We all have memories we rely on to help us capture the spirit of the Christmas Season. Memories, images and visions that remind us Christmas isn't something bought in a store.

It's easy, for instance, to bring up a picture in my mind's eye of an old veteran cowboy in his denim jacket, furry collar, wild rag and well-worn hat, bending down to lift a shivering calf out of the snow, just as dark is setting and the temperature is really dropping. This is a man who's tens of miles from anyone's eyes, most certainly underpaid, and who feels the bite of cold a little more acutely after all of these years.

He never contemplates riding on or returning to his line cabin and its warm fire. Instead, he struggles to load the calf on a half-green horse to get it home and warmed up. He doesn't think twice about heading back out, with only the light of the moon, to locate the mother cow and drive her back to the pen so she and her calf can reunite first thing in the morning. It's simply something cattlemen do; it's part of the dues for the honor.

I envision him falling asleep, too tired from the cold and late hour to even bother to fix a supper. I see him walking to the door in the morning, a morning when the snow is so bright it makes him squint as he swings it open to survey Mother Nature in all her splendor with nothing but his long johns, a cup of black coffee and a slight grin that conveys he wouldn't have it any other way.

He isn't a man I know directly; he's part grandfathers, part dad, part friends and associates, part movie cowboy. But I know him and the code he lives by.

My mind then wanders to a mom who's taken a job in town during one of those times when calves aren't worth what they should be. She arrives home in the evening just in time to help sort the heavies up close to the house. Then she goes about making dinner and everyone in the family feel special and loved. She helps with homework, projects and gets everyone to bed. Yet, when the alarm clock goes off at 2 a.m., she lets her husband sleep and checks the heifers herself.

I can't help but think of all the warm memories I have for all the little things my mom did for us, and wonder if she knows how important they were? I think of my own family and the relentless devotion my wife shows to all of us. Why is it that men always seem to marry over their heads, and why do women seem to have so much more capacity for sacrifice? I can't explain it, but I resolve to be more thankful for it.

I consider the Extension agent who gave a young man the faith and confidence to chase his dreams. I remember my college judging coach, and instead of recalling the buckle, ribbons and trophies of our achievements, I think only of the invaluable life lessons he taught and the lifelong friendships the experience provided us.

I then shift my focus to the true meaning of Christmas, thinking of the nativity scene in front of the courthouse my parents used to take us to see, and how all the church choirs joined in a concert. It seems the manger really glowed, and I remember how much meaning I got from staring at the flame of the candle I held while singing "Silent Night."

It's amazing that such a humble beginning as Christ's birth could so transform the world. Then my mind races to images from "The Passion of the Christ," and the sacrifice, love and hope He made and gave us.

Lastly, I think of the final scene in the movie "It's a Wonderful Life." I tear up each time I see it and, to this day, every time I hear a bell ring I still think of an angel getting his wings.

Your visions are probably different, but they're still of family, friends, mentors and experiences that showed you the better side of what you could be. Memories that demonstrate the special character of those given the gift of working with Mother Nature and all God's creatures.

It's our hope you make the effort at this special time of year to remember the special people that have meaning to you and, in so doing, rediscover the magic that makes Christmas so special. Finally, it's our hope you'll commit to creating a few similar memories for those you love.

Here's wishing you a Merry Christmas! And, remember our brave troops in harm's way.