It is funny what things are catalogued as memorable in our minds. Most times, the occasions are not what you would expect, I suppose. But the unforgettable experiences rise to the top of our recollection. And so it is when I call to mind my most memorable Christmas.


We had big, extended family Christmas parties on my dad’s side of the family when I was a boy. He had three sisters and their families were large just like ours. That’s where I came to know and love my cousins. For the most part, I have great memories of the Christmas dinners and Santa Claus visits. We would get all dressed up for these activities. There were literally dozens of us at these family get-togethers. Though most of my cousins were considerably older than I was, they were accepting and friendly and made me feel important and loved. I was a pretty small kid back then, but I always felt included and valued.


These get-togethers have continued off and on throughout the years, and they still happen even today with an annual Stucki Cousins Family Reunion. While most of my earlier memories of these parties occur at Margaret and Lynn’s (my aunt and uncle on Dad’s side), I remember that one year we held the event at the distribution center in south Salt Lake. That year, Kim, Jeff, and I dressed up like Alvin and the Chipmunks and performed. Santa Claus would make his appearance and distribute gifts to each of us children. I was young enough at the time it was all magical and mysterious. Somehow, I think I knew my Grandma Stucki was behind all of it. One year we did it at our house, and I was the ten-year-old jolly old man. 


Mom and Dad used to dress me up like Santa when I was a child to deliver the family Christmas gifts to our friends as well. I’m not sure I really liked doing that, but my family was persuasive and our friends complimentary, so I couldn’t refuse.


Life had been hard for several years and the abundance we were accustomed to diminished some. But though some might feel that we were in dire straits, we never wanted for the essentials. I think Mother and Father handled the pressures so it didn’t trickle down to the younger children. Certainly, the older children knew the challenges we were facing, and I’m certain I was not oblivious to the need, but perhaps I did not comprehend the magnitude of our predicament. Castle Valley for us was a fresh start, and it happened to fulfill a lifelong dream for my mother and what she and Dad wanted for our family. So rather than a rash decision, the move was an answer to countless prayers and one of the great blessings in my life.


We had worked through the summer (and for a good part of that time lived in a tent!), but after a while we built and moved into the bunkhouse. That was a lot better. It was down below where it was much cooler during the hot summer. We built a truck-top kitchen and started a bathroom facility, so we were moving up in the world. I never thought of it as destitution. It was an amazing adventure and our choice. But when I think about it now, it’s nothing short of amazing that Mom and Dad and all the kids went for it. When school started, we found ourselves still living in the bunkhouse. The fall brought cooler nights and eventually freezing temperatures. The cabin home was coming along, but it wasn’t going to be finished by Christmas. Yet as it was completed, the roof was installed and we moved into the partially-finished home. We had our own shower for the first time in six months! It was wonderful.


We had always had so much for Christmas in years past, but this year was going to be different. Mom and Dad were giving everything to secure the farm, build a home, and pay for improvements. It left precious little for gifts. We knew that and had accepted the fact that there would be no Christmas presents this year. We already had so much anyway—perhaps not in worldly measures, but in love, family, good land, food, and the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Mom and Dad sincerely appreciated the bounty the Lord had given us and taught us to recognize and thank the Lord for all our blessings.


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One evening early in December we were sitting in the single heated section of the house when there was a loud knock at the door. Before we could get up to answer it, a vehicle sped down the snow-packed driveway and off into the night. When we did open the door, a large cardboard box sat on the porch. We pulled it inside and opened it. To our surprise, there were presents and food—things like canned hams and much, much more. That year for Christmas we were the recipients of a sub-for-Santa project and because of others, we ate delicious foods, opened gifts, and thanked an unknown giver for presents we could not have purchased ourselves.


I remember that occasion with a good deal of emotion and still don’t know the benefactor. But that is not so unlike all of us that are recipients of gifts we don’t deserve and don’t really warrant on our own.


Everything we have been through, the memories bring back to you.


About Walter Penning
In 1989, Walter Penning formed a consultancy based in Salt Lake City and empowered his clients by streamlining processes and building a loyal, lifetime customer base with great customer service. His true passion is found in his family. He says the best decision he ever made was to marry his sweetheart and have children. The wonderful family she has given him and her constant love, support, and patience amid life's challenges is his panacea.

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