Why, when I was a boy … you better watch out!

51lm-yq1hzl-_sx386_bo1204203200_I think it was sometime in October … we’uns were still in the autumn mood, Halloween planning,

plotting what trash cans we’d be knocking over in the alleys, wondering what crazy things the high school boys would be coming up with – such as moving the slickery slide into the middle of main street.

Course there was the usual lathering of waxy writing on all the building fronts … that kind of exciting October.

And then I’d come home one day from school and there they’d be, the Sears and the Speigel catalogs.

Down on the couch for probably 15 hours straight, turning impatiently past clothes, underwear and coats to the toy section. Then after a first-to-last-page review, starting over and doing it again … and again …. every day or so … til it was memorized and the Santa Claus list was bigger’n Mom’s cookbook.

That was when the mood started rising for December.

Yeah yeah yeah … Thanksgiving was exciting but in a different way. There wasn’t much magic in   a Thursday dinner with football, relatives and pass-the-turkey Dad.

Randy was only 3 years younger and we usually plotted Christmas strategy together. Adrian and Cinda were born in the mid-fifties so they weren’t part of us older boy’s tactics. Although I don’t remember an overwhelming desire for a Red Ryder bb-gun like in that wonderful movie, Ralphie rang all my memories of holiday excitement. Still does after having seen it a hundred times. (No, we never ate Chinese duck for Christmas dinner and our dogs were too short to steal a turkey.)

Then of course there was the famous panel truck driving around town playing Christmas Music via a loud speaker. Same truck did that on Brigham Young Day (July 24) playing cowboy songs.

Lietta and I were at the neighbors’ yesterday delivering a card and jar of cookie baking ingredients. They’re in their 90’s and their Christmas Tree sits on a table and is about 3 feet tall tops. But there are icicles on it … real live droopy silver icicles hanging down … and I was back in our parlor will memories of Mom letting us help her and hanging them dang icicles at the last on a tree covered with blue lights. Cora Ruger loved blue Christmas trees!


Picture this, 1950’s Christmas Eve,  Bancroft, Idaho. Without fail a Christmas Dinner at the church with all the ham, mashed taters and all the fixins you could eat. Now that was exciting. The Church was never fuller than on Christmas Eve. They all came and it warn’t fer hearing sermons and going to sunday school classes.

After the dinner, they’d commence to singing Christmas carols. Seems to me the religious stuff came first and after a bunch of O Come All Ye Faceful, First Noels, Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark Old Harold Angel Barks and Silent Night … they’d finally start the good stuff.

Yew Better Watch Out!, Up on the Housetop, Jolly Old St Nicholas, Rudolph and Here Comes Santa Claus.

Suddenly, like a bat outta hell, er, I mean, When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

The side door to the lawn would fly open and shut while a fat red and white phantom would come in, bells draped over his chest and back like Pancho Villa with bullet belts, snow flying and dropping from his uniform.

A big fat “Ho Ho Ho! Merrrrryyy Christmas!!”

That guy was REAL! Best visuals and sound effects I ever saw. I was a believer at that age. St Nick was the Holiest of Holies … the only supernatural presence who showed up every year as predicted. The only one to let me sit on his lap and give me a bag of candy and nuts and asked me you-know-what.

I was too young to recognize in that duffer some local personality and it never occured to me that he was anything but who he was supposed to be.

Image result for Santa Claus

I don’t know why he drank Coke and not Root Beer but who was I to question the big guy.


So by then I was full of ham, taters, desert , nuts and my favorite, chocolate pyramidy things that had white cream mint on the insides (like Junior Mints but bigger). I got home and was drowsy … oh maybe for half an hour … just waiting for Mom and Dad to order us to bed … so’s we could start our painful vigil. It was painful, when the  house got quiet we were listening for any sound out of the ordinary, maybe a reindeer whinnying (do reindeers whinny?), maybe a sleigh on the roof although we knew he’d have to come in through the basement furnace and up through a heat vent into the parlor if he was going to do the chimney routine.

