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West Texas Christmas
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About this time of year my family would be part of the decision to either head out to the family ranch in West Texas or not.

That decision, I realized many years later, was based on a rather complicated set of factors based on family dynamics that I knew nothing of at the time. It depended on who was visiting which in-laws that year, who was getting what days off from work and a host of other factors.

Today, I suspect there is an app that takes all the variables and generates the decision, but in the day it took multiple phone calls and discussions between smaller circles within the greater family. All I knew was if we did go to the ranch it would be a different sort of Christmas than otherwise.

West Texas was a nice place during the spring and certainly during the summer. Out on the ranch it meant hiking, driving tractors across fields and sitting out at night under an undisturbed sky that was filled with the Milky Way.

Bluebonnets covered the rolled rocky fields and the river on the property was just begging for swimmers.

Winter, on the other hand, was not such a great time. The trees were barren and the grasses dormant. The landscape was pale grey and nothing, absolutely nothing, stopped the cold wind from blasting across the land and cutting right into your soul. Sorry Texas; but winter on the ranch was not fun.

It was hard for me to get excited about the trip out to the ranch. The closet town was Stephenville, which compared to Dallas or San Diego was like a tiny village.

It was fun during the summer, but it seemed boarded up like an oceanside resort during December.

The trip was to be made however and my parents made it very clear that griping and pouting about it would not be tolerated so I made the best of the situation.

As more of my cousins arrived the better things got. There was someone to talk with, to cut jokes with and to mess around with. The older kids got to move out to the bunk house to sleep, so that helped.

As more people arrived, the adults planned trips into Stephenville and we at least got to stretch our legs some. We would pile into the cars and be taken to the Cox Department Store.

Compared to the novelty of indoor malls being opened in Dallas, Cox's was tiny and very old fashion. Its wooden floors were warped and creaked loudly under the load of shoppers looking to buy gifts for the season.

There was not a great selection and that was certainly the case on the toy aisle. They offered none of the great things I had seen in the Sears catalog, especially all the new space toys and battery powered cars and planes found in the city stores.

The real attraction at Cox's was the payment system. That might seem odd; a very young teen noticing the payment system in a store, but Cox's had no cash registers on the main shopping floor.

Instead, they had booths, which provided the base for a gondola that was spring loaded to a receiving cashier station up in the balcony. A clerk on the main floor put the cash into a small tube like you still find at drive through bank windows and would then pull a rip cord releasing a spring that shot the tube up a wire.

The tube was mounted under roller skate wheels so it fired up the wire like a bullet and was captured upstairs by a hook.

The cashier took the money out, put the change back in along with a receipt then released the hook. The gondola rolled back down the wire under gravity back to the clerk and the waiting customer.

It was fascinating to watch. All across the store these little tubes would suddenly blast forth screaming up the wires to their capture point. Then they would slowly descend back to the main floor.

I could have watched them for hours, and I always wanted, just once, to pull one of those rip cords to launch a gondola.

Thinking back those few trips to Cox's were a real highlight of my holidays.

Today such a system might seem antique. Really it was an antique even back then. But it reminds me of a simpler time when holiday shopping was local and I think more personal.

The clerks knew the customers and the cashiers handled real money; money that honest ranchers worked hard to earn.

Those gifts, while simple to a city kid's eyes, were picked out with care and they were products that were most likely made by American hands.

Those West Texas family Christmas trips remain in my memory long after many other winter holidays have been forgotten.

I guess those ranch holidays were true to the real meaning of Christmas, and maybe that is something we should all consider getting back to celebrating.

Charlie Auvermann is a longtime Dawson County resident and former editor of the Dawson Community News. He is also the executive director of the local development authority.