A Christmas Memory

by SteveHulse on December 20, 2018 · 4 comments

Jean Shepherd was a writer, a radio host and a fantastic storyteller. In the
’60’s and ’70’s he hosted a radio show on WOR New York at 11 pm… I was
in Boston at the time and I heard it often. He had a most engaging style,
always telling tales about some of the crazy things that happened back in
his childhood in Indiana. I tell you this as it was Jean who inspired this next
post… a reminiscence about a past Christmas that is particularly dear to me.


The little town (pop. 150) of Virginia City, Montana, was one of the world’s best
places for a kid to grow up. A tourist resort in the summer, it usually overflowed
with tourists and activities, only to shut down after Labor Day and become one
jump to the left of a quiet, peaceful cemetery! Well, think about it… how much
noise and bustle can a town of 150 people make at any one time. As I recall,
the noisiest it ever got was right around 2 a.m. when the bars closed and
everyone went home. Okay, “How quiet was it?” Why, it was so quiet my best
friend Ricky Gohn and I could ride our sleds through the streets from one end
of town to the other without ever worrying about a car coming… either day
or night.

Like most youngsters, Christmas was my favorite time of year. I owe that to my
parents, who helped me discover the magic of the season in so many ways.
Dad and I always went up into the hills and cut our Christmas tree. He would
carry a small saw, and axe and a half pint of brandy in his hip pocket. We
would tromp through the snow, passing several good trees, stopping in a
clearing to catch our breath. He’d pull out the brandy, smile at me and say
something like, “That snow’s pretty deep this year, Stever, pretty tough going.
Think I’ll take a little snifter…”

Shortly after our break, he’d find just the right tree. We’d cut it down, drag it
back to the car and have another “little snifter” for the road. We continued to
enjoy that ritual long after I’d grown old enough to join him for a bracer or two,
and we’d always get home with a nice tree and a warm glow from the outing.
Mom would just smile and tell us what a good tree we got that year. She knew
it didn’t take four hours to find and cut a decent tree.









In the early years we’d bring home two trees, a big one for the bar, and a little
one for our upstairs apartment. Mom always decorated the bar tree while I
was left to decorate the upstairs tree by the time I was six or seven. The lights
and the ornaments were always easy for me, but Mom had to teach me her
way of hanging the tinsel just so… doubling each strand over and making sure
there were all perfectly straight! It was a pain, but the result was so satisfying…
and for years it was simply a labor of love that I learned to enjoy.







My Christmas Spirit would build slowly, starting with cutting down the tree
with Dad, then our Saturday trip into the “big city” of Butte for all our
Christmas shopping. Butte really was the big city to me, with all its lights and
holiday atmosphere. On top of that, a trip into Hennessey’s basement to see
Santa and their huge electric train layout usually helped jump-start my
Christmas feeling of good cheer.







It was the Christmas of ’54. I was eleven and had already learned, as an only
child, how to spend long periods of time by myself. This particular December
evening I had tackled the decorating of the upstairs tree. I had just gotten the
lights and ornaments up when Dad came up the stairs with an armload of
wood for the upstairs stove. “That tree’s coming along pretty well, Boy,” he
remarked as he stoked the fire.
“Yeah, now comes the hard part,” I complained, not really dreading the process.
“I’ve got an idea,” he smiled. “Why not put on a few of our Christmas records?
Might make the chore a little more bearable.”

Dad went back downstairs to the bar and I rustled through our small record
collection to dig out some Christmas music. We only had 4 albums back then,
the big 33 1/3 rpms, remember them? Two of them had little signs on top of
the covers that heralded the coming of an aural event that was sure to change
our lives in some significant fashion, “Living Stereo!”









Our records were The Ames Brothers, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby and Percy
Faith. I carefully stacked them on our console record player in the corner and
hit play. Percy Faith and his orchestra plopped down first and began with a
triumphant rendition of “Joy To The World.” in Living Stereo!

Going back to the tree, I stopped and looked out the little window of our
apartment that faced back into the alley. There was a light pole and a light
out there that lit up the alley at night. Now, in the darkened winter’s eve, I
saw snow swirling in the street light, softly, beautifully. Inside, the lights of the
tree twinkled merrily and I remember thinking, “How beautiful Christmas time
is! I wish it could always be Christmas!”

