By Robert Stevens
Claudia Killian (formerly Tibbs), right, sits on the couch with her siblings Robert (left) and Janet on
Christmas morning, one day after getting out of the hospital for appendicitis.
Claudia Killian of Manti has a lot of holiday memories from her childhood, and like anyone, they
are a mix of the ups and downs that make up normal life. But Claudia doesn’t dwell on the negative when
it comes to nostalgia.
In the 1960s, when she was in her second year of middle school, Christmas was only a few days
away. It was the day of the Ephraim Middle School Candlelight program. She had been excited for the
performance, rehearsing and preparing with her classmates for weeks in advance. The day had arrived and
the children were gathered on the stage to begin.
But something was very wrong. Killian felt stabbing pains in her side, strong ones. She tried to
hold it together, but her friend, Leanette Braithwaite, who was one year younger than her, noticed her
friend’s suffering. Before long, they both realized Claudia needed help. Trying not to disrupt the
performance, the two girls exited the stage.
“She literally carried me,” Claudia said.
The only thing they knew to do was try and get Claudia to her parents’ side. They hobbled onto a
bus and rode back to Manti. Upon getting to town, they trudged on, but only made it as far as Barbara Sue
Barton’s house. Barton quickly realized the gravity of the situation, dropped what she was doing, loaded
them in her car and drove straight to Claudia’s mother and father, Don and Marjorie Tibbs.
Claudia was suffering from appendicitis and needed immediate medical attention. At the time, Dr.
Halvard Davidson was the only doctor in town, and soon she was headed to meet him at the Mt. Pleasant
hospital, where she would have her appendix removed—the first time she had ever been operated on.
“We had a wonderful community doctor,” she said. “I felt really confident he was just going to
take care of it.”
For the next 48 hours while Claudia was in the hospital, Dr. Davidson and Claudia’s parents
were busy working and taking care of her four siblings. She started to worry that Christmas, only a day
and a half away, was not going to happen for her.
“People told me I could be there all week,” she said.
Dr. Davidson was having none of that, Claudia says. “We can’t have you missing Santa,” he told
her. The doctor did everything in his power to make Claudia didn’t miss Christmas. Much to her delight,
her parents drove her home on Christmas Eve, made a comfortable bed for her on the living room couch
and tucked her in to rest.
Although she was feeling sluggish from pain medicine, Killian thought about how she might be
able to catch Santa Claus coming down the chimney. A good thought, but it was only a matter of time
before she fell asleep.
When she woke up on Christmas morning, Santa had indeed come, but somehow he had been
sneaky enough not to wake her. Christmas presents for her and her siblings were piled around the
Christmas tree, and in that moment, her appendix was the furthest thing from her mind.
That was a hallmark holiday for her family, Claudia says. In addition to the usual Christmas
morning merriment, her father had arranged for a very special gift for his family. Although it was a
relatively new technology, and often reserved for the very wealthy, somehow that year the Tibbs family
got their very first television.
Killian says no matter how tight the family was for money, her father always found a way to
make the holidays magical.
Claudia Killian of Manti holds a doll she received from her parents, who went the extra mile to make the
holidays memorable. In the year she received the doll, it was the only gift her father could afford, but he
filled the room with balloons to make Christmas morning special for his kids.
“It wasn’t like he spent a lot of money every Christmas,” she says. “Struggling attorneys didn’t
make a lot of money back then. He always made it look very big and special. One year he only had
enough to get me one doll for Christmas, but he filled the entire room with balloons. We thought we got
more than anyone else in the world. I still have that doll. My father was the finest man I have ever
Looking back on that Christmas, what sticks out is the memory of the friends and loved ones who
leapt to her aid in time of need, the family doctor who tended to her on Christmas Eve so she could be
home for Christmas, and her father, who somehow snuck a television set and other gifts past his sleeping
child so they would be there the next morning.
Instead of a Christmas in the hospital she didn’t want to remember, the people most dear to her
made sure it was a Christmas she’ll never forget, for all the right reasons.