"Halt! Who goes there?" the sentry's call
Rose on the midnight air
Above the noises of the camp,
The roll of wheels, the horses' tramp.
The challenge echoed over all --
"Halt! Who goes there?"
A quaint old figure clothed in white,
He bore a staff of pine,
And ivy-wreath was on his head.
"Advance, O friend," the sentry said,
"Advance, for this is Christmas Night,
And give the countersign."
"No sign or countersign have I.
Through many lands I roam
The whole world over far and wide.
To exiles all at Christmastide
From those who love them tenderly
I bring a thought of home.
"From English brook and Scottish burn,
From cold Canadian snows,
From those far lands ye hold most dear
I bring you all a greeting here,
A frond of a New Zealand fern,
A bloom of English rose.
"From faithful wife and loving lass
I bring a wish divine,
For Christmas blessings on your head."
"I wish you well," the sentry said,
"But here, alas! you may not pass
Without the countersign."
He vanished -- and the sentry's tramp
Re-echoed down the line.
It was not till the morning light
The soldiers knew that in the night
Old Santa Claus had come to camp
Without the countersign.
by A. B. "Banjo" Paterson 1900
Australian A. B. (Andrew Barton) "Banjo" Paterson (1864-1941) wrote “The Man from Snowy River,” “Waltzing Matilda,” and many other well known and well loved poems. You can read a selection of poems here in our feature about "Banjo" Paterson.
Memories of Christmas
Colored lights across the room,
Children playing on the floor;
I guess I'm living in the past,
I've gone back sixty years or more.
And oil lamp glows on the window sill,
Shadows flicker on the snow,
Christmas was a holy time
So many, many years ago.
There was love within our humble home,
Every night we were together,
With the Christmas story from the Bible,
We paid no attention to the weather.
Youngsters practiced being good,
It was like that on every farm;
George and I were chopping wood
To keep our homestead cabin warm.
The chores we did by starlight
Proved a blessing in the end,
Each star we saw up in the sky
Became our special friend.
We had to carry drinking water
While we waited for the pail to fill,
I said, "That's the star that led the wise men,
Shining there about the hill!"
No one had to tell us which star,
We had that one figured right;
It was the one that shone the brightest
Just before the morning light.
On Christmas Eve our barn was spotless,
We spread clean straw and fed choice hay,
We knew which stall we would offer
If Mary came to us someday.
I don't recall a lot of presents,
It was different from today,
We will not forget the spirit
That filled our ranch house on that day.
© 2002, Colen H. Sweeten Jr.
You can read more of Honored Guest Colen Sweeten's poetry here at the BAR-D. Colen Sweeten is a prolific poet and impressive reciter who has been invited to every Elko gathering. He is the author of four books, three with accompanying tapes; the above poem will be included in a forthcoming book.
I think of our Christmases out on the ranch,
When snow lay along every cottonwood branch.
The men went out early to tend to the chores
While temperature hovered 'round zero outdoors.
My gramma got up the same time as the men.
She had to make dressing to stuff tom or hen.
She mixed up her bread dough and set it to rise,
And then she got busy and rolled crust for pies.
Gramps carried the bird to the oven to bake
Before he went out where the cold made him ache.
Gram steamed suet pudding on top of the stove.
All day we smelled fragrance of nutmeg and clove.
Dad got the truck started and drove out to feed,
For even on Christmas the cows had a need.
He shoveled the silage off back of the truck.
Conveyer belts helped, but ours usually got stuck.
Most all the equipment had some kind of quirk.
It always took tinkerin' to get it to work.
Meanwhile dinner cooked, and we settled to wait,
For dinner on Christmas--invariably late.
Adults didn't know that a child could be starved
While biding the time 'til the turkey was carved.
We opened the presents in late afternoon,
The prelude to dinner we hoped would come soon.
The presents were usually some little thing,
But Aunt had them wrapped as if meant for a king.
