Dr. Marty Becker

When Teresa and I were first married, I read a book about making memories. The title escapes me, but I do remember the suggestions because we put so many of them to work creating memories to last a lifetime.

We named our vehicles, and we set aside time to have a Thanksgiving dinner in the summer and a BBQ in the winter. We gave each other nicknames: The one we gave our son Lex — Bug — has stuck with him for 22 years now, and is what all of us, even my 2-year-old granddaughter, Reagan, call him by default. We came up with a family slogan (“Remember Yesterday, Live For Today, Plan For Tomorrow … No Regrets”), and we celebrated every Academy Awards by dressing up as one of the characters from movies nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor or Best Actress. Even the dogs dressed up for this special celebration!

But perhaps the craziest thing we did was to put Santa Claus hats on a skull in our yard here at our Almost Heaven Ranch, where we've lived for more than 15 years. These are skulls that the dogs dragged in from the woods that surround our house. First our Labrador Retriever, Sirloin, brought in an intact cow skull that had probably been in the woods for 25 years. Later, our Golden Retriever, Shakira, dragged home a deer skull with antlers that was probably 20 years old.

We have an old R.E.A. wagon (Railway Express Agency) that my parents bought from the Buhl, Idaho, train depot when it was closing down in the 1960s.The wagon sat in the yard of our family farm in Southern Idaho for many years, and when we moved to Bonners Ferry, I asked my parents if I could bring this piece of home with me (along with some wagon wheels). Now it sits on the edge of the lawn in front of our circular driveway and is the first thing you see when you come to our house.

On the front of the wagon are the two skulls with the Santa Claus hats. The tradition got started when we moved to Almost Heaven Ranch in 1997. We decorated for Christmas and put a red hat and reindeer antlers on the cow skull. While we took down the lights, the tree, the nativity scene, the garland over the fireplace and the nutcrackers after the holidays … we left the hat on the cow skull. Then when Shakira brought us the deer skull, we just added another hat. Nobody ever says anything about these things. Maybe the incredible view we have as you look down the throat of a glacial river valley captures their full attention. Or maybe they don't even notice the skulls.

But whether our Lex is coming back from studying in Japan, or our daughter, Mikkel, is bringing Reagan up for a visit, or Teresa has been away from home for a short trip to town, or I'm coming back from almost two months on tour, we all know it's there.

And that's a crazy Becker family tradition that probably few others, if any, do.