This story is from Texas Monthly’s archives. We have left it as it was originally published, without updating, to maintain a clear historical record. Some of the language in this archival story regarding matters such as race and gender may not meet contemporary standards.
Here at last is the secret for the most peaceful Christmas ever: skip town. We mean it. Pack a picnic hamper, herd the kids into the car, and head for the hinterlands. You don’t have a home on the range? It doesn’t matter. Just a ramble in the woods or a frolic in the fields can have tremendous restorative power.
Of course, a country Christmas requires a certain number of accoutrements, and our gift guide this year suggests a few essentials—not to mention some sheer frivolities—that can make your time in the outback a lot more enjoyable.
We realize that some of our readers may never have been closer to the country than the nearest riding stable and intend to keep it that way; still, anyone can import a little bit of the country to the city and get the desired rustic effect. So whether you’re looking for steely-eyed rural authenticity or just a way to combine the best of the city and the country, you’re bound to find something here to make your Christmas a truly down-home affair.
Most of the items pictured are national brands or labels generally available in major Texas stores, including Battelstein’s, Dillard’s, Foley’s, Frost Bros., Joske’s, Neiman-Marcus, Sakowitz, Saks Fifth Avenue, Sanger Harris, and Scarbroughs. The rest, unless specified, are carried by camping and outdoor shops and Western-wear outlets. You can find even more esoteric country gifts by prowling small-town cafes, feed stores, hardware stores, and five-and-dimes. Think about it. This could be the first time ever that a package from La Grange or Ozona creates more hubbub than one from Big D.
1. The first thing you need in the country if you plan to do more than fiddle around is gloves (Atlas, right foreground, $2.50). Any self-respecting cowperson needs a snap-to-it dog for the back of the pickup. Score points with an Australian shepherd ($100 for a pup through Tom Stodghill of the Animal Research Foundation, Quinlan 75474). While some kids will insist on a horse, a lot will prefer this scaled-down Yamaha GT80 dirt bike ($489). A Purina range block (left foreground, $2.90) and a fifty-pound salt lick ($2.80) add realism to any country scene. If you are serious about becoming a gentleman rancher, consider the quintessential country vehicle: a pickup. Our choice is a shiny 1979 four-wheel-drive Chevy ($9423). Complete the image with Holstein luggage from Houston Trunk Factory ($330 and $352). To keep all this from looking too much like the spoils of city life, throw in a fifty-pound sack of Purina livestock feed (in the pickup, $3.70). Our ranch hand is wearing Levi’s jeans ($14.50), pinwale corduroy shirt ($18.50), K-T split cowhide, fleece-lined vest ($46), Sorel Powwows camp shoes ($75). He’s hoisting a custom handmade saddle ($500–$750, from your local saddlery; we got ours at Frank’s Saddle Shop, Austin). All buckaroos would appreciate their own lariat from the New Braunfels Leather Company ($16). A woman’s country chores are more fun in a Camp 7 down-filled vest ($44), Calvin Klein jeans ($34), and plaid shirt by Philippe Venet ($28). Notice her boots: they are covered with the rural necessity: the Tingley Western Boot Boot ($10).
2. Keep the kids entertained with a Sport Craft horseshoe game ($20).
3. When your kid lands a ringer around a playmate’s neck, be prepared with Cutter’s Camp Pack first-aid kit ($15) and Instant Ice-Cold Compress ($1).
4. For more pastoral tots there is Kenner’s Milky ($17), a plastic cow that drinks water and can actually be “milked.”
5. Get the hang of that great country pastime, fence-leaning, in a leather vest by K-T ($45).
6. Keep your country Christmas memories alive all year with a cabin from Homemade German Cottages ($9600–$25,000 exterior; interior finishing extra. The one pictured is $12,500. Write 5212 Hwy 290W, Austin 78735).
