A childhood country Christmas

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There wasn’t a lot of money when my sisters, brother and I were growing up on the ranch, but at Christmas we never knew any different. Santa always visited us.

Oh, that magical feeling that surrounded the Christmas holiday and preparations for our country school Christmas program. The wonderful scent of the freshly cut evergreen tree and the anticipation of things to come.

It all began around Thanks­giving when the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogs arrived in the mail. We pored over the pages. We read the toy descriptions. It was a delicious way to window shop without stores. We even made up games using the catalogs. A favorite one was closing our eyes, opening up the catalog and pretending to choose anything we wanted from those pages.

We started practicing for the country school Christmas program around Thanksgiving. We memorized songs, poems and our parts for the plays. We hung the curtains that made the stage, and since the program was a big community fair, we made decorations for the schoolhouse walls and tree. We plugged in the tree lights during the day. Since our homes weren’t decorated yet, we school pupils celebrated an early Christmas.

When the program was over and we were out for vacation, we kids began wondering when Dad would cut the Christmas tree. It was our tradition to put the tree up close to Christmas Eve day (and take it down on New Year’s Day), so we worried that Dad might wait a little too long. What if it snowed?

But we needn’t have worried. Before long, Dad set out by horseback to select and cut an evergreen tree. He pulled it home, and the tree was set inside to thaw out. There was nothing like the scent of a fresh evergreen.

What fun it was to open the box of Christmas decorations. We found Rudolph, some large white reindeer and some smaller brown reindeer. There were birds, too, and lots more. Some decorations from our mother’s childhood were stored in a bucket with a lid. They were very fragile, made of a “thin” glass and trimmed with a fine garland. One bunch of glass grapes was especially unusual.

We put gifts under the tree for one another, some handmade. Gifts arrived in the mail from our mother’s relatives. Still other gifts were gathered up during the Christmas Eve delivery.

Mom spent days baking cookies, applesauce cakes and fruit cakes. She made fudge, divinity and chocolate-covered cherries. From these goodies, she made packages for neighborhood families. On Christmas Eve afternoon, we went with Dad to deliver the gifts. We went up and down Morapos Creek and up Deer Creek where Dad’s parents and brothers lived.

Grandma Osborn always had her presents waiting for us. She made doll clothes, blankets and pillows during the year. One of my favorite gifts was a doll cradle that Grandpa made from an orange crate. It was painted white and decorated with decals. Slats on the bottom of the cradle held a mattress that Grandma sewed and filled with goose down. There were sheets, too, covered with a blanket and a pillow covered with a pillowcase. I still have that wonderful cradle.

It was a tradition in our family to have oyster stew. Afterwards, we sat around the table and opened the Christmas cards. After that, we put out cookies and milk for Santa and hung up our stockings. We didn’t have store-bought stockings. Instead, we chose our socks from those around the house. Our favorites were Mom’s nylon hose, because they could hold a lot of candies and little gifts.

We got little sleep that night. The next morning, before light and after a fire had been built, Dad called us downstairs. We found our stockings stuffed with little gifts, candies and an apple and orange in the top of each. Beside each stocking were the Santa gifts. Some of my most memorable were a doll that wet itself when fed a bottle of water, a Plenty Sparkle doll (inspired by a Dick Tracy character) with yellow yarn hair and a Toni doll with red hair that came with curlers.

May your Christmas be as wonderful as those from my childhood.

Copyright Diane Prather, 2009.

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