The ghosts of Christmas past?
by Jim Stiles
Dec 21, 2011 | 8545 views | 0 0 comments | 1408 1408 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The Best is Yet to Come

For most of my adult life, Christmas and I have been at odds with each other. I don’t like shopping and I don’t like malls. When they started running Christmas shopping commercials before Halloween, I got off that bus real fast.

After I left Kentucky and moved to Utah, I never had a family of my own to celebrate with. Though I received many invitations to be with friends over the years, I usually declined. I wanted my own special memories.

I wanted the kinds of memories I had as a kid, especially those first ten or twelve years. I was lucky to have all of my grandparents alive and well for the first two decades of my life and that made all the difference.

We really did go over the river and through the woods, multiple times, over the holidays. I will always cherish the warmth and affection and love that wrapped and comforted all of us grandkids during those remarkable times.

AND the food was pretty remarkable too. My grandmothers had their own specialties, but they always managed to put together a feast so effortlessly.

Of course, it just looked that way. We’d have Christmas Eve dinner at Grandma Stiles’, then Christmas Day dinner at the Montforts, then back to the Stiles homestead for leftovers on Christmas Night. By the day after, none of us could move.

I missed those days. Nothing seemed to measure up. For many years, I ignored Christmas and Christmas ignored me. It was a standoff.

I hit rock bottom a couple years ago. I’d decided to throw caution to the wind and start a new life in Australia.

I pulled up my Utah roots and moved all my stuff there. I was ready to start talking like an Aussie. I was saying “Bloody Hell,” a lot.

But it was a disaster. Instead of a new life, I found myself living out of a 1983 Datsun pickup truck, eating Nobby’s peanuts and canned tuna most of the time, wondering what the hell I was doing there.

As Christmas approached, I considered just sleeping through it, but in the Southern Hemisphere, December means summer and soaring hot temperatures. Just too damn hot to snooze.

I decided I’d make the most of it though. I picked one of my favorite camping spots, a lovely little paddock along the Blackwood River beside Jayes Bridge.

An old sheep shearing shed still stands by the river, surrounded by lovely old gum trees. I’d pitch my tent, find the shade to hunker down in, and listen to some good cricket. It would be okay.

But what about Christmas Dinner?  Turkey was out. There’d be no stuffing or mashed potatoes or cranberry sauce or green bean casserole. I would have to do without it all.

But there was one unique Stiles Family Christmas Eating Tradition I could still approximate.

My mother always prepared a simple little pre-dinner hors d’oeuvre. She’d blend cream cheese and diced green olives and spread them on celery sticks. Sometimes I liked them more than the turkey.

So on my way to Jayes Bridge, I stopped in Boyup Brook for the ingredients. The little store had everything I needed and I thought, ‘With stuffed celery sticks, Christmas can still be good.’

I drove out 30 miles of gravel road to my little pasture. It was hot but I was alright with it. It was helping to keep the flies in check.

Sometime late in the afternoon, it occurred to me I’d forgotten to buy ice. Would the cheese survive? I decided not to worry about it.

Next day dawned hot. By 10 o’clock, the thermometer was pushing 100 degrees. I thought maybe I should have my celery cheese sticks for Christmas Brunch.

I looked at my Philly cheese: it had lost its smooth consistency and looked a bit... I don’t know …curdled? But I was desperate to preserve this holiday tradition, so I prepared my ‘meal’ and proceeded to eat the whole stalk, curdles and all.

About an hour later, lying in my tent in full sunlight, I began to feel funny. Really funny.

And then there was nothing funny about it at all. My head was swimming, the light began to change to a strange neon glow and I could barely see my hands in front of my face.

The world spun. I kept seeing the shearing shed race about the paddock. Trees uprooted themselves and danced in the sky. More than anything else in the world, I wanted to find the toilet paper. It was somewhere in the truck.

I staggered out of the tent groping for the door handle. I had literally gone blind. I reached into a box and felt some paper towels and ran for a tree.

I had heard the expression ‘running from both ends’ before, but had never experienced the thrill of it until now. I lost about five pounds in less than a minute.

And like that, it was over.

I drank a lot water and ate nothing for about three days. Finally I went to Perth and had two Big Macs and super-sized the fries. I swore I’d never celebrate Christmas again.

That was three years ago. For any of you who are reading this and thinking, “yeah, my luck’s about as bad as Stiles’ and maybe worse,” I offer you hope. Things can get better. They may not, but they might.

I stayed the course, survived the cream cheese, endured yet another personal defeat, and came back to the States, determined to stay out of trouble, and just watch cowboy movies and drink Dr. Pepper for a few years.

Instead I met Tonya Morton, we got married on October 1 and now we look forward to a brilliant Christmas and many more  to come.

We’ve already bought our tree and I have every intention of restoring  my celery cream cheese and olive tradition. I plan to refrigerate them this time.

(Jim Stiles is publisher of the “Canyon Country Zephyr -- Planet Earth Edition” now exclusively online. He is also the author of “Brave New West.” Both can be found at Stiles can be reached at
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