7. Ah, those cozy country evenings. Fill them with Western novels by the king of country kitsch: Louis L’Amour (foreground, $1.25–$1.50). Decorate your rural abode with duck decoys ($40 and up) from the Sportsman’s Gallery in Houston (associated with Reynolds-Penland in other cities) or a handmade Indian rug ($200–$2000 from Naranjo’s, Houston; Santa Fe East and Ni-Wo-Di-Hi, Austin.) Saddle girths (right foreground, $8.50 and $16.50) from the New Braunfels Leather Company become objets d’art if you don’t have a horse. Another country necessity is the rocking chair. This plantation rocker comes from the Storehouse ($99). Any country girl will smile when she opens a gift of leather and canvas boots by Rainy Day for Cepex ($39). She will stay warm on nippy evenings in a green cowl-neck sweater of lamb’s wool and angora by G ($36) and a Gil Aimbez/Genre over-sweater ($42). Give her Bucilla’s brick cover needlepoint kit ($9) and voilà: a homespun doorstop. Keep a country boy happy with popcorn from a Davies’ U.S. Line popper ($5.50). His attire for the fire: Phoenix’s French Palladium boots from the Orvis Shoppe, Houston ($25), Dux-Rafel’s 100 per cent Shetland wool sweater ($28.50), and a big grin. If the tranquil ticker from Howard Miller ($145) makes you drowsy, sink into a pile of Indian cotton pillows (about $15 and up). Treat your mantel to something truly magnificent: a mounted steer head. Little else will rival that earnest gaze (taxidermy $250–$400; you supply the head).
8. Backgammon may be the urban rage, but in the country, it’s dominoes. Try this miniature chrome set from Sportpages ($35, specify item #0795, 3373 Towerwood Drive, Dallas 75234).
9. Kids can get crafty with Tandy’s leathercraft kit ($20).
10. A pint-sized branding iron ($7.50) from the Valley Forge, El Paso, will personalize your steaks.
11. Dog-tired youngsters can count possums ($15) and skunks ($11) by Dakin, instead of sheep, in Sportpages’ Purina Dog Chow sleeping bag ($22, item #0923, see No. 8 above for address).
12. Perk up a homestyle dinner with jellies from Hilltop Herb Farm ($2.50–$3 apiece, minimum order $10, Box 1734, Cleveland, Texas 77327).
13. For some folks, getting out in the country is easier if they take along a few of the amenities of civilization. Those so inclined would enjoy this Tree Spirit backpack picnic basket from Drummonds ($30). A Ke-Lite four-battery flashlight ($28) will cast some light on things until you get the campfire started. Rattlesnake stew tastes better simmered in this Spring Culinox soup pot ($97). And no one should venture into the sticks without at least one fifteen-inch cast-iron skillet from Atlanta Stoveworks ($19). Cure voracious country appetites with smoked cured bacon, available in slabs from the New Braunfels Smokehouse ($2.35 a pound, Box 1159, New Braunfels 78130). Our cook is wearing a bright red Calvin Klein shirt ($40), shearling coat from Lakeland ($295), and Russ’ snake boots ($65)—just in case the stew strikes back. To mellow out the occasion, he’s sipping a bottle of Texas’ own Shiner beer ($5.25 a case). Even in the middle of a Texas winter you can generally count on a warm day or two to run the river. This Blue Hole canoe ($550) steers like a dream. Our canoeist is wearing a royal blue velour shirt ($30, Frost Bros.), Inuk’s fleece vest ($200), and Dermaplast Jelly sandals ($6)—shoes for any tenderfoot, man, woman, or child. At sundown, head for home: a Eureka Timberline tent ($150) sleeps four good friends or two people on their first date.
14. A Zeiss monocular ($150) is the smallest way we know to be far-sighted. When raccoons raid your camp provisions at midnight, a Fulton flashlight ($5) will come in handy.
15. If you know someone who hates to dig for worms, he might be a closet fly fisherman. Give him Wheatley’s fly box ($19) and maybe he’ll get hooked.
16. A savvy camper always picks a site with a clear, running stream. Why? So he can cool his wine in a wine brique ($10).
17. The ultimate in camp-style food can be prepared on the Optimus 99 stove ($40).
18. Knives are the fundamental tools of all outdoorsmen and women. From top to bottom: Track Sun River’s handy folding knife ($140), Ralph Bone’s M 4½ hunting knife ($60), and A. G. Russell’s “Sting” skinning knife with staghorn handle ($70)—a sharp gift no matter how you cut it.
Finally, the perfect gift for a red-blooded Texan: his own Red Brangus bull ($1000–$1500) and a ranch to put it on (How much?—The sky’s the limit). Merry Christmas to all—and to all a good night.