Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Memory of best holiday present lingers to this day

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.

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