did not have oranges all the time), some nuts (always in the shell), and usually a book. This was in the day of no TV.

Then under the tree – I could count on getting a sweater, socks, and mitts. I loved to see the new clothes. My dad got the same. Mom was a great knitter. The warm items were appreciated and we looked forward to what she gave us every year.

I remember the year I got a walking doll, I named her Joyce. She was so special and looking back I know my mom and dad saved and scrimped to be able to buy her.

Dinner was something else. There was a huge table – stretched the length of the living room. We would have at least 20 people for dinner (and often more). Turkey, a huge roast beef (you would have to mortgage the house to buy one like it today), ham and all the sides that you could imagine. There were great desserts – mince pie, butter tarts, Christmas pudding with rum sauce, homemade candy divinity fudge and regular fudge.

There were great-aunts and uncles, my paternal grandpa, my maternal grandma and friends. There was lots of laughter, stories, joy and hope. No cellphones, no TV just people connecting and enjoying the season and each other.

­— This article was submitted by Omak resident Kate MacKenzie. She can be reached via email at You can also send your memories to Okanogan Living, PO Box 992, Tonasket, WA 98855.



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