I looked forward to being at home in Salem for Christmas and our trip the day before was a heart warming, if tiring, experience. I will share it with other childhood Christmas remembrances.
The most difficult leg of the journey was walking twelve miles across hills and on red clay mud roads to the railroad at Greenwood. Dad knew the route well, having covered it a number of times. No matter how tiring it was, every step took us closer home and our excitement mounted with passing miles.
It was late afternoon, Christmas Eve, when we boarded the train for the ride to Salem up the Long Run grade. It was good to rest after the long walk but patience grew thin as the train stopped several times along the route. Dad would look at his big pocket watch during the stops and say, we’ll give them two minutes to get started again.”
Greeting Mama at home on Christmas Eve after six weeks absence was pure joy. The aroma of sugar cookies fresh from the oven made me know I WAS HOME FOR CHRISTMAS.
Christmases were the happiest and most exciting celebrations in our family year. When Avis was at home she engineered the planning and preparations for our Yuletide. It must be remembered we couldn’t spend much money decorating or buying presents. Dad’s teaching salary was minimal so it was always a struggle to make ends meet. However, we would never have thought of our family as poor. But Christmases were always observed on limited budgets.
While Brady was still at home–when I was three or four years old–he played Santa Claus for me. Some days later I came upon the Santa Claus suit he wore and was deeply concerned to think Santa had lost his clothes.
Our Christmas trees were usually brought in from the hills and weren’t thick or tall. We decorated them with strings of pop corn and cranberries, chains made with colored paper and perhaps a few boughten decorations. Small candles were set on the tree in holders. Because of the fire hazard, we lighted the candles carefully, stood back and watched them for a while and then extinguished them. The candle light was beautiful while it lasted.
On Christmas morning excitement reigned. The DAY we had anticipated for weeks had arrived. The music and talk of Christmas in school, in church and at home now reached a climax. One year my main gift was a single roller skate designed something like a modern skateboard. Another year Avis gave me a bow and arrow set that started a life-long interest in archery for me. I always looked forward to Brady’s gift to me. One year it was a Boy Scout axe with which I was genuinely pleased. Another year the package was small and thin. I opened it to find a handkerchief and when I flipped it in disappointment two one dollar bills fell out. Two dollars was a lot of money for a boy then.
With the gifts unwrapped and examined, the next act was to hurry to Sandford’s home, and then to Sam’s to share the excitement in their gifts. One year Sam was surprised to receive an electric train from Mr. Ives, a family friend living in flew York City.
Mama and Avis were busy with Christmas preparations many days in advance. They made chocolate and peanut butter fudge and a candy they called divinity–all with chopped hickory nuts or walnuts. There were several kinds of cookies, too–and cakes and pies.
Christmas dinners were delicious and bountiful. Turkey or goose was too expensive so chicken, beef or pork was the entree. Dessert was pumpkin, apple or mince pie and perhaps Mama’s special angelfood cake, too. The mincemeat in the pie was of Mama’s own making. Dad always said grace for special meals but I could never understand the words he used. That bothered me.