Even before all the traditional manifestations of Christmas season, there were clues that let the Walker children know Christmas was just around the corner. My eyes still brighten to think of those first signs of Christmas at our house.
One of the earliest signs that Christmas was on its way was the arrival of the Sears & Roebuck Christmas catalog in early October. Soon afterward, Mother testing the Christmas lights and ordered needed replacements.
The Jewel Tea man stopped by our house about once a month to take Mother's order. His October visit brought the sweet smells of spices, chocolate and vanilla as mother ordered her Christmas baking supplies.
Practice for the grade school Christmas program came along even before the last Halloween popcorn ball was eaten. Shop classes at the high school busily designed and made props. Parents, along with the home economics teacher, were solicited to make costumes. I once volunteered my mother to make twenty-four elf costumes.
Every child who wanted to participated in the Christmas program was included. The children took their parts very seriously. My brother, who at the age of ten had rather do almost anything but sing and dance, was assigned the task of curtain puller. He took much pride in explaining to me in great detail just how alert and coordinated a curtain puller must be to do the job professionally. No Broadway actor has ever felt more excitement about a performance than did the casts and crews of those extravaganzas.
The dawning of Daddy's pecan season at the Produce heightened the anticipation of Christmas. He brought home the best of the crops for Mother's baking and candy making. In the days before Daddy had an electric pecan cracker, Mother spent hours cracking pecans, one at a time, with her hand operated pecan cracker. Her evenings were spent at the dining room table picking out pecans as she listened to Fibber McGee and Molly on the radio. Somehow, she managed to get the pecan meats out of the shells in perfect halves.
Tryout for the Christmas pageant at the Regular Baptist Church came on the heels of Thanksgiving. The theme, from the Book of Luke, was such a familiar part of our Christmas, that I could recite it by heart.
The start of Christmas season in Bixby was the downtown Christmas parade with Santa tossing candy to children. My favorite spot for watching the parade was in front of Dearston's Hardward where Santa circled the old Memorial Flagpole tossing candy in all directions. My brother, who was standing next to me, said Santa wasn't real, but I knew he didn't believe that. He had a long list of toys tucked away in his pocket for his visit with Santa later that day.
Robert's 5 & 10, Dearston's and OTASCO were splendidly stocked with Christmas wonder on any given Saturday in December. A child could spend a whole Saturday afternoon going from store window to store window wistfully gazing at 'Toyland' in its most brilliant display.
My parents bedroom closet was generally a restricted area and required permission to enter. As Christmas approached, it became strictly off limits! No explanation! No excuses! Figuring I was skating on thin ice anyway, I thought it best to follow the rule. However, being an accomplished opportunist and more curious than my cat, I was present whenever that closet door was opened.
One year, I spied a mysterious box shaped object covered with a blanket and tucked 'way back in the dark corner of the closet. In my defense, I peeked only one time and that was with my eyes tightly squinted. I told my older brother about the box in hopes he would use his keen investigative skills to discover its contents. As it happened, he, too, was on Christmas time behavior. For fear that Santa would come and take away the mysterious box, we figured it was best not to look.
Mother and my aunts gathered at our house in mid-December to make Christmas candy. They made fudge, divinity and their specialty, date roll. I learned much about candy making from those women . . . lessons that are hard to find in a recipe book:
Dad's Night Out with the Kids was a traditional Christmas time happening. He generally took us to visit our grandparents or to Dearston's to watch television. When we returned home, we discovered presents magically placed under the Christmas tree. Could it be that Dad's Night Out with the Kids allowed Mother an opportunity to wrap presents without the curious eyes, ears, hands and chatter of children?
Bixby grade school went into holiday mode by the middle of December. Classroom Christmas trees were decorated with glittery construction paper snowflakes and stars. Red and green crepe paper chains framed blackboards. Santa and snowmen were painted on window panes. Children wrote letters to Santa that were answered by the grade school principal. Classes filled Christmas baskets with nutritious foods and topped them with cookies, candy, and toys for families who had fallen on hard times.
Teachers went with the flow and prepared lessons to fit the season. O'Henry's Gift of the Maji and Dickens' Christmas Carol substituted for Dick and Jane. Lessons learned that December were in the spirit of sharing, giving and receiving.
The last week of school before Christmas vacation was a time for parties, games, good will and the grand all-school Christmas extravaganza. There were angels singing Christmas carols, dancing elves wearing Mother's costumes, dancing toys wearing costumes made by my best friend's mother, a light comedy skit that put the class clowns' wit to good use, more Christmas carols sung by the all boys chorus, and a Christmas play from Children's Activity magazine. The program closed with a visit from Santa, played by a sixth grade boy who, for once, was pleased to be a bit pudgy.
Exchanging Christmas presents with my friends was an exciting event. It occurred a day or two before Christmas. We sat around the Christmas tree eating finely decorated cookies and drinking spiced tea while we opened our gifts. On one of these merry occasions, a friend gave me a secondhand copy of Girl Of The Limberlost. Through the years, I read that book time and time again. It was passed on to my granddaughter when she was old enough to read and understand it.
