A 58 Year Christmas Tradition: The Chalker/Chachere Family
Guest Blogger: Cheryl Metcalfe
If you were able to go back through the phones of my family members throughout the years, you’ll see a trend that occurs every year once November rolls around. Text messages between sisters and brothers, parents and children, aunts and uncles with their nieces and nephews, cousin to cousin and husband to wife and they all have a similar feel. “It’s snowing!” and “Check out the forecast!” or even a countdown of days. Because you see in my family, once the weather starts changing we are all looking forward to the same thing: spending the Christmas season at Sipapu. For good reason too, because it is a tradition that was built and established for each of us long before any of us were here.
In 1960 my grandparents, Mommo and Poppa, decided that they wanted their South Texas born and raised son and daughter to see snow. So Poppa called a friend who was a meteorologist and asked him where it would be snowing at Christmas. His friend told him to head to New Mexico to a little town called Las Vegas and his children would see snow. So, they loaded up their car and they made their way to New Mexico. In their little car, they made their way up the mountain, after a failed attempt the day before when all they did was slide backward trying to get up the mountain, and found a little ski resort called Sipapu.
At this time it was just a small room that would be hard to even call a resort, but when they walked in the owner of this little place, Olive Bolander, was so kind and let the children borrow some boots and a sled to play in the snow. What began that day started a trend that soon became a long-standing tradition. My grandparents were school teachers and every year when it was time to talk about Christmas they asked my mom and uncle the same question, “Do you want presents or do you want to go to Sipapu?” And every year it was a unanimous decision between brother and sister to head out of Texas to the mountains of New Mexico to Sipapu.
That one decision at Christmas in 1960 started a tradition for that son and daughter, and eventually their spouses, their children, and their children’s families. The tradition stretches far beyond immediate family to the brothers and sisters of my grandparents and their children and grandchildren too. Traditions that have lasted through the years that we continue to this very day; cutting down our own Christmas tree, making homemade ornaments, eating snow ice cream, playing games together as a family, doing a snow dance, and a well known (and slightly feared) family tradition that if you bring someone you’re dating to Sipapu you’ll end up getting married. These traditions are what keep our cabins homey and full of wonderful memories we come back every year for.
My grandparents, mom, and uncle always packed in friends who would show up to join them at Sipapu in whatever cabin they were staying in. Hospitality runs deep in my family and throughout the years’ many longtime friends and strangers turned friends would pack into our cabin to join us for Christmas dinner. Poppa told me the other day that he and Mommo counted over 200 families who have come to Sipapu with them over the years!
We’ve grown beyond fitting in one cabin, but the “Big Cabin” (as we call 14 and 14B) is a home base for all and you’ll walk in to find the small living room of the cabin transformed into what we affectionately call the ski room, because I can’t forget to mention the biggest tradition of all, snow skiing! When my grandparents brought my mom and uncle to Sipapu they did not know how to ski, but that didn’t stop them from helping their son and daughter learn to ski and helping them become fabulous skiers on a small Sipapu mountain. A mountain they watched grow from one platter lift up the mountain into the mountain that it is today. A mountain that they would help pack the snow on with their skis to earn a free lift ticket for the day. The mountain they taught their kids to ski on; my sisters, cousins, and I.
I can’t remember my first time on skis, because in my family, you are on skis before you can walk. Mommo and Poppa bought small wooden blue skis for my mom when she first started that every tiny tot now gets to wear before they head out on the big mountain. I wore those skis as a child, and as a young college student, I watched my nieces and nephews ski on those skis and last year I put my own daughter on those skis.
My Christmas memories are full of time on the mountain at Sipapu. Skiing with my sisters and cousins in tiny little packs of unstoppable skiers. Being so excited for the first time we were allowed to ride the chairlift up the mountain by ourselves with our parents on a different chair, to “accidentally” getting off at Midway and “having” to ski down the mountain all by ourselves without parents around. Throughout high school, college and beyond I always looked forward to seeing my family and the friends we would only see at Sipapu on the slopes.
And then my favorite memory of all, getting engaged in the lodge at Sipapu on Christmas Eve and getting to introduce my husband to the best Christmas tradition, teaching him to ski and love the mountain in the same way I do.
And now we get to bring our daughter to the mountain and for the first time this year, we got to teach our tiny skier what this tradition is all about. Watching my daughter ski with two of her little cousins was the best and I have never had more fun skiing than I did this year teaching my daughter to ski. I now understand in a whole new way why my grandparents brought their son and daughter each year to ski on this mountain that we all love so much.
This tradition runs so deep in our family that I can pretty much guarantee if you start checking my daughter’s text messages in about 15 years you will see texts to her cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents reading, “Check out the forecast, it’s snowing at Sipapu!”