December 16, 2007

A Christmas Memory

By the mid 1800s the American Christmas tradition included much of the same customs and festivities as it does today, including tree decorating, gift-giving, Santa Claus, greeting cards, stockings by the fire, church activities and family-oriented days of feasting and fun.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, who became one of my favorite authors when I was very young, wrote about the preparations of a Christmas on the prairie. She said: "Ma was busy all day long, cooking good things for Christmas. She baked salt-rising bread and Injun bread, and Swedish crackers, and huge pan of baked beans, with salt pork and molasses." She baked vinegar pies and dried-apple pies, and filled a big jar with cookies, and she let Laura and Mary lick the cake spoon.

That very Christmas, Laura Ingalls was delighted to find a shiny new tin cup, a peppermint candy, a heart shaped cake, and a brand new penny in her stocking.

With all the movies on television now, many with the theme of Christmases gone by, I cannot but remember, with great nostalgia, the first Christmas on Sand Mountain after Mama married my stepfather. If you have read my earlier posts, you will remember that I was nine years old, and we were sharecroppers, so there wasn't a lot of money to spend on presents, but Mama tried to make it as happy as possible, by sending Daddy out to woods to chop down a nice tree for us to decorate. For decorations, we strung popcorn on thread to make garlands, and cut strips of paper to make chains to wrap around the branches, which were garnished, beautifully, with little ornaments which Daddy cut out of tin cans. Since part of our duty as sharecroppers was to pick cotton, there was plenty of that saved in old Mason jars, and it worked just fine as big globs of snow on the branches! Of course, there were no packages under the tree, but we didn't worry about that--we expected Santa to take care of that!

I remember that Mama made a cake, Daddy parched some peanuts (which we also grew) and Mama made taffy, which took few ingredients, and the best part about that was pulling the taffy! It was great fun! So much fun that we hardly noticed the cold which swept in through the large cracks in the walls, and floor--besides, we had a cozy fire in the old fireplace, and you could get warm there--one side at a time! The wind whistled around the house, and through the cracks, but there was a warmth there, that did not come from the fireplace, nor the old stove in the kitchen. It was warmth which only comes from loving, and being loved, which cannot be understood unless one has experienced it.

Daddy played his fiddle, Mama and we sang, and I danced the buck-dance that Daddy had taught me to do. That night we went to bed, we girls snuggled in one bed, the boys in another, and Daddy and Mama in their bed, in the next room, where they kept hollering, "Y'all better get to sleep, or Santa won't come!" I don't know what the dreams were of the others in the house, but I'm sure that mine must have been delightful!

The next morning, we awoke to the sounds of Mama in the kitchen, and Daddy laughing, telling us we had better jump up and see what got left there last night! Of course, we all scrambled, and there, just like the best dream in the whole world were our treasures! One of my stepsisters was the very same age as I, so we got exactly the same thing, except for the colors of the dolls' dresses, and their eyes--mine had a pink dress and brown eyes, and hers had a blue dress and blue eyes! We, also, got a "diamond" ring, which cost all of thirty-five cents, as I found out a few years later, an orange, and a box of chocolate-covered cherries! I think that Christmas was probably the best Christmas ever!

Although I have many real diamond rings now, I don't think that any could compare with the one I received that Christmas. Even as I write this, I have a lump in my throat, because I know, now, what a sacrifice that was for Mama and Daddy. To some those few little presents are of little significance, but I'm sure that they did without something to be able to give us that much. To this day, I still give to those whom I love, a box of chocolate-covered cherries for Christmas.

My precious Mama passed away six years ago, and this past week would have been her birthday. She was a treasure and a blessing to all who knew her. Her name was Sarah, which in Hebrew means "princess" and she was, in every sense of the word.

Mama, the very memory of you is a blessing to me.


sheoflittlebrain said...

This is a beautiful post, Jan. Again, you bring tears to my eyes.
My Mom and her sister have told of getting only new heads for their dolls in their stockings, one Christmas, but like your Mother, my Grandmother made Christmas so special they were very happy:)

GUYK said...

Wonderful post Jan. I also remember the sacrifices that my parents made to insure that we had our gifts under the Christmas tree. And it was always something that we REALLY wanted..not socks and underwear or a new shirt.

My Dad told me after I was grown that my Mom would start saving money in January to be sure she had enough to buy the presents the next Christmas..

rockync said...

What a wonderful memory and thank you for sharing it. I could imagine the joy and laughter in your house and the love!
I had to laugh when you told how your Mama sent your Daddy into the woods for the tree. My husband and I raised our sons on a farm and one Christmas season they wanted to go into the woods and chop down their own tree. I really didn't think they'd find much sonce all the pines were long needle and kind of scrubby. Off they trekked, father, four little boys and our ever faithful Samoyed, Tara. Several hours later they returned; one hat missing, another glove missing, many scratches, the dog with a bleeding paw and one scraggly tree that went up in the livingroom!

Jan said...

She..thank you, I was glad to share this memory with everyone. I think most of us have these special memories of special times, and the people who helped to make them that way, don't you?

Jan said...

guyk, thank you. It sounds like you had some special folks, too! :)

Jan said...

rockync..that's one Christmas that will be hard to forget! And I'll bet that scraggly tree was just beautiful! :)

rockync said...

You know how it is. Throw enough lights, ornaments and tinsel on them and even a Charlie Brown tree is beautiful! LOL!

Yehudi01 said...

Jan, that was absolutely beautiful! The great thing about memories are noone can take them away!
Have a wonderful Christmas, Jan!


Jan said...

Yehudi..thank you, and I trust that your Hanukkah was happy, too, my friend! :)

pepektheassassin said...

This is a delightful post. Thank you, and have another good CHristmas!

Jan said...

pepektheassassin..thank you, and I wish for you and your family a wonderful Christmas, too!