Last Sunday evening I went to the pasture, saw in hand, got
down on my knees on the wet ground and cut a small Christmas tree
from the fencerow in front of my picture window. Everything about
this simple act took me back to my childhood. I recalled when Mom
advised, "Cut a small one, they grow when you bring them
into the living room." And also, "If it’s flat on
one side, it doesn’t matter because we’ll place it
against the wall." I found the cedar needles to be just as
prickly as they were when I was a little girl cutting and selling
cedar Christmas trees to make spending money. I trimmed off low
branches and held the tree by the trunk to carry it over my
shoulder to the house, remembering that my youthful guess at the
height of a tree was always wrong, and Dad had me cut stems
shorter before taking them to customers or to our home.
Uncle John Henry made good money as county recorder, so my
cousins Kathryn and Jennie Melle, older than I, had more
expensive dolls. Aunt Ella let "Santa" bring me a
lovely doll, which her girls had outgrown. "Baby" had a
newborn face and movable eyes, and her eyelids had real lashes.
Her short blonde hair was glued into tiny holes in her china
head, and her eyes closed at naptime. I think she was a
forerunner of the popular Bye-Lo dolls of the 1930s. I loved Baby
dearly. Although dolls in 1919 didn’t walk, cry, wet their
pants or speak any words, Mom thought Baby must have cost at
least five dollars!
Another one of Kathryn’s and Jenny Melle’s dolls,
given another Christmas, was Billy. He wore real blue denim
overalls that had wire fasteners to hook over metal buttons, just
like Dad’s and mine. Billy also wore a light blue shirt like
Dad’s. His eyes didn’t move and his black curly hair
was painted on, but Billy was my favorite. His head was made of
papier-mache, and his cloth skin was as brown as our
playmates’ skin. George and Maudie Williams lived on the
farm that joined ours, and they would come to play when their
parents, Henry and Annie, helped us with the dairy or housework.
We must have seen at least one Christmas parade, but I have no
recollection of it. I don’t recall ever seeing a living,
moving Santa Claus, and there are no pictures of my brother and
me on Santa’s lap. Nevertheless, Santa got the credit for
gifts that mysteriously appeared in our living room while we ate
supper each Christmas Eve.
The reason Santa came early was that Dad had to milk the cows
twice a day. He and the men fed, milked, cooled and bottled the
milk before breakfast every day even on Christmas Day!
Cows don’t understand about Santa Claus. Our Santa came
during late supper, on Christmas Eve, after the milking and
chores were done. Mom would say, "Listen!" and we would
all get quiet. Then Dad said, "Finish your food, I think
Santa’s been here."
About the end of school in my first year, our home was
destroyed by fire, and we lost everything. I grieved when
we found Baby’s eyeless china head in the ashes. Nothing was
left of Billy except the metal buttons and fasteners of his
overalls. After the fire my close friend, Edna Pace, gave me one
of her favorite dolls. I never forgot her great sacrifice, but I
never cared a lot for dolls after losing Baby and Billy.
A few years ago I bought a little pair of overalls like
Billy’s at an antique shop, and they’re hanging in my
den just to help me remember.