I began hanging the icicles, from the top down. The Ames Brothers Christmas
music poured across the tiny living room, the wood stove crackled, and i found
myself in a most wondrous spirit, moved by the music, the smell of the pine,
the warmth of the apartment and the sweet snow in the evening… everything
was perfect! I got goose bumps and remember wondering if this was what the
Christmas Spirit felt like… turns out it was!

There’s no trying to explain it or analyze it… a very rare and special feeling
that I’m sure we all feel in a different way. Point is, it was a very real feeling
for me, one which I got every Christmas for years. It finally drifted away,
probably somewhere in my twenties or early thirties. I remember missing it
at first, then figuring out that growing responsibilities and the gradual loss of
wonder of life were probably the ultimate culprits.

Turns out that Christmas time can be a difficult, inward-looking time for many
of us. High expectations of the season is a huge problem… it’s virtually
impossible for several days to approach our perceived perfection, let alone
several weeks! It’s a human condition, after all… one of those things we can
be aware of but still can’t quite fix. “Peace On Earth” is a myth and “Good Will
Toward All” has been handily booted out of the country for now. assuming it
ever really existed at all. But I can tell you this – Peace On Earth And Good
Will Toward Man existed in Virginia City, Montana on the Christmas of 1954.
I remember it so well, I know that it existed and was real. And in that, I have
hope that a time like that, and a feeling like that, can possibly come again.
For now, I hold that memory most dear, and will cherish it always!

Steve Hulse


A Day At Winter’s Edge

by SteveHulse on November 16, 2018 · 1 comment

A Late Autumn Cruise On the RSV Aimless

Out on the North Sound on a cloudy, chilly, rainy day… a day that will most
likely become the standard day for the next 5-6 months. This will be my
last trip out here until next May… I no longer do well in the wet chill of the
great Northwest – especially out on Puget Sound by myself, waiting for a
breeze to blow me slowly back to shore.

Then why am i here now? Oh, I love it out here, of course… and in the deep
of Autumn there’s never anyone here except me… which could unnerve me
except that I can always paddle. The solitude is almost deafening, the
peacefulness almost overwhelming, and the power of it all sets my mind in
strange and unpredictable directions that never seem to happen on land.

Today, for instance, I’m inside the tent, fire crackling nicely in the little stove,
a fresh cup of hot coffee at my side, the sound of a soft rain on the tent. My
god, how lucky am I… how incredibly lucky! For years and years I’ve wanted
to be at peace with the world, with mankind in general, and for a span of my
middle years I was… in tune with crowds, cities, foreign outposts. Then, at
some point unbeknownst to me, it began slowly slipping away until now, when
the feeling of content, peace and personal safety visit me only in very small
doses. Except when I’m out here on the Aimless.

B and I just returned from a lovely trip to Albuquerque and San Antonio…
Albuquerque for a hot air balloon ride for B’s 80th birthday, and San Antonio
to visit my lifelong friend Rick and his wife, Joanie, for several exceptional days.
Sitting here this morning, still in the glow of that wonderful week, the hassles
of travel – the busy airports, the crowds in the cities, the general rush of
humanity that runs madly to make a deadline that is unreachable… all that
is falling away out here on the North Sound and what remains is the sweet
memories of special times with loved ones. It’s almost like magic, how the
water, the wind and the solitude wash away the built-up crap of toxic residue
our current culture has dumped on so many of us. I’m feeling refreshed, alive
again and not tethered by the dark forboding of our current political crisis.
Here, right now, none of it seems to matter.

It does matter, of course. There are so many signs we are killing our planet
with our rampant greed and stupidity. I wonder what would happen if I were
able to bring all of our politicians out here, one at a time, and re-introduce
them to nature’s reality. Would they finally see what they’re blindingly affecting
on a daily basis? Would they finally get it?? Oh god, it would never work.
I can see it now…

Politician/lawyer/liar – “Okay, so we’re out here. What now? What do we do?
What do YOU do? And where’s my cell phone?”

Me – “Sit down here by the fire with me. Here, have a cup of coffee. And calm
down, your cell’s back in the truck.”

P – “Damn it, I need to check in!”

Me – “Careful, that coffee’s hot. Here, sit here. Take a deep breath, man, you’re
back in what I consider to be the real world. So what do you think?”

P – “I still don’t know why I’m here. What are we doing? Where are we going?
And why is it so goddamn quiet?”

