Merry Christmas to All
How I love this wonderful season when we celebrate the birth of our Savior! And how do we celebrate? I can think of no better way than the traditional ways that have come down to us here in America from our Christian parents and grandparents. There is the evergreen tree that represents eternal life, the star or angel at the top, both reminders of the nativity story, the shining lights to show that Jesus is the light of the world and all the little shiny ornaments representing each of us in whom the flame of God’s love is ablaze and shining forth to light the way for anyone who is in the dark. In many homes a nativity scene is shown, and children learn the story from early childhood as they see and handle the crude shelter, the baby in the manger, Mary and Joseph with shepherds, wise men and angels all about.
When I was little, the trees grew on the farm and the boys went out and found the prettiest one they could find. They cut it down and used the horse and farm sled to bring it in. Our rooms were large and the ceilings were high, so they put it in a small tub weighted with rocks and fastened it with guy wires to each of the windows that it stood between. The top hit the ceiling, and we had a big star that the boys climbed up on a ladder to place! There was no electricity in the rural areas of America until after 1933, so we made up for such a lack by using lots of tinsel and glittery angel hair with icicles that dripped and caught the light of the lamps that we placed all around so the tree would gleam. How I loved stringing the strands of popcorn and cranberries to make garlands for the tree. Then we used the lovely Christmas gift wrap to make cornucopias, and Mother saved all of the beautiful Christmas cards of that day for decorating so we had loads of decorations on the tree that we loved. There was my red rubber Santa that sister Josephine gave to me when I was six and we used it every year. It was made of rubber, and you blew it up to form the person of Ole Santa. The little cork-stopper was the top-knot of his cap! What a treasure that was to me, and I was the one who had the privilege of deciding just where he would be hanging to show him off to the best advantage! Sometimes I had the boys climb up and place him up high, and sometimes he hung from the lowest branches to oversee the gifts under the tree.
The smells that came from the kitchen are still in my memory! Mother was baking cookies for weeks ahead, and I had the fun of decorating the gingerbread boys and girls that she made. Some of them had the holes made in them so we could use them on the tree! And all of her twenty-gallon crock-jars were filled with goodies. I remember I could smell the cookies all the way out to the front porch and Mother always let us eat a treat as soon as we arrived! Wow! She always said, “Mac, you can put your books down and help me put these cookies away so we can set the table.” You see, we always ate all of our meals except the actual holiday meals at the big long kitchen table in the winter time because it was cozy and warm in there and the food stayed hot from stove to table. We had an oil cloth that Mother used for her working surface and then when we were ready to set the table to eat, we had another one that looked exactly like it was made of linen! It had a textured type of surface and a sort of soft cloth-like backing so you could fold it and put it aside and bring it out for the meal. That’s what we did. I used to think, “Why could we not just spread the every-day cloth over the other one, and then take it off when it was supper-time.” But I never said it aloud, because I would think again, “No, Mother must have a good reason and she knows more than I do.” However, I did not mind asking Irene what she thought, and she said, “Why, that’s because the good cloth is expensive and we want it to stay looking nice for a long time. We use it for the meal, take it off carefully, fold and that way it will be nice for the supper meal for a long time.”Somehow, although her explanation was just a simple statement of what I already knew, it always seemed to make a lot more sense when Irene explained it, and she never failed to take the time to answer when I asked her anything.
There is nothing in the world that takes the place of a big sister, and I had three of them. Each one of them took up time with me. Clementine taught me how to do all of the fancy embroidery stitches before I was ten years of age. At Christmas time, one year she made new clothes for my dolls. She used wall paper and decorated a box that we had to make it like a doll’s trunk to store them in. That was her gift to me. Another time, sister Irene made a beautiful coverlet for my doll bed with a pillow to match and my new doll was lying in that bed under the tree. Here I have to admit that brother Charles made the doll bed! Jo loved to give me books and I had all of the Bobbsey Twin series and later on “The Motor Girls” series. She liked to give me such things as my first small manicuring set, and the fashionable berets when I was twelve, and fashion type of half socks—things that a young girl loves to wear, such as butterfly skirts and sweaters. My Christmas mornings were all filled with Christmas joy because of the extra love that I had showered on me by the big sisters.
Christmas Day! What fun we had. We built snow forts and played snowball war, with two sides fighting each other and I remember that once and only once, Mother and Dad got in the fray! That was due to Josephine’s pleas and they thought she hung the moon. Somehow, we never knew how, she persuaded them to come out and play snowball with us, and they did! Of course, we pelted them with snow and they ran back in the house after a very short time, but it was lots of fun throwing snowballs at them!
I remember one time when we were all playing games, and Dad came in and said, “Which one of you will play me a game of checkers?” That was usually Josephine’s privilege, and she was good at it, but this time he included the whole bunch, and my brother, Charles, said, “I’ll play you a game.” Well, now! What a great thing that was! We all said, “Charles, you know he’s the champion.” Charles said, “I know a few tricks I’ve learned from Custer Dawson.” (Our first cousin, who was Aunt Lucy’s son) The upshot of that game was that it lasted two or three sessions and although Dad won, he said Charles was as hard to beat as any of the men he had played in the county championship, and he urged Charles to enter the contest the next year.
