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Christmas before Rudolph

The Spirit of Tehachapi

The first time I heard about Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer was in 1950. My Marine husband and I had been married eight months and were living in a Quonset Hut at Camp Pendleton. It was late November and Gene Autry, the cowboy movie star of that era, was on the radio singing his heart out about the latest addition to Santa's transportation system. I know Autry owned a baseball team (the L.A. Angels) but he must have had a large interest in the radio station too, for his voice and that song came on with great regularity. The neighbor in the hut next to us – about ten feet away – had a record of the song that she played for her children with equal regularity except that her record had a skip in it. I would hear, "Rudolph, with your nose so bright, so bright, so bright, etc." until she either adjusted it or it finally went on by itself. Since our Quonset huts were so close there was no question of my not hearing the song each time it was played.

I grew up with the old Clement C. Moore version of Santa's reindeer (A Visit From Saint Nicholas – "'twas the night before Christmas...") and had no patience with a red-nosed upstart interfering with my cherished childhood memories of past Christmases. As a child in the 1930s I used to worry how Santa would get down our chimney since it led to a wood burning stove and not to a fireplace. My big sister assured me that he would know and come in our front door. Then I asked her if the door was locked how could he come in. She told me we never locked, our door but even if it were to be locked Santa was magic and could get in. With that information I was able to settle down, go to sleep and wait for his visit in a sleigh led by only eight reindeer whose names were engraved in my memory: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Not a sign of a red-nose anywhere. How dare Santa let Rudolph what's-his-name interfere with my childhood memories? I wanted to remember the poem that spoke of the "prancing and pawing of each little hoof" without a new guy horning in.

So, as I decorated our Quonset hut for Christmas, I got an earful of Gene Autry extolling the praises of the red-nosed North Pole interloper. Anyone who has lived in or has even been inside a Quonset hut knows that the outside walls are curved for the hut itself is tunnel shaped. The only straight walls are the inside partitions where one might hang pictures or display Christmas cards. Window curtains must be fastened both at the bottom and top or they'll hang straight down from the curved wall. Needless to say, I didn't hang any cards with Rudolph on them.

Camp Pendleton covers thousands of acres but our little abode, built as emergency housing in World War II, was very close to the Pacific Ocean, just inside Pendleton's main gate. Early in the day on Christmas Eve that year, we were socked in with heavy fog which continued into the evening. I recall hearing the children in the next hut, two little boys, talking about how good it was that Santa had Rudolph or he'd never be able to find their house (hut). The prophetic words of the song ("then one foggy Christmas Eve") spurred their innocent faith that Rudolph would guide good old Dasher and Dancer and the rest of the team safely to them . It was genuine and so very dear.

Had not my husband had "the duty" at the base that night we wouldn't have even stayed home but would have been with family, fog or no fog. The next day, as we were preparing to leave for Christmas dinner with my husband's sister in San Clemente, I heard the little boys talking as they played with their new toys. They still spoke about the wonderful trip that had taken place the night before with "Rudy" saving Santa Claus from wrapping his sleigh around a telephone pole or a tall building. They were making their own Christmas memories and would always remember that very foggy night and how Rudolph lighted the way so they would have a happy Christmas.

Generations have since passed and those little boys are well into their seventies now and are probably telling their grandchildren about the red nosed reindeer who led the way for Santa on a long ago Christmas Eve. Hopefully, they'll tell them the true meaning of Christmas as well.

As for Rudolph, well, he's older than any of my children (the song was written in 1949). Maybe it's time for me to re-think my attitude towards him. It looks like he's here to stay. My kids thought he was OK, plus our record didn't even have a skip in it.

P.S. those early records were made of a compound mixed with shellac and were highly breakable. It was easy for them to develop spots that would repeat which we called "skips." Those were mostly 78 rpm speed. The "new" vinyl records that were on the market as well with 33 1/3 rpm would soon replace those breakable wonders. The vinyl were larger and called Long Play records.

By the way, Gene Audrey, I find out, owned three radio stations. He also wrote the song he'd been plugging every hour on the hour: Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. Later on he owned a television station. He got too old to play the hero in cowboy movies. Roy Rogers was younger and his movies played on Friday nights at the BeeKay Theatre.