Then of course there was Dad the sentinel, checking up on us like a prison guard to see if we were asleep. Eventually though, the time came when we figured him out, and how to get around his prison guard act. We waited for him to fall asleep.

Then we crept into our little 4 x 4 closet that had a  hanging light. We curled up on the floor, our bodies covering the whole floor, and got out our stash of comic books. Felt like we killed off 10 hours reading and waiting for some clue that said we needed to get back into bed and pretend we were asleep.

I don’t know why. They never woke us up on Christmas morning. WE WOKE THEM up – usually earlier than they wanted.

The parlor had a big heavy sliding door and there was NO WAY you could slide that door open without our hawk-eared Momma hearing it. Or so it seemed.  These were not helicopter parents who took over our Christmas morning celebrations with “wait and have some hot chocolate!”  “Let us get up first and you boys wait in the living room.” “Here, I  want you to pose for 29 pictures before you go in there.”

Ask Lietta, I ain’t got any use fer helicopter parents. What they didn’t enjoy as kids they want to make sure their kids don’t enjoy either.

So on assorted mornings over the years there was sleds, bicycles, sleeping bags, fishing poles, and one year Captain Midnight uniforms (shades of the coming of Kirk and Spock)

Santa Claus was for me the most significant author of a sense of mystical magic which informed my older self in relating to the power of imagination in all things spiritual and creative.

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I could never describe him any better than this:

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap,

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer,

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name;

“Now, DASHER! now, DANCER! now, PRANCER and VIXEN!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my hand, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes — how they twinkled! his dimples how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
That shook, when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight,


Spirituality Past, Present and Future


Why are my thoughts drawn so much to the past
where pleasure and pain of remembering doth last?
How is it I struggle to ponder the Now
where life is most vivid but wrinkles my brow
in confusion and wondering just why there is haste
that moves days so swiftly — and they have no taste?
The future is also approaching with speed,
with oblivion’s grave and the thing I must heed.
So into the past I find anchor to slow
the pace of the march played by Now’s singing bow.
The music remembers the living while young
and vibrates the harp from which thinking hath sprung.
A time that was strengthened by youth in its age
of vigor and wishing outside of the cage
that aging doth bring with its ups and its downs,
its joys and its pleasures with smilings and frowns.
Experience teaches a spiritual tune
that prompts us to seek from the holiest rune
a whisper of God in our mid-life-tuned ear
that something else needed is coming quite near.

© 2000 Arthur Ruger

Sunday: Tell a child that Heaven is church 24-7 and

that child might be able to describe somewhere else for you.

Churching Around

6:00 a.m. this Sunday morning and its raining, the street is still dark and Jake needs to go on his morning walk. Too wet to bring my kindle for entertainment while Jake sniffs his way down the street slowly dragging from spot to spot, from bush to bush, from tree to tree.

I think about what my Sundays looked like when I was but a boy in Caribou County and the mountains of Southeastern Idaho … Mormon Country.

We were a farming community. But we didn’t ride around in buggies, and – although there were occasional beards and women dressed like they’d stepped out of a rural 19th-century movie set, I suppose we could have been transported to any rural American agricultural setting and presented no obvious or stand-out difference.

Here, take a virtual tour of what it looks like now

I remember Sundays when mostly farmers and a few of us city clickers attended church.

By the time I was 12 years old, I would get up around seven, go out on the porch and retrieve the Sunday edition of the Salt Lake Tribune, lay on the floor with my feet resting against the heat vent from the coal furnace in the basement, throw aside the front page and all that world and national stuff and open the second section.

I’d start with the comics and end with the sports section. About 8:30 I’d drag myself to the bedroom and put on my dress clothes for the Church two blocks away.

The whole town was essentially a 4-block by 5-block square with a bunch of houses additionally across the tracks.

Main street, which was 4 blocks long, handled our business section where you could find a drug store on the corner next to the highway (U.S. Highway 30 which ran from Omaha to Portland), the Post Office, Arts Billiards (my grandpa’s pool hall), Sanders Furniture, Keith Mabey’s electrician business, the Barber Shop and then an open field with a raised bank all the way around that would hold the water in the winter long enough to freeze and create our ice pond fer skating.

