By Don McAlavy
It was cold that December of 1936. The drought the preceding summer had ruined the wheat crop on the small farm. There wasn’t a lot of money to be spent on Christmas. The father worked part time for a neighbor, herding sheep for a dollar a day, but this had to go to provide necessities, not Christmas gifts.
The youngest son, only 5, had seen a “Monkey-Ward” catalog. There among the many other items delighting the eye was a little cowboy suit — a blue vest, a pair of cowboy gloves with cuffs that went halfway up the elbow and had fringe hanging from them.
“Mama,” pleaded the little boy, “this is what I want for Christmas. It’s a real cowboy suit!”
The mother, tired from washing and ironing all day, glanced at her youngest son without stopping her work, seeing the little boy’s pleading eyes looking up at her and inwardly her heart went out to him.
“No use showing me any pictures,” she told him. “Maybe Santa Claus will bring you a warm coat.”
The little boy, with tears in his eyes, again looked at the picture in the catalog. No coat looked as good to him as that cowboy suit. He fell asleep that night with the catalog clutched to his chest.
Later he approached his father, a stern no-nonsense man, about the cowboy suit. They were in the pickup on their way to Texico.
“I’m goin’ to be a cowboy,” he told his father. “I bring in the cows for milkin’ each evenin’ now,” he proudly proclaimed. “And I rode the horse when we herded sheep … I did that real good!”
“You fell off,” answered the father. The little boy sat there for some time without saying anything, his eyes downcast. Finally, he looked up at his father. “If’n I’d had a cowboy suit on I wouldn’t have fallen off. I shore do need that cowboy suit!”
But the father said nothing.
With tears again in his eyes he fell to sleep by the time they got home.
A week before Christmas the family went to Clovis, 16 miles away, to do some laundry and get some groceries while the father took care of some farm business.
At noon, the mother gave each of her three children 25 cents. With it they got a hamburger and a soft drink at a little cafe on Main Street. With a dime each had left they went to the double feature at the Lyceum Theater. They saw Buck Jones in a western movie.
“The cowboy suit!” remembered the little boy, seeing Buck Jones on the screen. All the way home that evening, the boy thought of nothing but the cowboy suit. That night, just before he went to bed, he silently tore out the picture of the cowboy suit from the catalog and took it to bed with him. He had sweet dreams about cowboys.
On Christmas eve there was a gathering at the little school with a Christmas program, songs, and readings. There was candy and fruit for the kids. Then Santa Claus arrived and handed out gifts for all the children that had been placed under the Christmas tree.
Everyone got something, but there was no cowboy suit for the little boy. Santa Claus was surely not a cowboy.
It was late when they got home. The mother insisted the children go right to bed. She came into the bedroom and leaned over and kissed all three of her children and then blew out the coal oil lamp.
At daybreak on Christmas Day, the mother was heard out in the kitchen fixing breakfast of biscuits, gravy, and bacon. The little boy was the first to hop out of bed. Usually Santa Claus would leave something at the foot of the bed, but nothing was there.
With tears in his eyes, he came into the living room. There near the coal fire in the pot-bellied stove was something draped over a straight chair. His eyes almost popped out when he saw it was a pair of blue leather chaps, and beneath it a blue vest and then in the seat was a white cowboy hat and a pair of real cowboy gloves with fringe on the cuffs.
He let out a big cowboy whoop and ran into the kitchen to show his mother what Santa had brought him.
Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian.