Editor's Note: Former Webster City resident and author Jessi Winchester shared the following memory of Christmas. She now lives in Winnemucca, Nev.
A blanket of snow covered the ground and crunched under the weight of small feet running and laughing in the protection and shelter of a time long past. Mother bundled us up in warm leggings and galoshes for the traditional Christmas hayride. A tractor pulled a flatbed filled with hay and happy families and my father held my tiny hand on one side and my sister's on the other as our short legs struggled to climb up onto the hay with the rest of our friends and neighbors. Christmas carols filled the air and a large bonfire welcomed us beside the pond as children ice-skated and the sound of laughter rang in the crisp clear air. We huddled around the warmth of the fire, thankful for the friendship of our neighbors, friends, and families. The evening always ended with a potluck dinner that created memories of yet another special Christmas.
Christmas in America's Heartland was magical during a time when things were innocent and safe, when we couldn't even imagine life as we know it today. It was an age of simplicity America will never experience again; one our children and grandchildren can't even comprehend. People cared about each other. No one realized money was scarce because we were so rich in things that mattered. Neighbors waved as they passed each other heading for town. Ranchers banded together to harvest each other's crops or round up cattle. If a fire burned down a neighboring barn, folks for miles around came to rebuild it and bring food for the family. Children rode their bikes for miles in safety with no thought of predators. Teenagers hung out in the town square with no thought of vandalism. Thirty-somethings held doors open for their elders rather than walk through and let them slam shut in their faces. People and traditions meant everything in the close-knit communities of rural Iowa.
We didn't have a fireplace in our home so my sister and I worried endlessly about how Santa was going to be able to leave presents if he couldn't come down the chimney. My parents solved the problem by creating a faux fireplace out of cardboard and covering it with paper that looked like bricks. Relieved, my sister and I baked cookies and left milk at the base of our new fireplace and eagerly anticipated a visit from the North Pole while we fitfully slept.
Refrigerator crates were made of wood in those days and the next morning my sister and I each received a sturdy playhouse painted and decorated by our parents. We felt special and it never occurred to us or mattered that our gift was not store bought.
Above everything else, we were taught that family came first and material things just didn't matter. I'm grateful to have grown up in that special era. Even in today's uncertain times it's possible to reclaim that magic - if only for the holiday season - because America's treasure is its people and their memories.