Christmas is a time for joy and happiness, spending time with family, remembering Christmas past when times were so different, simple but grand.
Sadly, a lot of the old ways have been left behind and Christmas has become a commercial holiday. Not so, back in the day when all we had to wake up to was an orange and apple or one present a piece if we were lucky. We felt rich as a king in our hearts. We’d search through the woods for the perfect tree and sometimes that took days and every year it looked the same. We had to tie the top of it to the curtain rod to get the star to stay in place. It was cut from cardboard with aluminum foil wrapped around it to make it shine. Our decorations were holly berries and popcorn strings wrapped around the little droopy tree. The stockings were hung near the tree the night before, anticipating our once a year Christmas treat.
Then as I grew older I noticed something was missing, mama and daddy never did get a present. I felt so bad on Christmas morning when we all opened our stockings or the one present that Santa had managed to bring each one of us. So one year I fell on a plan to make sure daddy and mama had a present. I started saving every little penny I could save, mostly pay from an older lady that hired me to come in the summer and do some house cleaning and yard sweeping. I put them in an old quart jar in my bedroom closet. I didn’t want anyone to know about them so I kept quiet as a mouse. When Christmas Eve rolled around I kept asking mama if she needed anything from the store for her baking or cooking. I knew she always made a black walnut cake from the walnuts we’d cracked and hulled out earlier in the fall. We always saved some for our Christmas cake. She also made a homemade apple sauce cake too. The rest of Christmas dinner consisted of food we’d canned from the gardens in the summer and fresh hog meat that had been killed just before Thanksgiving or Christmas.
I prayed she would need something really bad, bad enough to send me to the store. We always walked to the little country store just over the road from the house. I kept asking are you sure you don’t need anything from the store and finally she spoke up and said, well if you want to hoof it bad enough I need a dozen eggs for these cakes. Just what I’d been waiting to hear.
Since our hens didn’t lay much in the winter we only had enough eggs for breakfast if we had any at all. I ran as fast as my legs would take me towards that quart jar and grabbed those pennies and put them in my pocket. Mama gave me a list to fill and I found out she needed more than she thought. I just about run all the way to the store. When I got there I gave the list to the storekeeper to fill as usual while I looked around. I already had in mind what to buy for mama and daddy’s Christmas present. When he got done filling the list and I paid him with the money mama gave me and stuck what little change she had left back in my other pocket I reached in and brought out the handful of pennies I’d saved. I handed them to him and said will this much money buy a small box of Garrett Strong Snuff and a pack of Camel Cigarettes? He said, well let me count what you got. He counted each penny and told me I had just enough, which I surely doubt today every time I think about it.
He put the little box of snuff for mama and the cigarettes for daddy in a small, brown bag and I stashed them in my pocket so they couldn’t be seen. I felt happy as a lark walking back home. I didn't even stop but long enough to sit mama’s eggs and stuff on the table and took off towards the bedroom. I took out the little bag and looked for something to wrap the presents in. I came up with a plan to wrap each one in a piece of brown paper cut from the paper bag that I carried mama’s groceries in. I slipped in the kitchen and found the paper bag mama had emptied and grabbed some scissors and run back into the bedroom and cut a big enough piece to wrap each present in. I felt so much joy in my heart and couldn't wait to see their eyes come morning. I was all set, come bed time I’d slip back up after everyone went to sleep and put mama and daddy’s Christmas presents under the tree. I laid there so quiet and listened to the old clock tick away until everyone was fast asleep. I had the presents hid under the bed covers. I eased up and tip toed into the living room and laid the presents under the tree. Then I slipped back into bed and finally fell asleep. The noise woke me up come morning and I jumped straight up and ran for the living room. Everyone was there opening their presents and we all got one present. Daddy and mama must have had a little extra money to pay Santa with that year. I got a puzzle cause Santa knew I loved putting puzzles together. After all of us kids had opened our presents I crawled under the tree and got mama and daddy’s present and handed it to them. They both looked really serious and said what’s this? I told them it was something Santa left for them. They opened it up and their eyes lite up more so than the tree. Daddy said, I wonder who told him what kind we used. Mama said, I wonder the same thing but I sure can use it.
At that moment I had the most joy in my heart and worth more than diamonds and gold. Now, I know a lot of folks reading this are thinking how did she buy that snuff and cigarettes and her being just a kid. You gotta remember it was a very different time and era and everybody knew each other. We’d patronized that little store so much and the storekeeper was kin to us. I remember sometimes when we went in there and he had some bananas that were getting to ripe to sell he’d give us a bunch. Times sure have changed today and like I said the old ways have fell by the road side, left behind to fade into the past. Christmas is not about buying presents and spending big bucks just to make sure the kids are happy. It’s about love of family, sharing, thinking of the less fortunate, being satisfied with what you have, teaching your kids the true meaning of Christmas. The little things are the most important in life, not the big things and putting God in our hearts every day of the year. I cherish those long ago Christmases, although we weren't rich in money, we had wealth a thousand ways more. I wish I could go back to that simple old time when the little things were treasures and worth more than money could buy.
© Susie Swanson, 2014
I haven't been able to take many pics this year of our Christmas decorations, what few we have out . These are some from last year as well as the story. May you all have a Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Happy New Year.