Memories of a Montana Christmas
Memories of a Montana Christmas
Christmas Memories. . . Reflections on a Different Time
By Megan Wallin
I remember many of my childhood Christmases being snow-covered, Kinkade-looking holidays, because we weren’t at home in the dreary and temperate climate of Seattle, Washington, but venturing into the small town on Alberton, Montana.
My mom and her then-boyfriend would take me with them to visit his family in that small town nearly every Christmas or Thanksgiving. There, I would read endless books in their basement, drink an abundance of hot chocolate, build giant snowmen, cut down a Christmas tree near their family cabin, and occasionally wander around finding remains of dead animals—all of which was utterly fascinating for a kid used to life in the city.
For context, this was the mid-1990’s, a time when children weren’t glued to the internet, there were no Tik Tok trends, and we had actual breaks from our classmates’ influence during vacations due to the absence of social media. Parents also seemed more at ease with our lack of ties to the outside world, and—perhaps under the misconception that the world was “safer” then—would sometimes let us roam during the day and come back for dinner at evening. One year, that roaming took a particularly dangerous turn.
I was about ten years old, and the snowfall from the previous night had created a white blanket that came up to my knees when I tried to walk. Naturally, this was an invitation to hop and skip through the fields just beyond the house where we were staying.
Once I ventured past the road and began walking through the field alongside it, I became a bit careless, jumping around in the newly fallen snow, enjoying the feeling of falling down into something not quite solid. I hadn’t ventured far, and could still see the house in the distance, with the road nearby barely visible under the fresh blanket of white. The air was cold enough to feel heavy, and the silence of no traveling cars, or other people, seemed to add to that weight.
Moments like these were some of the most peaceful my city-bound senses could take in. Then it happened.
The ground beneath me seemed to completely give way, and that falling sensation lasted for an uncomfortably long time. I think my surprise was so great and the air so cold that I couldn’t even muster a shocked yelp. I just fell dangerously into a narrow pit, previously wholly unnoticed.
What I had discovered was a hole left by the removal of an old telephone pole, and while it didn’t fill completely with snow, it was difficult to see given the current conditions. There was barely enough room for my body, the space was so slim, and it was a wonder I hadn’t broken a limb during descent. But there I was: trapped, standing straight up and down like a soldier, with little room to move or climb my way out of the frozen earth, and nothing to grip.
Snow was still falling. I found my voice, taking in a full inhalation of cold air after breathlessly screaming, “Help!”
I quickly began running through scenarios in my mind of who would discover my body, and when, and how. Would it be Spring? I tried to picture who would attend the funeral at the Presbyterian church we attended in West Seattle. My mind raced with questions about whether I would die from the cold or suffocate from being buried alive. Fortunately, I didn’t have much time alone with my thoughts.
Coincidently, and not at all in 1990’s fashion, an adult was already looking for me. One of the nephews had ventured out to see if the small child who had come to visit was actually wearing a proper coat for the weather. He heard my panicked screams and interceded immediately, perhaps already aware of the gaping hole in the ground.
I spent the next hour drinking hot chocolate and regaling the group with my tale of “near death,” snuggled up in a warm blanket and gazing outside occasionally. I knew it would be a while before my mom let me outside-and out of sight-again.
Now I think back on those times as we all prepare for holidays where we sit in someone’s living room with a large television present and likely no snow outside, and continually micro-manage our children who are either on screens or needing excess supervision because they are otherwise occupied. (Either way, we’re essentially deciding between “more than the recommended amount of screen time” or “potential trip to the E.R.”)
On one hand, our children aren’t in danger of being buried alive in the snow in a remote small town in Montana. On the other hand, holidays have become just another day off work and school, where we provide an excess of toys and entertainment only for it to pale in comparison to one day in a newly formed snowdrift.
For now, I accept that nostalgia may cover a multitude of sins, so to speak. Life wasn’t necessarily better or worse a few decades ago; it was simply different.