John Moore

Columnist John Moore in 1966, shows off his new military uniform he received after returning from a drive to search the skies for Santa’s sleigh.

Each Christmas Eve in the 1960s, my sister and I would take a ride in my grandmother’s sled.

Like most grandmothers back then, her sled was a Ford Country Squire station wagon that was about the same length as an aircraft carrier and came complete with fake wood paneling on the sides.

My dad wasn’t the kind of guy who wanted to wait until Christmas morning for Santa to visit, so my sister and I would hop in the station wagon with our grandmother to go look for Rudolph’s twinkling nose.

My grandmother would instruct my sister to take the post in the back seat on the passenger’s side, and I was told to man the post on the driver’s side of the back seat.

We were told that this was strategic so that if Santa and his reindeer flew over, at least one of us would see them. However, hindsight, it also put a large space between the two of us so that a fight was less likely to break out.

We would cruise the streets of Ashdown, Arkansas, looking intently at the sky. Typically, my grandmother would pull out of our driveway and turn left onto Beech Street, and then take another left on Rankin.

Rankin was one of the main streets through town. If you turned right, it would take you to Millwood Lake. But if you turned left, you headed toward downtown.

Keep in mind that downtown Ashdown consisted of one four-way-stop with a flashing red light.

We would make our way through the four-way, then drive past the courthouse, hospital, and then out toward Western Hills, which was the closest thing Ashdown had to a Steven Spielberg-type neighborhood.

You know, the neighborhoods like in ET where all of the houses looked the same and were fairly close together.

We’d circle through Western Hills and then head back by the hospital, courthouse, and back to the flashing light at the four-way-stop.

Driving straight, we’d pass the hardware store, Williams Movie Theater, Blue Ribbon Shoes (where they sold Buster Browns, which came with a gold plastic egg full of candy and toys), and the water department.

My grandmother would then navigate the Country Squire past Burke Street Elementary, where I was in first grade, and then back down Rankin.

She’d then turn into our driveway on Beech Street. Sometimes, my sister and I would wait until she came to a complete stop before we exited the vehicle to run in and tell our parents that we were certain we’d seen Rudolph’s nose and that surely, Santa would be there soon.

But before we could say anything, we’d see all of the gifts Santa had left under the tree.

Dad would explain that Old Kris Kringle had come and gone while we were out looking for him and that he was sorry he missed us.

But he did leave a message that if we wanted him to come back next year; we needed to be good and to get along with each other throughout the year.

Many in this story won’t be here this Christmas. It’s just my mom and me now.

I’ll go home to Ashdown for the holiday. I don’t have a Ford Country Squire, but I do have a Prius. And I have a 7-year-old great nephew. I’ll need his help while I’m visiting.

I can’t look for Rudolph’s nose all by myself.

To send John a message, buy his books, “Write of Passage: A Southerner’s View of Then and Now Vol. 1 and Vol. 2,” or listen to his Weekly 5-Minute Podcast; visit his website at TheCountryWriter.com.

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