Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes

My Childhood Christmas


The first Christmas I can remember as a child was 1964. I was seven years old. I had the same interests as any second- grade boy. The toy machinery was the best. When my dad went to the implement dealer for parts I would stand at the toy display and wish. As a typical farm boy I was mesmerized by tractors. We had toy trucks, tractors and all sorts of farm implements and attachments to play with. Couldn’t wait to grow up and actually drive them for real.

There is one reason that 1964 stands out in my memory though. Lots of fun things happened before that, but November 3rd, 1964 changed me forever. I always thought my dad was invincible. I remember him carrying huge bags of feed on his shoulder around the farm. He was strong and a farmer. Sort of Superman. It was election day 1964. My dad farmed and worked construction. Not just any construction, but with bulldozers. Caterpillar tractor D-8 dozers. They moved dirt, buried boulder, made roads and dams, pushed over trees and anything else that they wanted. Not only that but my dad flew a helicopter as well. From West Concord to the western part of Minnesota and from job site to job site every day.

But November 3rd was election day and my dad was going to fly back home and take my mom to the Milton Town Hall where they would vote that evening. It was foggy that evening and my dad decided to land at the Owatonna Airport and get a ride home instead. The altimeter on a helicopter tells you the altitude above sea level. It doesn’t tell you about tall trees though. And there was a very tall tree between him and the Owatonna Airport.

I remember my mom sitting us four kids down on the sofa and telling us that our dad had been in a bad accident. She was driving to the Owatonna hospital. My grandma was there to watch us. KDHL radio reported on the accident. They got my dad’s name right, but all the neighbors heard that he had been killed in the crash. He survived but was in a body cast for over a month and got out of the hospital in December. My mom had to drive him and he got around on crutches.

Before Christmas my parents decided the family was going to spend the holidays down south. We opened our Christmas presents a week early and headed south. This was before Disney World. There was just sandy beaches and alligators in Florida. But away we went. It was the first time I had been out of Minnesota. We learned how to ride for 1,500 miles with four kids in the back seat of a Chevrolet Impala. My mom would make sandwiches and we ate elbow to elbow with our brothers and sisters. No McDonalds back in those days for us.

I had never seen a Christmas without snow. I didn’t think they would decorate for Christmas in Florida. I just figured it was alligators and flamingos and sunny beaches. But there was Santa Claus, reindeer and fake snow. We made fun of them, we knew what snow was and were glad to be away from it.

It was worth it. I was with my family and we were on an adventure together, and I was glad we were all there. I didn’t think too deeply about the turn of events until much later. My dad nearly lost everything he had in life and decided to take the next chance to do things together. He had a wife and four kids and he wanted to enjoy doing things together. It became an annual event. We bugged out of Minnesota and headed to Florida every Christmas after that one. And we gladly traded our snow and cold Christmases for a couple weeks in Florida. My dad made it another twenty Christmases to enjoy with the family. And for me, memories with your family are much better than gifts. Have a Merry Christmas.