Women from the church gathered at our house to fill Christmas stockings as time drew near for the Christmas pageant. Our dining room table was piled high with sacks of apples, oranges, nuts and ribbon candy. I played nearby munching on rejected piece of broken candy and nuts.
The much anticipated Christmas pageant at church occurred on the Sunday night before Christmas. Once more, the Luke 2 Christmas Story was enacted by the children. I usually chose to play the part of an angel in the pageant. There was no particularly spiritual reason to choose the part. Rather, the soft white cotton robe trimmed in sparkling tinsel impressed me.
The familiar Christmas story always ended with everyone joining in to sing Christmas carols. Silent Night stilled the congregation as its beauty filled the sanctuary at the close of the pageant.
Santa, who was sometimes played by my dad when the real Santa was too busy, paid a visit at the church before the closing prayer. Each child and elderly person received a Christmas stocking. Any leftover stockings were saved to take to folks at the County Farm where we would, again, perform our pageant.
On the Sunday morning before Christmas, our Sunday school teacher, Grammy Shores, read to her charges a story that culminated activities leading up to Christmas. After discussing the merits of the story, the class exchanged gifts. Grammy knew the mischievous ways of boys and used her wise foresight to avoid any embarrassing gifts. She made a policy, "Boys bring gifts for boys and girls bring gifts for girls."
I fathom the smell of a Douglas fir in a bucket of wet sand, the site of tin-foil Christmas ornaments placed just right on a tree, the warm glow of a red cellophane Christmas wreathe hanging in a living room window or frosted window panes that give the illusion of snowfall in the early morning sunlight and I pull up the image of Christmas at the Walker house, years ago.
Grammy Shores, Mother's mother, was my advocate and defender. On Christmas Eve, she was there to recite Eugene Field's Jest 'Fore Christmas. She read, again, the Christmas story from the Bible and told stories about Christmas when she was a little girl back in Franklin Co. Arkansas. Dad Shores, Mother's dad, gave us a laugh as he told about his aunt who wouldn't have her picture taken with the family at Christmas because she feared the camera would steal her soul. Mother joined in the festive mood to read The Night Before Christmas while carols played on the old Philco Magic Eye radio.
Daddy closed up the Produce and came home early on Christmas Eve. He brought with him a coconut that he carefully drained of its milky juice for Mother to use in her cake and saved the shell for us to make a Christmas elf. My brother and I decorated the coconut shell with button eyes and a mouth of trimmings from Mother's Christmas wrappings. Daddy placed our jolly elf in the center of the dining room table where it remained through Christmas dinner.
Bedtime came too soon on Christmas Eve. My brothers and I closed the door to sleep as we breathlessly listened to each sound of the night, assured that it must be Santa. Anticipation of Christmas was indomitable. Uncle Earl and Aunt Ruth were coming from Arkansas on Christmas morning. Kinfolks and friends would drop by all day. Our lumpy woolen Christmas stockings would be filled with splendid treats. Later in the day we would go to my grandparents' and play with our cousins.
I dreamily thought of Mother and how pleased she would be when she opened her gift from me. I made her a necklace from old beads found in the bottom of Grammy's sewing basket. I made Grammy one and gave it to her when she paid her Christmas Eve visit. She said it was the most beautiful necklace she had ever seen.
My surprise for Daddy was a sugar cookie shaped like my hand and decorated with glamorous candy rings on every finger. I envisioned him laughing and teasing me as he bit off the fingers.
Eventually, as sleep crept nearer, I thought of the bride doll on the dog-eared page of the Christmas catalog. She had real hair that was brown just like mine, and a white lace gown trimmed with pearls. Perhaps, Santa would leave a toy oven that really baked, or a toy sink with running water, or paper dolls, jacks and roller skates! I hoped for Bobbsey Twins and Billy Whiskers books to share with my brothers.
It's hard to remember the toys my brothers got for Christmas. They both liked the usual bikes, wagons, toy trucks, BB-guns and cowboy gear. My older brother liked things to build . . . and things that explode. My younger brother favored toys that make noise and played music. Sometimes, they appeared to be one and the same. His toys were quickly laid aside when he spied Old Spot, his best friend, our family dog.
I snuggled closer to Annie, my rag doll, and drifted into peaceful slumber. It was Christmas Eve. My little world was overflowing with warmth, happiness and wonder.
The spirit of those early years, indeed, wrote the script for Christmases to come. As Annie, my rag doll Mother made many Christmases ago, takes her majestic place in the tiny rocking chair next to our Christmas tree, I think of those who were so much a part of my childhood. Their spirit and the lessons they taught about hope, peace, love and joy, linger as I look forward to another joyous Christmas.
Content © 2008 · S.W. Smith Family