For many families, Christmas letters are a longstanding tradition. They are a way both to document their own family's history and give their friends and family a brief snapshot of their year. The Kincaid family from Nowhere, Montana is one of those families.
For nearly fifty years, Chris and Janie Kincaid alternated years of writing their family's annual letters. In their first one, in 1970, they were newlyweds of less than a month. These letters give us a intimate glimpse into one family in the American West.
Christmas Letters From Nowhere
Friends and Family,
What a first year we have had together. Actually, a first month. We got married on November 28. More about that later.
The year started off sadly, with our friend and mentor Fontana Holt passing away at age 98 back in May. She had been my best friend and life’s mentor for most of my life. It would take an impossibly long letter to cover even a small percentage of what she did for both Chris and me over the years. It does not do her service to say that she will be greatly missed and never forgotten.
I managed to hold things together— both myself personally and Fontana’s ranch— until Chris returned from Vietnam on July 20th. He first went to his home in Iowa before driving here. I stayed up from the time he called saying he was leaving until he showed up on Fontana’s doorstep during the second night. We shared a quick hug and then, against his wishes, I sent him to bed to get some rest.
On the first day, after both of us finally awoke and I came out to the ranch, we headed into Lewistown to see Fontana’s lawyer, who had asked that both of us be present for the reading of her will. We both thought this was highly unusual, since she has a daughter, Bien, who lives in Chicago.
We were both left speechless at what the will said. Fontana left all that she had to Chris and me. ALL that she had. It took both of us five minutes before we could even ask the lawyer if he was sure, and if we had heard correctly. He assured us that the will was valid, and that we did indeed own the ranch. Chris asked him about Bien, and he said that she knew all about the arrangement. Bien had a fine life in Chicago, and felt that she could never do for the ranch what was necessary to keep it to her mother’s standards, so she preferred it go to us rather than doing no more than sell it. All Bien asked was that she be able to visit as often as she could, and that her children and theirs would always be welcome. Of course, we both heartily agreed with that.
Their are two homes on the property. There is the one in which Fontana was born and in which she lived her entire life, and another, much nicer cabin a couple of miles away that was built by a man who worked for her for twenty years and then went back east. Chris and I played rock, paper, scissors to see who got which home to live in, and I won. I picked Fontana’s home so he got the other cabin.
Although in reality I knew very little, I had more experience with ranching than Chris. We both tried to stay busy, and quickly found that it took both of us to do what Fontana did by herself for most of her life. At the end of the day, we would veritably collapse from exhaustion. The good news for me was that when we called it a day, I did not have to drive to the other home. I’m sure I was asleep long before he got there.
My parents, especially my father, had long planned for a nice wedding for their only daughter, and found out on October 3 that we had gotten married the day before in Lewistown. It was a short elopement, simply there and back, and then Chris eagerly moved into Fontana’s cabin with me. We are still saving our money, what there is of it, for wedding rings.
We found early in November that one of the things we had foolishly overlooked was firewood. There was less than half a cord left from the previous winter, so we are still scraping by with what we have, and trying hard to get ahead. At least we are finding out all of the places in the walls that need to be patched up or fixed, as the winds find their way in far too easily.
Our informal, second wedding (for the family) took place at the ranch on November 28, which was the Saturday after Thanksgiving. A big reason for that was that it gave his parents, family, and friends a holiday weekend in which to make the trip. My older brother, Art, did the officiating. It was his first wedding after getting licensed as a preacher. He was more nervous than either of us.
Charlie Logan was best man. Chris and he spent their time in Southeast Asia together, and consider each other to be brothers. Charlie is a black man from Los Angeles, so the two of them couldn’t be more different on the surface, although they are two peas in a pod when they are together. I anticipate Charlie being a friend forever. He is as kind of a man as there is.
My bridesmaid was my younger sister Helen. She wanted the wedding to be a dress up affair so she could wear some shiny chiffon dress, and was disappointed to find out that our uniform was going to be blue jeans and black checkered flannel shirts. Since the wedding was outside, that was much more practical. She was nice enough to tell me that if I had a figure worth showing off, things would have been different.
The actual ceremony was at noon, and by two o’clock, it began to snow. By four, the snow covered the ground. In good old Montana spirit, though, no one let that bother them, and as long as the “refreshments” were still available, everyone kept warm with them.
By about five, the realization came on me that I was no longer Janie Wall, but Janie Kincaid, and that I had pledged myself to Chris for all time and all circumstances. I felt fortunate enough that I started hinting to people (often with a wink and a nod) that it might be well for them to head on out, seeing as it was snowing and all. Still, we were not alone until around ten o’clock, by which time I was completely exhausted.
On Sunday morning, our first as a family of two, we awoke to find the snow had not stopped all night, and was then over a foot deep. We spent our first “honeymoon” date shoveling snow, chipping ice from water sources, and bringing in some frozen eggs. Both of us wished that this will be harbinger of how our life is destined to be.
Thank you again for being part of our life. Our prayers are for God’s blessings to be upon you in abundance, and that this season will bring you joy and happiness. We love you all dearly.
Chris and Janie Kincaid