December 06, 2006 Edition

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Teagues spend white
Christmas in Wyoming

By Sarah S. Teague
Guest Writer
Part 1 of 3

Jeff had always dreamed of a white Christmas in the mountains, and in 2004 I agreed to go. When he mentioned it to his dad and brothers, they were interested as well. In October we secured plane tickets, condo reservations, an afternoon snowmobile tour and ski lift passes for Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

I wanted to include some of our traditions, such as attending a candlelight service and a turkey and dressing dinner. On December 22 we finished Santa preparations, bought one more pair of ski goggles and wool socks, packed presents and ski clothes and began our quest for a true White Christmas.

The next morning we joined a horde of passengers at the terminal. While we were waiting for the airline to handle an overbooked flight, the agent boomed out Silent Night, quite a spontaneous gift. Holiday spirit prevailed, and travelers clapped long and loud for him when he finished. He made a difference doing something that only cost him the act of taking a risk.

Soon we were on the ground in Jackson. A herd of elk dozed in a refuge, bulls in one group, cows in much larger clusters. Snow was banked deep and high. The next day Jeff and the boys went skiing, and I window-shopped downtown. We confirmed our snowmobile reservations and learned they'd booked us for January, but they were able to take us the day we'd planned, Sunday, the 26th. Red flag number one.

Several churches hosted candlelight services. We decided to attend the 5 p.m. service at St. John's Episcopal Church. We arrived early, and barely nabbed five seats together on the back row of the vestibule, where folding chairs had been installed. The service was a full-blown communion with sermon and Eucharist, more than the simple carol-singing and scripture-reading at our home church. I could barely see the altar, but felt thankful to be seated in a house of worship on Christmas Eve.

During the service, a parishioner whispered to our son, Jeffery, that Vice President Cheney and family were attending, and he pointed out Secret Service men. We couldn't see Cheney, and he was whisked out when it was over. We didn't get a candle (too many people) but still enjoyed worshiping with total strangers, our Christian brothers and sisters.

The next morning, after snacking on true Christmas fare of Pop Tarts, we trooped down to my brother-in-law Dennis' condo to carol. We stood on their porch and sang "O Come All Ye Faithful," Jeff's rich baritone, our actively disengaged sons, and me, ever off-key. Our nephew, Chris, finally came and opened the door. When I told him, "Not many people get caroled these days," he joked, "Not many people want to be." Next we sang at my father-in-law Carl's condo to a slightly more appreciative audience. Then we returned to prepare for everyone to come and open gifts.

Christmas brunch at the Wort Hotel proved the closest thing to the Peabody in Jackson. Food stations spilled out into the lobby: turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, green beans, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, fruit- and green salads, omelets, bacon, sausage, elk, bison, rolls, oysters, boiled shrimp, chocolate cakes, sweet potato, pecan, chocolate, and apple pies, fudge, divinity, toffees, coconut cake, and a whole table against the opposite wall that I can't even remember.

I left satisfied with my Christmas dinner. We all were looking forward to the snowmobile adventure the next day, and everyone agreed to meet around 11:45 for the 25-mile drive.

Next morning, we grabbed a burger then headed north. I hoped my directions, taken on the phone two months earlier, were accurate. We searched for wildlife. VP Cheney's plane was parked at the airport. Snow was melting, and we wondered if there would be enough for snowmobiling.

At the rental store, the manager produced three forms for each of us to fill out, plus waivers. Outfitting all 12 of us took time. The manager called us to the counter to discuss the trail. He opened the map and said,

"YouwanttostayontheCDtrailbutitisn'tlikethisonespotyoudon'twanttogoonititstwohundredmilesbutI'mnotsurethereisasigntherewasasignlastyearbutIdon'tknowthenwhenyougethereit'llsayCDbothwaysandgototherightyou'llcomearoundtothisplacewhereyoucanstopandgetadrinkorgotothebathroombutparkonoursidenotontheirsideacrossthehighwayandwe'regoingtotakeyouwhereitstartsblahblahblah." He was talking too fast, and none of us started paying attention until after he'd spouted a while. He handed me a trail map, as if that would help. Red flag number two.

We all stood bundled and booted outside, while they inspected each returned mobile for damage. At almost 2 p.m. the manager began another spiel: "Have them back by 5, after the first 30 minutes you'll be charged every 30 minutes you're late, and if you aren't back by 7, we'll send out the search and rescue team at your expense." That last sounded pretty good to me.

If we did get in trouble, at least somebody who knew a little about the Grand Teton National Forest would come looking. However, we couldn't get back in three hours, and I protested over our getting a late start. He said we could stay out until 5:30. We mounted the eight mobiles, Jeff and me in front by default (nobody wanted to lead), Carl and Joan, Chris, Justin, David, Jeffery, Evan and Jennifer, and Dennis and Martha.

The manager taught us some hand signals, but they all seemed to mean the same thing. We followed a guide (just to the beginning of the trail) along the highway. We approached a deep narrow ditch, about five feet by five feet. I tried to use hand signals to warn about the ditch, but Jeffery didn't understand. He got stuck. We got him out, and everybody else knew how deep and narrow the ditch was. Red flag number three.

(Editor's Note: Sarah Shell Teague grew up in Walnut Ridge and graduated from WRHS. She has a doctorate in English from the University of Mississippi. Sarah lives in El Dorado with her husband, Jeff, also formerly of Walnut Ridge, and their three sons. She is the daughter of Rev. Frank Shell of Batesville and the late Carolyn Shell.)

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