Christmas dinner was started right after the kitchen was readied up after breakfast. Mother had that bird ready for the oven and she popped it in there the first thing, because it was always a big one and the stuffing she made was something that never left over! The groaning table was filled with everything delicious that makes my mouth water now, just thinking of it. It was not the style in those days to limit the number of dishes you had on the table, therefore, there would be Mother’s spiced peaches, cranberry sauce, celery—(these were rare treats—not plentiful as they are today, but the stores brought them in by train and also oranges and the Washington state delicious apples, as well as nuts such as Brazil nuts and English walnuts.) then Mother had watermelon rind pickles and pickled beets as well as her own bread and butter specials. Then besides the turkey and dressing there were her own hot rolls, and all sorts of vegetables fixed in various ways that differed from our every day fare. Then, the dessert was fruit cake with peaches, or mincemeat pie, pumpkin or whatever the girls dreamed up that they wanted to make. The large cupboard was filled with the pies the girls made and Mother always boasted when we had dessert, “We have apple, pumpkin, gooseberry, or mincemeat pie, if anyone wants pie instead of fruit cake and peaches.” There was no danger of anything going to waste. Remember, we lived away from town, and there was no ice delivery where we lived, so no refrigeration, but there was a big long counter on the back porch and anything we wanted to keep cold we could easily put it out there and it would freeze solid in no time, so the only thing we kept out there was the butter which was in molds and in a big crock covered with a cast-iron lid. We brought a pound in at night so it would not be too hard in the morning! It was still plenty cold just in the kitchen, after the wood stove fire had died out.
The water bucket was frozen over plenty of times when I was a child. Sometimes when the weather was below zero we stoked the fires in the kitchen and the fireplaces and my father kept them going during the night when they needed an extra log or two, and we kept the heavy pieces that would burn slowly in the kitchen stove. Even so, that big old house was as cold as ice and when Dad called, the boys had to get up and get those fires roaring and downstairs as warm as toast, because they knew how to put the huge log in the back and build the fire with three or four split logs and a couple of good sized whole logs on top of them, then they opened the damper to get it going and the crackle and pop of it, the blaze that was soon going was a sight to behold. Such was the room when I at last came down to see what the stocking held. That was always the first place I looked and my brothers had already seen all of their loot before I came down because I had to get dressed in whatever was hanging on my chair, for the sisters usually laid it all out for me to wear when morning came. Mother sometimes had made a new dress, and sometimes the sisters bought new socks or something to add that was pretty. I brushed my own hair and made myself presentable before going downstairs. Since I was the youngest they always wanted to make a big deal over my Christmas, and the whole family enjoyed seeing me open my gifts. Once I remember that Johnny drew a picture for me of a squirrel coming down the tree, and chestnuts were all around on the ground. Irene matted it on construction paper and I had it on my wall for several years. I don’t know where he found it, but James once gave me a beautiful lacy handkerchief that Mother wrapped in Christmas wrap for him. We children had no allowance and very seldom had any money except sometimes Jo gave us some, or one of our Uncles, or ‘Grandma Johnson—we spent such gifts as soon as we could get to a store so when Christmas came we resorted to things we made. I had gifts from the teacher during the year for errands I ran, and I managed to save a few nickels to spend, so Mother usually allowed me to buy them such things as a pocket knife, or a small pocket comb that came in a little clip on the pocket type of cardboard case that looked like leather, or a man’s type handkerchief. Remember, we did not have tissues in those days and everyone had to carry a pocket handkerchief on which Mother embroidered the initials so when we washed and ironed them one would have JWJ and the other one would have JFJ on it. They loved having their initial on their handkerchief. One year I gave them a bandana handkerchief which tickled them pink. You see, even though we were just children, and had no money, we thought of ways to give gifts to each other. One time Johnny made me a poem, and I still have it, but it is in my mind!
I don’t have much to give you, Mack,
I haven’t any money.
But I can write you a poem
And tell you something funny.
I’ll tell you what I saw today
When I was at the barn,
A bird with a nest in the rafters
Built of scraps of Mother’s yarn!
He decided to spend the winter
I guess he was too slow,
And was caught before he knew it
And the ground was covered with snow.
I think he is a red bird, Mack,
He was eating from the manger,
And flew to his nest in a hurry
When he thought he was in danger.
I whistled a bird call to him, Mack,
I wasn’t sure of his name
He never sang a single note,
But for that I could not blame.
Tomorrow I am fixing a pine cone
Mother is showing me how
I’ll fill it full of suet
And hang it near the cow.
He’s sure to love that pine cone, Mack,
Tomorrow you can see,
I’ll show you his yarn- strewn nest
And maybe he’ll sing for me.
A Christmas bird has stayed over, Mack,
A special bird of cheer,
My milking time goes by in a flash
Because I feel him near.
But the present he makes is bonnie,
In the words that I write as a Christmas gift
To Mack from your brother, Johnny.
John F. Johnson, Christmas, 1929.
All right, in just a few short weeks it will be Christmas again, and here I have visited memory’s garden and brought you some of the treasures that are saved there. I thank the dear Lord that we have His birthday to celebrate, and the memories of ninety five Christmas days are as bright today as they ever were. I wish all of you a Christmas with the heart filled with love and joy, the ears full of Christmas carols, the house full of family and friends, and may 2014 be a Christmas of treasured memories. The most wonder-filled Christmas for me is the fact that all my family-extended and all—so far as I know, I will meet again in Heaven! That, to me, is joy unspeakable and full of glory!
Christmas Love to each of you!
Mackie. Mother, Mom, Momma, Aunt or whatever!