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Saturday, September 18, 2010

A Very Special Christmas

It was 1957. We lived in northeast Arkansas.  We lived on the farm and worked as day laborers in the cotton and soybean fields.  The spring and summer that year had been abnormally wet and so the farmers had lost just about all of their crops.  We had been able to get just enough work to be able to keep food on the table.  Many of the people in our region were in the same boat.  I was to be fourteen with the turning of the new near and my sisters were six and seven.   I was of course beyond the age of believing in Santa but my sisters still did and they were so looking forward to him coming and leaving them presents.

On Christmas Eve the girls had gone to bed early in anticipation of Santa.  When I finished my chores, bringing in the water, wood for the heating stove, feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs, I walked into the kitchen and found my mom sitting at the kitchen table with her head in her hands silently crying.  I sat beside her and asked what was wrong! She looked up at me with tears rolling down her cheeks and said; “You are old enough to understand but the girls are too little and it will break their heart when they get up in the morning and there is nothing in their stockings for them.”  Mom had sewn Christmas stocking out of red material for them and they loved them.  As I sit here writing this fifty one years later I can still remember every word and exactly how she looked as she sat there crying.  She said that she had done everything she could to try to get something for them but we were so broke that we wouldn’t have food on the table if it were not for the things we had canned from our garden.  She said “I was able to get some oranges, apples and nuts but that is all and I just don’t know how I am going to tell them?”

Now I was only thirteen but I had been the man of the family since I was eight. Our father had disappeared when I was eight so mom raised us all by her self.  I had worked as a full time adult field hand on the farm from that early age and I knew what it meant to be poor, hard working but proud people.  As I sat there with my arms around my mom I was thinking.  What do I do?   What can I do?  Suddenly the light flashed in my head and I told mom, “Don’t worry I will take care of it.”  I sent her off to bed and told her not to worry.  I still to this day do not understand where the idea came from and am surprised that it really worked.

Now many of us have heard the old stories about how children will get lumps of coal and a bundle of switches in their stocking from Santa at Christmas time if they are bad.  My sisters were pretty good little girls but they were far from being angels.  I went outside and gathered some small limbs from the weeping willow tree in the front yard and some small lumps of coal which was about all that was left of the coal pile since we had no money to buy more and we were burning wood in the pot bellied stove in the living room for heat.  I tied the limbs into two small bundles of switches then I filled their stocking with the fruit and nuts that mom had bought.  I then topped that off with the lumps of coal and hung the switches on the side of their stocking.  The flue for our stove was made of bricks and sat on a wooden platform built against the wall in the room. The brick flue then went from the platform about five feet off of the floor through the ceiling and on up through the roof. The girls had hung their stocking from the flue!!!  Like Santa could come down a six inch flue pipe!!! Oh well it worked for them.

Mom was not at all sure what I had in mind but I had sent her to bed while reassuring her that I knew what I was doing and that it would be OK.   I made sure that I was up and dressed in the morning when the girls got up.  I had asked mom to stay in bed.  She and the girls slept together in one bedroom and I in the other one. 

When they walked into the kitchen I smiled really big at them and told them Merry Christmas.  They gave me a hug and wished Merry Christmas right back to me.  They then made a bee line for the stockings.  The look on their faces when they saw the bundle of switches and the lumps of coal will remain in my mind to the day I die.  They took their stockings down and brought them to the table where I sat.  They were almost in tears.  I took their stockings from them and laid them on the table then gathered both of them in my lap.  I told them that I was the one who had put the coal and switches in their stockings.  I also told them that there really wasn’t a Santa then explained how we just didn’t have money for presents and how mom was so upset because she couldn’t get them anything.  I asked them if they would help me make mom feel better by letting her know that we all understood and that it was OK.  I think they were so relieved that the coal and switches were a joke that they would have gone along with anything I asked. 

We of course didn’t have a Christmas tree for the same reasons already explained.  I asked the girls if they would like to put up a Christmas tree.  They jumped up and down with glee at that idea.  I asked them if they would make decorations for the tree if I got one and they said they would love to.  So I told them to get mom up and pop some popcorn to make a popcorn rope and to make some decorations with some colored paper we had.

They went to get mom out of bed and she walked in fully clothed so I don’t know to this day if she had been listening at the door or not and I never asked.  She did walk in with a smile on her face so that was good enough for me.  I left with the chopping axe and walked a half mile to the ditch where there were some cedar trees growing.  I picked out one about four feet tall and brought it home.  I filled a bucket with gravel from the road and brought everything in the living room.  While I sat the tree up; mom and the girls popped the corn and got needles and thread to string it with. They cut out colored paper and made colored chains. 

We worked for a couple of hours making decorations; eating the fruit and nuts that mom had bought and teasing each other about who was going to get the switches used one them.  We were all so happy and having such a good time that we didn’t hear a car stop and were surprised when there was a knock on the door. 

When mom answered the knock she found some men standing there.  They were standing there with boxes in their arms?  They were members of a local chapter of the Goodfellows organization.  We of course knew the men since it was such a small community but had no idea why they were there until they explained who the Goodfellows were and what they did for people at Christmas time.  They then told us all Merry Christmas from the Goodfellows with huge smiles on their faces as they carried the boxes in the house.  We, with huge smiles on our faces, thanked them as they left. 

There were more store bought groceries in those boxes than we had in the house.  There were also dolls, toys, crayons, clothes and so many other things that I do not remember now all these years later.  The cloths were second hand but they were as good as or better than anything we had so we were very pleased with them. There was even a suit that fit me and the girls both got the dolls they had wanted.

It will always be one of the most memorable Christmases of my life.  It had started out horrible but it turned into one of the best ever.  It is definitely one I will never forget. The smile on my mom's face when she came out of the bedroom is still the best part for me.

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