Memories of Christmases past
Certain holidays stick in children’s minds, not necessarily for any spectacular perfection, but often for something as simple as an unexpected guest, unique gift, or unusual weather, or any variations from expected events. I must have been in first or second grade when Santa left Pinocchio under the Christmas tree with my well-stuffed Christmas stocking lying across his wooden knees. Santa didn’t put tags on our gifts, but we each had a well defined area near the tree where his elves piled all the gifts that had been hauled all the way from the North Pole in a sleigh pulled by tiny reindeer (only eight, as Rudolph had not yet been born.) Pinocchio looked just like he did in the Walt Disney movie– the first movie I remember seeing– and I doubt if I spent much time playing with any of my other Christmas toys for several days. I was utterly enchanted with my wooden-headed doll. He still sits under my Christmas tree every year.
I remember the Christmas my dad was away in the Air Force, when I was about eight or nine. He’d sent, among other things, giant-sized peppermint sticks for each of us. I remember them as being about a foot long and at least three inches in diameter. Mother had given each of us a new chenille bathrobe and I have a picture of myself and two of my sisters standing on the kitchen porch wearing our new robes and holding the huge rolls of candy. Mother helped us to break off sufficient amounts of the hard peppermint with a hammer, then wrap the remainder in waxed paper to put away for later. If memory serves, that roll of candy lasted well into my teen years. That was a strange Christmas in several ways: For starters, the weather was unseasonably warm and Santa had brought us all new roller skates. We went skating around the neighborhood that afternoon, needing only light sweaters to keep warm. There was no traditional Christmas dinner that year, probably because Dad wasn’t there and we kids were full of peppermint candy and wouldn’t have eaten much anyway.
In any event, it just didn’t seem to be Christmas without Dad being there, he always made such a big deal out of Christmas, he loved toys and always had Santa bring a few that he enjoyed, such as army tanks that shot sparks out of the guns, a remote control airplane, and an exploding submarine. One year, there was a motorized Ferris wheel that Santa had made from an Erector Set, and another time a electric train set was arranged all around the Christmas tree and Dad spent a good deal of the day in charge of it.
My most disappointing Christmas was one that was probably the most joyful for my Grandma. My uncle Ed, her youngest son had just been discharged from the Army, having served in England and Germany during WWII. Grandma wanted all her children and grandchildren there for Christmas that year. All her sons lived on the farm as did two daughters, one divorced with a son my age. We woke early, inspected our Christmas stockings and opened our gifts, then got dressed and piled into the car for the hour and a half drive to our grandparents’ farm. The cousin was unaccustomed to sharing, being surrounded by doting aunts and uncles as well as grandparents, and after the big mid-day meal, we spent the afternoon watching him flaunt all his new toys and forbidding us to touch them. I was delighted when Dad said it was time to head for home and our own new toys.
I had a dog named Buttons, a contrary Dalmatian who lived mostly in the barn and had an inclination to murder our chickens. Buttons had learned to pay attention to Dad one day when he was chasing a young calf in the pasture and Dad yelled at him to stop. When Buttons didn’t pay any attention, Dad threw a large stick at him. The stick caught between his legs and Buttons fell head over tail, coming up bewildered and believing that Dad had some sort of magic powers. For the most part, he minded Dad pretty well after that.
But, one day, about a week before Christmas, Buttons discovered a hen nesting in a pile of hay near the ladder to the hay loft. Thinking Dad didn’t notice, Buttons made a bee-line for the hen, intent on murder and mayhem. Dad saw him just in time and aimed a mighty kick at his spotted posterior. The hen squawked and fled with Buttons in pursuit and Dad’s foot made contact with the tines of a hay-fork that was leaning on the wall beside the ladder. One tine of the fork went into the top of Dad’s work boot and came out the bottom. By Christmas, the swelling in his foot had gone down but his foot was still too sore to wear a shoe or to walk around. I noticed tears in the corners of his eyes as my big sister took over his traditional role of handing out all the wrapped Christmas gifts we had gotten for each other.