|Tony and Lisa, circa 1971|
Whatever the origin, it’s now a personal Christmas mystery.
Back when I could still count my age and have fingers left in reserve, my family of four lived in a small woodframe house off
U.S. 29 in Century, Florida. At least a
couple of Christmases, part of the wonderment discovered under the Christmas tree
included a full cowboy costume in the style of Gene Autry and his generation of
Now, please understand, Gene Autry’s movies were a bit before even my time. But my favorite Christmas music was an album of songs featuring Gene on the cover in all of his
cowboy glory, standing
tall as a miniature sleigh and tiny reindeer flew about his kneecaps. Hollywood-
Maybe that explains the costuming. Hat, boots, a shirt that would make a country music star swoon. One year, there was a fringe vest included, but I think by then I was in my Bobby Sherman phase.
My sister, as seen in a photo from about 1971 that she recently posted on Facebook, got a corresponding cowgirl outfit. We were a matched set — and pretty pleased to be so, if the picture is as accurate an
indication as I believe.
I remember wearing the costume around to visit the relatives on Christmas Day. I recall wearing it to ride my bike, that trusty mount of my imagination, up and down the narrow road (not the highway!) beside the house.
What I don’t recall is actually asking Santa for the outfit. My father claims ignorance of the origins also, guessing that it’s possible “one of your grandmothers thought you’d be ‘cute’ in them — maybe Grandma Simmons.”
He’s probably right about that.
Now, Dad was a big fan of the singing cowboys in his childhood. He told me in some Facebook messages recently that he considered himself Gene Autry most of the time, and he had his third grade school portrait taken in a Roy Rogers shirt.
And Grandma Simmons often saw her youngest son (my dad) when she looked at me; she even had a habit of naming off her two boys before getting to my name, and her awareness of the mistake made any time she called after me sound like an angry exclamation at the end of the dusty trail (“Ed-Jerry-Tony!”). What I’m getting at is, I can totally understand her wanting to dress my sister and me like Dad’s cowboy heroes.
Grandma also had little gas heaters in the corners of each room back then, and in our house there was a gas heater in the living room that we would back up to on cold mornings. Christmas recollections thus come complete with sense memories of cold feet and clothing that got too hot on the back side for comfort.
(Because of the way the heaters tried to warm the old house, Dad recalls “ceilings so high you were warm when you stood up but cold when you sat down.”)
I look at photos now of my children on Christmas mornings when they were little, and I wonder what mysteries the pictures will hold for them in the future. I hope they’re as warm as mine.