The tree would be bright with the tinsel and lights,
For sunsets came early those old winter nights.
We sat down to dinner as dark settled in.
We'd all come together, ourselves and our kin.
Came time to ask blessing and Fenner's the one.
The job fell to him as a minister's son.
When dinner was over, folks lay all around
On sofas and floor where some space could be found.
We did nothing special, it now seems to me,
But we were together, our own family.
My mem'ries date back to when I was a kid.
We had our tradition. This was what we did.
When Bill and I grew and moved further away
We brought our own families to share in this day.
Now our children's mem'ries are part of it too.
For bonding a family, tradition's the glue.
© 2002, Jane Morton
You can read more of current Lariat Laureate Jane Morton's poetry here at the BAR-D. She is a frequent performer at gatherings, has two books of poetry, and is at work on a new collection.
Wrappings & Bows
It's Christmas, with gifts exchanged,
and a family tradition that seemed so proper.
I can clearly recall Dad picking up bows
and Mom...gently folding wrapping paper.
Thoughts often take me back,
to those youthful days I'd known.
Sweet recollections of family gatherings,
with all us kids at home.
Special times it was, when gifts were given,
Mom and Dad would make it so.
And special still, the saving of paper wrappings
along with those ribbons and bows.
Can you picture a little homestead,
far from town, white with fallen snow?
At sun's setting, from a frosty window,
the warmth of a fireplace glow?
Within, a family poor to the world,
along with a hired hand,
Observing Christmas together,
in the high plains cattle land.
Over the years, life's pulled me away,
etching those memories deeper.
When Dad's callused hands picked up bows
and Mom's folded wrapping paper.
Before the gifts, Ebenezer's story was told,
and always a song and a poem.
Sitting close to the fire, huddled together,
with the excitement, as kids, we'd known.
A song sung of Baby Jesus,
newly borne on a silent night.
A poem about three Wise Men,
being guided by a bright star's light.
Family, friends, and as likely a stranger,
at a meal with all the fixin's.
In the corner, a pine branch along side gifts
concealed in traditional wrappings.
Though gifts were in short supply,
anticipation was abundant.
What we had, was what we had.
We's too poor to know no different.
Few gifts were bought, most were made,
all were shared with love.
There was thankfulness for what we had,
the blessings from up above.
Those were the days, a gift wasn't appraised,
at least, not in dollars and cents.
A simpler time, ya gave to give,
and giving was from the heart.
A piece of hard candy, perhaps an apple,
a peach or maybe a pear.
From horse hair, mane or tail,
a watch-bob woven with care.
A pack of seeds for spring time,
a penny ball of twine.
Sewing needles with a shiny thimble,
a hand written note or a rhyme.
A belt fashioned from an old harness.
For Sister, a hand sewn doll.
A charcoal drawn picture by a child,
to hang upon the wall.
And a jar of honey would be found,
on the porch, not under the tree.
We believed it from a thoughtful storekeeper,
who had a stand of bees.
A new red kerchief; for sure some socks,
maybe a pair of shoes.
An apron made new from an old petticoat.
Neat things...that would always be used.
It's memories best, recalling the days
of Christmas times at home,
Snuggled close to Mother folding wrappings
while Dad collected the bows.
Some bows stayed around, reused many times,
their history us kids would tell.
There was pride in having them last,
though the paper didn't weather so well.
Wrappings well worn, bows tattered and torn,
were welcome sights each season.
Not only during Christmas but anytime
gifts were exchanged or given.
Memories fade just like the bows,
bagging their tells to be told.
Especially my favorite, fray and faded,
brightened with memories of gold.
I can see the gift for my tenth birthday,
a ribbon bound some school supplies,
With the bow Grandma made,
the Christmas before she died.
A big blue bow came from a lady in town.
It came with cookies and leaves of tea.
For Brother, when he fell and broke his leg,
trying to get her cat from out of a tree.