Across the street you had my Dad’s service station (Utoco Gas), a big fat tractor implement store, an empty second tavern, my Uncle Gene’s grocery store (he and Aunt Elnora lived above it, Howard’s Cafe, the Court House,

Court House/City Hall

the Jenkins apartments, the IGA grocery store, the Call Lumber Yard, the theater and that was it. The school maintenance garage was on the same side of the street but on the next block.

At the end of Main on the west side there was the combination grade school-junior high-high school building entitled the North Gem (North end of the Gem Valley) school district.

Across the street from the school sat the LDS church building. That’s where I’d go after reading the Sunday paper and wishing I could drink coffee with cream and sugar like Mom and Dad.

I’d put on my go-to-meeting duds and walk the two blocks to the church.

Church started at 9:00 a.m. sharp with Priesthood Meeting – the men’s stuff. We’d gather in the chapel, sing a hymn, listen to a prayer, do something of a business/agenda ritual and separate into classes. Mine was the Deacons’ quorum where us boys sat through the first of our two Sunday classes.

A guy taught us something religious that had to do with one of the 4 Mormon scriptures (Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price.) There was a lot of the sort of wordage that – in any community of that type- gets tossed around like ketchup and mustard at a barbecue:

the Lord, … the Gospel, … the Truth (or true church) …righteousness … faithfulness … and so forth.

Them lessons were more or less okay if you took into account that I had to be there … and if the lessons included stories.

I didn’t care what kind of stories, if they included stories my mind would sort of unleash itself and I’d walk into and inside the world of whatever story they were telling as they narrated their way through their god-talk points.

Anyway … after the hour of Priesthood meeting was my favorite half hour of the day. We boys (at least those boys packing the necessary quarter) had a half hour before Sunday School and would walk the two blocks north on Main to Ma Howard’s Cafe. Fer 10 cents ya got yer RC cola and fer the remaining 15 cents yer Hostess fried pie. I preferred the apple or cherry most of the time.

But we had to be back by 10:00 case that’s when Sunday School started. By this time the chapel was full of folks – men, women and children. I usually sat in the pews in the south-eastern corner of the chapel where the sacrament (communion for you non Mormons) table was located. Sunday School consisted of opening exercises with the usual hymn, prayer, announcements and other business. Then came a second hymn (a sacrament hymn) while older teens at the sacrament table got up and broke slices of bread into little chunks captured on trays with handles. The row of bread trays were in front of a row of trays holding little paper cups about the size of your thumb and that contained water.

Such constituted the LDS communion of bread and water (Mormons a long time ago dropped communal wine and substituted water.) After the song and the bread was broken, one of them older boys read a set sacrament prayer over the bread and stood patiently while us younger Deacons came forth to be handed one of the trays of broken bread which we would then in organized manner (almost like jets in flying formation) spread out and passed the bread to the congregation.

I was good with that except maybe when I had to hand the tray to a row where some old guy was already asleep or some buxomy woman was nursing a baby and I’d get confused about my priorities.

After the broken bread we returned to formation and returned the bread trays, exchanging them for the trays with the little water cups sitting in small slotted holes so they wouldn’t tip over. After a set prayer on the water, we then went through the same procedure as before.

Afterward was the Sunday School program which included a youth speaker for what was called a 2-and-a- half-minute talk, followed by other speakers and hymn singing. I remember as a youngster giving a 2-and-a- half-minute talk about the entire history of Christmas and completing the job in only 45 seconds. I didn’t know what to say for the remaining 105 seconds so I sheepishly sat back down.

After the opening exercises we all retired to our separate classes and I sat through the second of my obligatory Sunday classes which this time included us 12-14-year-olds but also with girls of the same age. I don’t remember sitting with them girls at that age. Us boys mostly stuck together unless one of our elders (like Grandma) told us we had to sit next to a visiting cousin even if she was a girl.

