The Gift of a Memory

Years have passed since the deaths of my parents and, later, my oldest brother, and I’m slowly losing the nuances that made them unique: their laughs, their intonations, their expressions, their walks. But Christmas helps me remember. As I bake cookies, hang ornaments or listen to the gentle notes of carols, memories of those who shared my early Christmases bring them back in their entirety.

Recently, my sister Carolyn reminded me of a Christmas memory I’d like to share with you. I think of it as “The Dance of the Reindeer.”

On Christmas Eve, we usually drove to our grandmother’s house in Provo. Inside the small, orderly home filled with relatives, warmth, and the smell of baking, we’d tussle with our cousins until told to “settle down or else…” which we did when Grandma’s homemade cookies and candy appeared. Silenced by our chewing, we’d listen to the unfortunate cousins whose parents had convinced them to recite, sing, or play Christmas tunes on their band instruments. When food, talent, and patience had worn thin, Grandma read the story of the first Christmas from the Bible; then we drove home through fields crusted with snow-diamonds under a sky filled with low-hanging stars.

As soon as we arrived, Mom announced bedtime, and with minimal grumbling, we left the warmth of the living room for our unheated bedrooms: Bob and Lawrence in one room and Carolyn, Barbara and me in another.

I don’t know what our brothers did, but we girls partied.

We talked, giggled, climbed in and out of each other’s beds, watched out frost-etched windows for Santa, and took turns trying to sneak into the living room because we needed to go to the bathroom “really, really bad.” When the grandfather clock in the living room chimed, we quieted and counted: Mom had warned us not to get out of bed again until the clock chimed six times.

One year, five-hear-old Barbara listened intently as the clock struck, then said, “Oh, no, I counted eleven. Way past six. Now we have to wait until the big hand makes it to six again. I forgot. How many does it go to before it starts over? A hundred? That’ll take forever.”

But on my eighth Christmas, as we began to doze, Carolyn startled us awake: “Listen, can you hear that? Shh. There’s a noise on the roof. Be quiet!” We sat up in our beds, straining our ears, until we heard a faint clip-clop, clip-clop, clip-clop on the roof. We held our breath and listened as the clops grew louder and more frequent — a herd of deer tap-danced over our heads until, gradually, the hoedown calmed into silence.

Only then did we squeal with excitement and wonder if we should wake everyone to tell them what they missed. Eventually, we decided rousing the household would be unwise and drifted into sleep.

The next morning, after the chaotic joy of presents, Barbara remembered: “We heard them,” she announced into the general din, “We did.”

Only Lawrence caught her remark. “Who’d you hear?” he asked.

“Rudolph and those other ones.”

“Huh,” Dad said, “ What did they sound like, fellers?”

As we re-produced the sound of the dancing deer we heard in the night, the others exclaimed, questioned and chuckled.

Later, Carolyn, older, more skeptical and not above threatening Bob with physical harm, discovered the truth of our nighttime visitors: Lawrence had saved two deer hooves from his successful hunt that fall. Then, on Christmas Eve, waiting until we lost steam, he climbed onto the roof and clopped until he could clop no more.

In doing so, he gave us a meaningful gift: a Christmas memory of prancing reindeer, laughing parents and an older brother who took the time to create fun for his sisters.


59 thoughts on “The Gift of a Memory

  1. Janet, I love this story. You see, I also heard the “clip-clop” of reindeer feet on the roof one Christmas Eve. In the morning the markings of a sleigh were visible on the snow-covered ground. Proof! My brothers and I were awestruck. The mystery was never revealed, so it had to be Santa Claus. It just had to be! 🎄🌟🌿😍🎄🌟

    Liked by 2 people

    • Ye, the Christmas Eves of the past were magical, Michele; I’m not sure when they lost their magic for me, but they still feel special. Merry Christmas to you; I will picture you in the cozy Rabbit Patch cooking your family’s traditional foods and enjoying the company of your loved ones.


  2. Beautiful expression of a time gone by….you carefully brought me back in time and helped me remember our reindeer story of “hoof prints” in the snow outside my sister’s window…Merry Xmas, my friend, and a Happy New Year! ❤ Lucie


  3. Were you living in Utah when this occurred? For some reason, I think of you always living on the eastern slope, either in Wyoming or Colorado.

    My brother and I must have lacked sufficient imagination. By the time each of us was in elementary school, we had figured out that Santa was just a fun story.


    • We were living in Utah Valley at the time in a farming community that bordered Utah Lake. We later moved to a small nearby town and then I went to Snow College and Utah State University. My first teaching job was also in Utah, so I didn’t leave the state until I was in my late twenties. I think I no longer believed in Santa Claus when the reindeer arrived, but on Christmas Eve it seemed possible.


  4. Those are great memories, Auntie. Your brother was pretty cool in faking reindeer on the roof for his two sisters and it’s funny with your sister listening to the clock and trying to figure out when she could get up. I hope she didn’t lay away all night, listening to the clock! 😀

    I’m sitting here with the tree lit up and Christmas music playing and I’m wanting for one of your grandma’s cookies and a cup of tea. Mmmmm….


    • What a lovely comment; I remember Carolyn and I getting a chuckles out of Barbara’s comment, but I don’t remember whether we enlightened her or not. You would have liked grandma’s cookies. As my youngest brother once commented, they always had a mouth-pleasing chewiness.


  5. I pine for those gone, and memories of our small, family farm. When we were very young, goat pellets in the mud or snow , cookie crumbs strewn, empty milk glass by the sink, Ma loathed the goat, disliked cookies, did not drink milk, had to be Santa, and always gifts under the tree. We drove her batty, I’m sure, but she always managed to provide. Love your story- Be of good cheer dear Janet.


    • I hope you are of good cheer as well this Christmas season, Sheila. Your mother sounds like a trooper, a phrase my dad used to indicate that someone was of worth and always did what had to be done. I’m not sure he ever used trooper to describe me, probably because of the second qualifier in his description of what the word meant. But I know he would have applied it to your mom if he read your above description of her.


  6. It is a wonderful time of year for family reminiscing and honouring friends and family no longer with us by reliving the memories and love and laughter they brought to our lives. I love this post Janet and have a blessed Christmas.


  7. It’s amazing that you can remember a Christmas from long ago in such detail, it makes me really want to remember mine as well but unfortunately, I barely remember last Christmas.


  8. What a wonderful memory Janet! I had to laugh about your memory of JL, he really hasn’t changed that much. He is still a giver at heart.
    Have a Merry Christmas!


  9. What a heart-warming memory, Janet. And how creative of your older brother. I love it!
    This year, for the first time, we’re hosting children here in our own home —a seven-year-old niece and 11-year-old nephew from Florida (and their parents too, of course!). I don’t think I can come up with something as imaginative as clopping reindeer hooves, but I hope the kids will have cherished memories of their Christmas in Utah.
    Merry Christmas to you and Joel!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad you liked my reindeer story, Rita; and I’m also happy some of your family members will get to experience the hospitality of you and Tim and the scenic beauty of Utah this Christmas. Do you plan to take them out on snow shoes or cross country skis? I’m sure they’ll have a great time. Please let me know how it goes.


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