The faded red one held a ring from Dad,
for Mom, years after their wedding.
And since that time, many more gifts,
has that bow made prettier the wrapping.
Uncle Jack said Mom cried as she held the ring
tied in the ribbon of Rose Bud Red.
Later, when it appeared, Mom held off tears
reminiscing her surprise from Dad.
The tiny white bow showed up when Billy was born
but he left us that first winter.
Yes, it was used, we called it "Billy's Bow",
reminding us, he's now with Heavenly Father.
The Church Elders brought the green one
attached to a 4-pound fruitcake.
The only et'able that ever come in....
that never did get ate.
We each had our favorites, thou they're worn,
new were not necessarily better.
Deeper the memory, the more precious the bow,
their past seem to make them prettier.
The folks are gone, have been for years,
but with angels, I know, they're watching,
And guide the hands that now pick up bows,
and fold the fragile wrappings.
Time has since blessed us, prosperity's ours.
Saving wrappings we do not need to do.
But seeing the bows, recalling the past,
fading memories get renewed.
So it continues, year after year,
for an accounting of our family happenings,
It would seem the family's history...
is wrapped up in the wrappings.
How blessed we were and how others would be,
if as families, all could come to know,
A mother saving wrappings,
and a dad that picks up the bows.
© 2002, Mike Dunn
Mike Dunn is a frequent performer at gatherings and he took home a Champion Buckle at the recent Kanab Cowboy Poetry Rodeo. You can read more of his poetry here at the BAR-D.
Mike has a new book, Somewhere Between Earth and Heaven
It was sometime late December,
in the year of Sixty Four.
When a stranger came callin,
knockin at my cabin door.
He had a face full of gray whiskers,
but shucks I had em too.
When you winter in a Line Camp,
shavin just won't do.
He looked to be a Teamster,
for he had those type of clothes.
The Jackboots he was sportin,
were shined and black as coal.
A jovial good hearted,
hard workin kind of man.
When we shook I felt the callus,
where the reins passed through his hand.
He said,"They call me Kris,
'cept at home it's Mr. Claus."
I offered him inside,
and told him who I was.
I said, "Sit there by my fire,
and chase away the cold."
Outside I heard his teams,
pawin in the snow.
He said "I darn near missed ya,
but I saw your lantern light.
When you walked in from your chores,
on this fine winter's night."
I allowed that he had seen me,
and that I found it mighty strange.
That a Freighter come a callin,
out here on the range.
He said it weren't nothing,
"I do it every year,
and would have stopped by sooner,
if I knew that you were here."
Then he reached deep inside his pocket,
and pulled out a long, gold stemmed pipe.
Took a spill down from my mantel,
and fished out a light.
The smoke that rose around him,
had the scent of peace and joy.
Somehow it jogged my memory,
back to the time I was a boy.
Back to mamma's, home cookin,
of family and close friends.
I lingered there, for a time,
not wanting it to end.
The visions overwhelmed me,
it seemed that I was there.
As if a Spirt, laid a hold,
and left me free of care.
Somewhere in the background
He said "I have to leave.
You know what day it is Pard?
Tonight is Christmas Eve."
As quick as said, he was gone,
vanished from my sight.
I could hear him laughing,
as he drove into the night.
Sleep then came to me,
a wondrous serenity.
Again I wandered through my youth,
in candy coated dreams.
When I awoke next morning,
my cabin was still warm.
The fire burned brightly through the night,
while I slept, without harm.
The track that he left there,
in the distance, faded out.
As if that Teamster, drove that rig,
on some low hung cloud.
The Spirt that had found me,
was a gift he left for me.
I wear it proud, at Christmas time,
for everyone to see.
I often think about him.
and wonder who he was.
The one that they call Kris,
'cept at home it's Mr. Claus.
© 2002, Ezra Spur
You can read more of Ezra Spur's poetryhere at the BAR-D.
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