When I was younger (maybe 8 or 9), I got uppity in a Sunday school class which was being taught by the Bishop’s wife. She lost her patience with me and smacked me on the head with her Book of Mormon. Then she started crying and hugging me and apologizing. I wasn’t even indignant, mostly embarrassed and hoping she wouldn’t tell Grandma about my uppityness.

Well, around 11:45 a.m. the whole dang torture session came to a merciful end and we were released to go home. The rest of Sunday was mine for kid stuff which included outdoor games and exploring in the summer and un-micro-managed indoor stuff where Mom just wanted us to stay out of her way.

Often we’d go for Sunday drives where Dad would take us usually to Lava Hot Springs, stopping at Mike’s Tavern about half way for a beer or two while Mom smoldered in the car and we kids were hoping for a 7-Up or Hershey bar. Then we’d go to Lava where there were possibilities of swimming and stuff.

On the days when we weren’t out of town, the whole dang churchiness stuff started up again around 7:30 p.m. where we all gathered at the church for Sacrament Meeting. After the usuals, we’d go through the Sacrament bread and water routine and then settle in for the endurance ritual.

Usually three speakers for the next hour or so and boy, did those subjects ever get boring! Especially on hot summer nights. This was what separated the old men and the boys from the younger adults. Us young’uns and old guys could more or less fall asleep and get away with it. But the prime-aged adults didn’t dare cause they were supposed to be the examples, or in some cases they might be preparing themselves for future calls (opportunities) to leadership jobs and needed to look sharp, alert and attentive at all times.

So sleeping on a hot Sunday evening was a risk we had to take. Reminds me of a couple of stories with which I’ll end my reminiscences about Sundays.

These are apocryphal or anecdotal or whatever you call them. Mebbe they happened and mebbe they didn’t … but they COULD have.


Brother Brown was visiting the ward (what we called our congregations) as a Stake High Councilman and when they came, Oh Boy! Could be what seemed an hour for his talk alone and the subjects were usually the most boring.

Anyway, it seems that Brother Brown fell asleep during the Sacrament Meeting preludial activities before his talk. When it was time, the Bishop stood up and said solemnly,

“We will now be favored with a talk from our Visiting High Councilman, Brother Brown.”

Only thing … Brother Brown had fallen asleep.

Bishop looked flustered …. “Brother Brown?”

Then more flustered and sort of louder, “Brother BROWN!”

Brother Brown woke with a start and … lost and confused … (of course he was) … groggily stood, walked to the dais, and said the closing prayer.


The Sleepy Deacon

It seems that on an especially hot summer evening during Sacrament Meeting, the Deacon assigned to sit toward the front by the sacrament table and do the Bishop’s bidding … you guessed it … fell asleep.

The chapel was full … you know, Standing Room Only.

Suddenly the doors at the back of the chapel opened and in walked the Stake Presidency, (the three most important men in the Stake, which is like a diocese – you know, a bunch of wards.) Well, the Bishop sprang into action, using hand gestures to get the attention of the errand-Deacon who was asleep.

Eventually, half-groggy, the Deacon closed his mouth, looked around self-consciously, and saw the Bishop making frantic hand gestures at him. The Deacon’s expression became quizzical …

The Bishop surreptitiously pointed to the back of the chapel where the three important dudes were standing, and silently mouthed the words “STAKE PRESIDENCY!” , apparently thinking the Deacon could read his mind.

The Deacon entered into the word-mouthing game.


The Bishop’s eyes flared with agitation.


The Deacon got a look of total confusion and nervous reluctance.


The Bishop moving toward frantic-ness.

“YES YOU!!!”

Terrified, the Deacon responded.


The bishop in his most authoritative expression of order-giving almost shouted what he growled in silence.


So the awakened, confused, somewhat terrified but courageous young Deacon stood up and shouted out loud …


Ah … Sundays in the good old days.

A Veteran’s Dream

I served in the U.S. Air Force and the majority of that time I was on flight status with PCS assignments to Yokota Air Base near Tokyo, Kadena Air Base in Okinawa and Offutt AFB near Omigosh, Nebraska.