Me – “First off, we’re not going anywhere… we’re already here, one of the
best places in the world to be right now. Don’t you get that? Smell the air…
it’s sweet, right? Listen to the water against the raft, and look, up there…
there’s an eagle! See it?”

P – “I hate to tell you this, Mr. Hulse, but so far this is the most boring,
meaningless thing I’ve ever done in my life!”

Me – “Well, we could fish. This is great salmon water! Want to do a little fishing?”

P – “I hate fishing! What a waste of time.”

Me – “But I’ll bet you golf…”

P – “Sure, doesn’t everybody?”

Me – “Um, how’s your coffee?”

P – “It’s weak. Wish I had a latte right now. And my cell phone. Don’t you have
a bathroom on this thing?”

Me – “Maybe if we…”

P – “Look, this is ridiculous! Paddle me back to your truck, I don’t know what
kind of bullshit you’re trying to pull on me out here, but it’s not working! I’ve
wasted half a goddamn day already, and for what?? I need to get back to the
office and make a few calls, at least try to get something done…”

Me – “I think you ought to at least give it a little time. There’s so much to…”

P – “No! Take me back now! This is NOT the real world at all, I don’t know
kind of rabbit hole you’re trying to take me down, but it’s not going to work!
Smell the air – see that eagle… christ! Get me the hell out of here!!”

Yup. That’s probably very close to what would happen in most cases. Money
is a non-factor on the Sound, greed is meaningless and the need for power
is almost funny. Life on the Aimless gets very simple and definable in a hurry.
And that would simply not do for an urban politician. My god, I’m so very, very
glad I’m not a politician, or a lawyer, or a liar.

So, the politician doesn’t want to fish with me. Fine. Maybe I’ll send him a
subpoena, that’s something I bet he understands. Only thing I understand
right now is that fresh salmon would taste great for dinner! Think I’ll finish
this coffee and go try my luck. Now where did I put that fishing pole?

Steve Hulse

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Roxanne Part II

by SteveHulse October 1, 2018

            I should probably explain why it is I talk to cars and trucks. Actually, a lot of guys talk to their vehicles. It probably comes from the idea that working on them brings a familiarity after a time, and (at least in my mind) they become more than simply […]

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The Saga Of Roxanne

by SteveHulse September 21, 2018

With apologies, I must warn you that this post and the following one are for truck lovers only. I have always had a weakness for people who show patience, strength, endurance, loyalty, consistency and reliability. I have instant respect (and perhaps a touch of jealousy) when I see those qualities in someone. I have tried […]

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The End Of An Era

by SteveHulse July 11, 2018

B and I are in Montana this week, moving my lifelong possessions from my cabin in Virginia City to Whidbey Island, Washington. I contracted Ray Taylor to build this cabin for me back in 1979. He did a fantastic job on it and it was my home base, and my heart, for 38 years. Much […]

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Big Memories Of Small Times

by SteveHulse July 8, 2018

Being back in Montana for the 4th of July week has brought back some delicious memories of my childhood here. I’m sure you all have these, and I hope mine can stir a few of yours. It’s the 2nd of July, 2018, and we just got to my cabin this afternoon. Betty Ann unpacked us […]

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An Empty Bucket

by SteveHulse June 28, 2018

We’ve all got a bucket list, right? Maybe not written down, maybe not in order of importance… but if someone asked you, at a cocktail party, what’s on your bucket list, you’d quickly be able to think of a few things. Don’t think I’ve ever heard someone say, “Oh, I don’t have a bucket list, […]

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A Forced Perspective

by SteveHulse June 19, 2018

Last year my B and I built a small model railroad together. it was a great winter’s project that turned out well, and we had a ball doing it. In the process I discovered that B built and painted small ( HO scale) buildings very well. Her crowning achievement was a sliver mine with an […]

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Way Back When In The Here And Now

by SteveHulse June 4, 2018

Try as I might to pretend life is still as good as it was in the 60’s and ’70’s, it simply isn’t, and won’t be. The comparable simplicity of that time, the almost naive sincerity of that time faded into oblivion somewhere in the mid-’80’s. Funny that it took me twenty years to notice it […]

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Sweet Inspirations

by SteveHulse April 24, 2018

Jazz Appreciation Month is inspiring me to get out all my pent-up thoughts and feelings about jazz while it’s semi-legal to do so. These days my memory continues to serve up some of the jazz piano giants that I struggled all my life to emulate. Oh, I finally settled in and played “who I was” […]

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