Steamboat Springs Hattie Schubert, 89, is alone in this world she has no surviving relatives. But when Christmas Day dawns, she will have the memory of a special Christmas a long time ago in the small town of Blettenberg, Germany.
Hattie can still recall the Christmas morning when her brother Wilhelm opened the magic harmonica. And if you are good boys and girls, I will tell you the story of a Christmas miracle before this column is through.
Hattie was one of about 30 senior citizens who gathered at the Steamboat Springs Community Center for a fine ham dinner hosted by the Routt County Council on Aging last week.
Collectively, this group of people can open your eyes to a time when the celebration of Christmas was far simpler than it is today. Simple, perhaps, but no less meaningful.
Of course, there were church services for people who lived in town. But for many rural folk, they were lucky to gather with the neighbors.
Ruth Warren lives on a ranch along Elk River, but she grew up in Elm Creek, Neb. She and her siblings exchanged homemade gifts for the most part popcorn balls and rag dolls.
"You had to embroider their eyes and mouths," Ruth recalls of those modest little dolls. More often than not, the gifts were wrapped in newspaper fancy wrapping paper was scarce.
There was one special Christmas when Ruth received a storybook "Mr. and Mrs. Goose."
"That was my favorite thing," she recalled. "I think I wore it out reading it."
Mary Baker grew up in Powder Wash in rural Moffat County, one of seven brothers and sisters. Her family's gifts came from the Sears and Roebucks catalog. Their Christmas tree was a native cedar, decorated with paper chains and candles.
Lewis Kemry, whose family ranched on the lower Elk, recalls that he had to get chores done before he could celebrate Christmas.
"It was a hard problem to milk the cows and feed hay to the cattle and then get someplace for Christmas," he said.
Most years, the Kemrys hitched the team to the sleigh and rode to the the neighboring Robinson ranch for dinner.
Lewis remembers the Christmas he received a little tool box packed with his own pint-sized hammer, saw and square.
Gordon Miles and Lorene Workman grew up brother and sister on a ranch along the Oak Creek Road. They skied often, but not for thrills. Skis were the only practical way for Gordon and Lorene to get to class at the Lower Oak Creek School, where Mrs. Andrews always staged a Christmas play.
"Everyone skied as soon as they could walk," Gordon said. "We skied to school and we skied back. We couldn't get there any other way."
Lorene recalls that their parents, Ed and Rosie Miles, always invited a couple of elderly bachelors to both Christmas and New Year's dinners.
Pearl Stehley of Steamboat Springs will be celebrating her 99th Christmas tomorrow she turned 98 back in October.
A former member of the Ladies Recreation Club, which used to ski out to the Strawberry Park Hot Springs in the old days, Pearl avows that Christmas in Steamboat hasn't changed in all these years.
Christmas was very different for Hattie Schubert and her four siblings growing up in Blettenberg, Germany, during World War I. The family had very little by way of holiday treats.
"We had one orange in the middle of a plate surrounded by nuts we had gathered from the forest," Hattie recalled.
Hattie's mother typically knitted each of the children a pair of long stockings that reached well above their knees, and that was their Christmas gift. But one December she saved enough money to purchase a harmonica, which she carefully hid in the closet.
Wilhelm discovered the musical instrument in its hiding place and hatched a plan. Whenever the children's mother left the house on an errand, Wilhelm retrieved the harmonica and taught himself to play Christmas carols.
When Christmas morning arrived, the family gathered around the tree and the children unwrapped the harmonica, feigning surprise.
Then, Wilhelm stunned his mother, Caroline, by performing a carol without the apparent benefit of practice.
The song he played was "Silent Night" "Stille nacht, heilig nacht."
I'd like to report that Caroline's eyes filled with tears and she hugged each of her children in turn. But the truth is Hattie doesn't remember all of those details, so you'll have to use your imagination.
Hattie, your memories are a precious gift. I hope you have yourself a merry little Christmas.
Tom Ross is a longtime Steamboat resident. His column is published every Monday in Steamboat Today.