I have never during or after had a detailed dream such as that which woke me up this morning and which I will narrate here. By way of explanation I’m not sure what triggered the dream but suspect it might have something to do with encountering a new Facebook Group made up of USAF classmates at Syracuse University way way way back in 1969.

Or my recent affiliation with my lodge which includes retired Air Force guys may have also triggered the dream since there’s a sense of camaraderie in the dream not unlike that in the lodge or, for that matter, that which dominated our lives back in the 70’s where we served on active duty as members of air crews.

Whatever …

On this early morn, I’m in the after-dream thrall of some kind of Post Traumatic Dream Syndrome … I was astonished at the subject and the dream and can only say that it must come from brushing up against something newly experienced in my life with ties to the past.

But here goes …

I find myself in an upper floor of what must be some kind of barracks (I dream of multi-roomed-maze-like buildings quite a bit it seems.)

I’m not wearing a flight suit and am carrying my duffel bag. This “barracks” is full of enlisted types in an assortment of dress and activity.

Details about USGI Duffel Bag, Back Pack, Emergency Pack, Slight ... duffel bag

Nobody seems surprised that I am there and as I descend some sort of declining stairs I collide with another guy who drops his duffel and it falls open. A large pair of low-cut basketball shoes – size 15 or larger – tied together with a string tumble out and wind up hanging around my neck for the rest of the dream.

When I get to the ground floor, I am advised that we are doing a mission today and I am missing the briefing.

I rush back up the winding stairs to the highest room which is full of officers (looks like over a hundred of them sitting in rows of chairs and not in flight suits but wearing their khakis.)

Below is an image of enlisted men wearing the “khakis” them there officers in my dream  were wearing.


They are talking what seems like the standard SAC preflight talk I used to hear at Kadena and Offutt.

Suddenly they all arise and then kneel in formation facing the door through which I just entered and commence an evangelical Christian pre-flight warrior’s prayer (must have learned to do that at the AF Academy, eh?).

Realizing I’m at the “wrong” briefing, I struggle downstairs still wearing the gym shoes around my neck and looking for the enlisted flight briefing.

I get there just as it is ending and only about half are in flight suits and many of them dressed with individual style like characters in M.A.S.H.

The place to be....for the Characters, Places & Thingson Television

Realizing that I’m not wearing a flight suit, I head back upstairs, where I left my duffel bag to get my flight suit on, telling one or two guys that I haven’t flown since 1972 and in my dream there is nothing unusual enough to bother anybody I tell that to. (Besides, truth is my last flight was 1974 out of Offutt).

Offutt flight line in the old days

Description RC-135 Cobra Ball aircraft parked at Offutt.jpg
On the way upstairs to “find” my flight suit I realize I have not checked in, have only the clothes I’m wearing, am hungry as hell and need to go somewhere to use an ATM to get cash to live on since I’m told the flight is 215 hours long and we are TDY’ing “over there.” Reminiscent of those damn 27-hour flights between Offutt and Mildenhall (my last flight in 1974.)

United Kingdom
I start wandering around the lobby or the yard right outside the “barracks/flight meeting building” trying to figure out where my flight suit is and where the damn ATM might be.

For those unfamiliar with what I was looking for in my 1970’s dream:

History this week : First ATM withdrawal
Thinking I have a few hours before takeoff, I ask someone how soon before we launch …

he says “about 25 minutes.”

I woke up with start.

It sort of felt like Omaha winter weather and my Eilson experience is limited to two overnight stops for repairs. But I remember a feeling of snow in my dream.

Eilson AFB

The dream seemed vivid, lengthy and somewhat detailed but felt like how it might be imagined if I had never been involved with those flights and constructed a vivid fairy-tale based on someone else’s account.

I thought about checking myself into the VA hospital this morning for prolonged therapy …

but then the coffee was brewed …
the old laptop finished loading …
and I realized I could download my insecurities to an empathetic group of old doofuses like myself right from the warmth of my desk.

There you go …

read it and weep.

And what the hell was with the damn gym shoes hanging around my neck?