On The Ridge: Christmas with Grandpa

Published: 12/21/2022 5:54:38 PM
Modified: 12/21/2022 5:51:53 PM

Everyone has special memories about Christmas! And for me, I can’t enter a Christmas season without remembering my grandfather with great enthusiasm. Grandpa was always there for me. When father grew tired of the pitch-and-catch games, Grandpa would always have a few throws left in his arm for me. And Grandpa would always take the long way home after a day’s upland hunt, no matter how worn out he was, only because he knew it pleased me to be walking home with him after dark.

As a boy during deer season, I would sit at the kitchen table and watch Grandpa and Dad prepare for the day’s hunt. And I would wait there, peering through the window until the orange hats and vests moving out across the pasture in the pre-dawn light disappeared. Yet Grandpa would always pause and take off his hat, waving it back and forth toward the house, just before the darkness stole them from my view. Grandpa knew I would sit in that window, watching, until he waved… and he always did. As a young boy growing up there was no one, outside of my mother and dad, whom I loved more than that old man. And during Christmas, memories of him come full circle.

Grandpa had a way about him that seemed to make Christmas so special. I can remember sitting in front of the wood stove on Christmas Eve watching him make chestnut men until I fell asleep. I would just delight in watching him turn chestnuts into little men. He would take a chestnut and scratch a face on it like you would do for a jack-o-lantern, that would be the head. Then he would take a bigger chestnut and cut two or three places in front for buttons, and he would stick toothpicks in for legs and arms. And, magically he would somehow fasten the head to the body and — ta-da — there’s your chestnut man.

He would hide them all over the house and I would hunt for them the next morning until I found each one. And I would play with them for days. On Christmas morning, we would open gifts, then Grandpa and Dad would go out after breakfast to do some simple chores. When they returned, Grandpa would usually dump an armful of wood in the box, then take my face into his huge cold hands and rub my cheeks until they hurt. At times, I can still catch the scent of those huge hands.

Later on, we would just relax, and Grandpa would sometimes tell stories until it was time for the afternoon feast that Mother had prepared. I can remember how Mother would smile when Dad and Grandpa remarked about some delicious portion. And she would always get so worried about everyone getting enough to eat that I often wondered if she was getting enough herself? One year I mentioned this to Dad, and he explained that mothers, in general, simply aren’t happy unless they’re fretting over such things on holidays. He told me not to worry about it, and just let her enjoy herself. Now, I thought about that for a while, and eventually took his advice to heart. Even now, I wouldn’t even think of getting in the way of my wife, and others, who fuss over such things from enjoying themselves during the holidays.

After the meal, we would head out for our “Christmas hunt.” But I learned early on that it wasn’t hunting as usual. We would just walk, and talk, and I would listen to Dad tell Grandpa about things he wanted to do, and places he and Mother would like to visit, and the talk would just go on and on. Yes, it wasn’t hunting as usual, but it was Christmas, and we were together, a family like so many others, just enjoying each other and being at peace in this most glorious time of the year. The feeling of being with them at that moment, just the three of us surrounded by God’s nature, is a feeling I still wish for, even today. And then, during the evening, we would gather with neighbors and sing carols, play games, eat popcorn, and just be into the season. I would fall asleep listening to conversations about hunting, and without fail, after Dad had carried me upstairs for the night, Grandpa would slip in and place a candy cane into my hand while saying, “This is for you, but don’t eat it till you wake.” Half asleep, I would smile and say, “I love you, Grandpa”, and I did, and still do, to this very day.

May the joys of this holiday season bring to you and yours new happiness every day. And when this Christmas season becomes a memory, my wish for each of you is that the memory becomes a treasure.

Merry Christmas!

Joe Judd is a lifelong hunter and sportsman. He is an outdoor writer, seminar speaker, member of the New England Outdoor Writers Association, and a 2019 inductee into the N.E. Turkey Hunting Hall of Fame. Joe is also on the Quaker Boy Game Calls and Bass Pro Shops/Cabela’s Pro-Staff.


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