Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas in Tucson

No need to dream this year as it is most assuredly a white Christmas. It’s hard not to hear Bing sing - just turn on the radio, but there are a lot of other choices for Christmas music; everything from the old classics like Harry Simeone and Lawrence Welk to every other musician putting out a Christmas album. Lately, I have been listening to some Christmas blues with a Vince Guaraldi and Ray Charles bent.

I remember in 1971 listening to Top 40 AM radio in the family station wagon during the Christmas season. We were not going to have a white Christmas that year; we were going to a part of the world where Christmas is a different color - brown (Chicago’s “Color My World,” was the 56th most popular song in1971). Dad was driving the family down to my cousin’s home in Tucson, Arizona, and occasionally Mom would persuade him to have the radio tuned to something the kids would like.  

Other than a portable transistor radio, there were no other options for music - no smart phones (the uneducated one was still on the counter in the kitchen), no mp3 players, no CD’s – just the radio. So we talked, played games, looked out the window and asked Dad to turn up the radio. Please.

One of the games we played had us in teams counting cattle on each side of the car. When a cemetery came up on your side you had to bury all your cattle and start over. Another game involved filling in the alphabet (A-Z) with street signs and billboards. “Signs” by The Five Man Electrical Band was popular that year (#24)

My cousins, The Delaney’s, (not be too confused with Delaney and Bonnie and Friends whose song “Never Ending Song of Love”  was #67 that year) lived south of Tucson in the middle of the desert. Since there was no snow and it was warm, we shed our cold weather clothes and played outside in shorts and tee-shirts because as Jerry Reed sang, “When you’re hot, you’re hot” (#74). During the day we played football in the stone-fenced yard (to keep out rattlesnakes), rode mini bikes in the desert, and at night we listened to the coyotes howl.

On Christmas Eve my parents, along with my aunt and uncle, went outside to look at the stars. Then they asked the kids come out to see the bright star in the eastern sky. It reminded them of the one that foretold the birth of Jesus. I said I saw it, but I think it was “Just My Imagination Running Away with Me,” (that song by The Temptations was the 9th most popular in 1971).
After about a week it was time to go home; Mom, Dad and their five children piled back into the station wagon and headed back to Minnesota (John Denver’s song “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” was #8).

On the way back we ran into a snowstorm, the kind of storm where most everyone pulls off the highway, everyone except my dad. There were two things that kept Dad from pulling off the road: He had experience - he had logged hundreds of thousands of miles as a former Greyhound bus and over-the-road semi-truck driver, plus he was too stubborn to be beat by a snowstorm.

So we drove past the dozens of cars waiting out the storm along the shoulder. But soon, one by one they pulled in behind the station wagon with the Minnesota plates and followed Dad as he led them out of the storm (“Riders on the Storm,” The Doors, #99).

The life savers I received as a Christmas gift in the desert lasted the whole way home. I remember savoring each and every one of those round-candies wrapped in 6 rolls and packaged in a book like box. Of all the Christmas’s I had as a kid, the one in Arizona stands out.  I guess it doesn't matter whether it’s a sandy brown or snowy white Christmas; Jesus was born for the whole world (“Joy to The World,” by Three Dog Night, #1, 1971).

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