We all knew that, if there was a Santa, he was likely to miss our house. After Dad sold the newly harvested corn and soy beans, I heard my parents worrying whether the money received would cover loans that had sustained the family through the growing season. Our food came from jars Mother preserved from our summer garden, supplemented by a weekly fried chicken.
The year was 1936. I remember exactly because my youngest sister, Mary, who was born in 1934, was an active two-year-old.
I was eight, and already knew there was no Santa Claus although I joined my parents at pretending for the sake of the three younger ones. You see us in this picture. No one had asked what we wanted for Christmas. The year before, Santa brought us each an orange, and we hoped for a similar treat this year.
A school bus picked Larry and me up and carried us three miles to the school that served the community around Oakwood, Ohio. Like many other families, we did not have a car.
When I arrived home on one chilly day as winter approached, I was disappointed not to find Mother in her usual place in the kitchen. Calling, “I’m home, where are you,” brought a faint answer from upstairs. In a moment, Mother appeared, flustered and out of breath with a vague explanation of taking care of things upstairs. When I went looking for her on another day, she was in the attic, again “taking care of things.”
We hung our stockings on Christmas eve, with some confidence they would be filled with candy and cookies Mother made, and perhaps a precious orange. Mother made all our clothes, so under the tree, I might have something special she had stitched while I was at school.
On Christmas morning, we raced down the stairs and stopped in our tracks at the marvel we saw. Surrounding the tree were wonderful, brightly painted creations we could never have imagined. My name was on a doll bed, painted a bright blue, complete with straw-filled mattress and quilt, exactly the right size for my doll. Helen had a rocking chair for her doll. Mary had a cart with two big wheels and a handle to pull, and Larry had a regular wagon with four wheels—all made from familiar scraps of lumber and paint we recognized as left over from another use. We also found dresses and jackets that Mother had made, but they were not such a surprise.
Although I have received lovely gifts in the many years since that Christmas, I can’t remember a Christmas morning that brought greater joy. Even as young as I was, I recognized the love bound up in the bright blue doll bed. In a house without electricity, Mother’s days were filled with work, but she had managed—with some help from Dad—to make a joyous Christmas at a time when such moments were rare.