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Christmas Long Ago


Christmas Eve!!

What a lot of excitement in our house! I was five years old; my baby sister, Ginny was only two and knew nothing about what Christmas meant, but I did. My sister Dorry was eight and seemed to be in on a lot of secrets, that I knew nothing about.

I kept following her around but she was very smug about something, I didn't know what. Ruth and Faith were much older, nearly grown ups in their teens and big brother Vern was only home for a while each day, since he worked in the big Milk Plant in Lafargeville. Oldest brother Jim was off in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, working in a CCC [name/description to come] camp.

The night milking was done. The tree was decorated. It was just beautiful, with colored paper chains; strings of Popcorn, some bright red ribbon bows left over from long ago packages, and best of all, the branches were loaded down with silver icicles.  A whole package draped over the skimpy branches. (My Dad always cut a tree for Christmas, but taught us that you didn't cut a perfect tree standing in the open, because it could grow into something very special; while a tree that was crowded might never have a chance to grow. You could always turn the skimpy side to the wall and no one would even know.)

Our stockings were hung, not by the chimney, because we didn't have a fireplace, but near the back of the big Round Oak stove where Santa could find the. They weren't brightly colored felt stockings, but the long brown cotton kind that my Mother wore when she went to Watertown shopping. I was excited about the stockings, because I could remember all the treats that Santa had filled them with last year.

Finally it was time for bed. I knew I could never get to sleep; I was too excited, but it was time. Mom brought our flannel pajamas out and warmed them in front of the open oven door and we undressed and crawled into them quickly, lingered around the stove as long as we could and then ran up to bed and got under the covers. What a nice surprise to find our bed warmed by a brick, Mom had warmed in the oven, wrapped in a towel and placed under the covers, right where our cold feet could rest comfortably. We were probably asleep in no time. (I don't remember.)

Christmas morning! Out of bed and down the stairs! Presents under the tree! More than usual, Vern was off to work at the milk plant at 4 AM but the biggest packages were from him. One for Dorry and one for me. Real Snow suits!! All wool and flannel lined; mine was green and Dorry's was blue. Bib overall-type pants, with plaid jackets and hoods. They were both a little big, but that was how we always did it. They could last for 2 or 3 years that way.

Then there were still a few packages to open. One was new sock; there was a sweater for each of us, and new overshoes, the zipper kind that fit over your shoes; last of all, a book for each of us. Mine was not the kind that a first grader could read. We always got a book, but one that Mom could read to us, so that we might learn as we were enjoying a Christmas Present. Then the stockings!! they were over flowing with a big orange on the very top. There were polished red apples, a little bag of hard candy, lots of peanuts in the shells, a few walnuts and usually a few Brazil nuts which were really hard to crack, but they were our favorites.

Then Mom and Daddy were off to the barn to do the milking; Ruth and Faith cleared-up the mess from the Christmas rush and got breakfast started. It was usually pancakes and sausage on Christmas morning and the kitchen would be smoky from the cast iron pancake grill on the wood stove. After breakfast we put on our snowsuits and went out to play in the snow, which happened to be the heavy wet kind. Of course in an hour our wool snowsuits were soaked through and Mom hung them on the folding clothes bars, behind the round oak stove, to dry.

Dinner was almost always Chicken and Biscuits, mashed potatoes and gravy, squash, cabbage salad, a gelatin salad, pickles, relishes, pumpkin, mince and apple pie. It was a feast fit for a king and I guess the only thing that came from the store was the Jell-O. Everything else was raised on the farm.

We were brought up Methodist when we were very small, so Midnight Mass wasn't something I remember, but I do remember the Christmas tree at Church, with small presents for all the children and the Christmas hymns and carols, and the stories of the Christ Child. I still enjoy the Christmas music, although some claim there's too much of it.

Christmases come and go. It was a couple of years later that I found-out what Dorry was so smug about, when she informed me that Santa was a myth and it was really Mom and Daddy and Vern, who brought all the presents, but I didn't care. Christmas was still the greatest day of the year.

Mom's been gone for over 60 years now. I still miss her, playing the old piano while we sang around it, Telling stories to all the neighborhood children, she was one of a kind, and Daddy's been gone for 40 years. My childhood memory of Daddy is that he had a quick temper, over in a flash and then dancing a jig or singing a ditty, to make us forget all about it; and how he and Mom both worked so steadily and quietly to take care of their big family, in the depression era.

Jim and Vern and Ruth and Faith and Dorry are all gone now. Ginny is in Florida with her family. I'm sure if we were to get together and talk about our Christmases growing-up, we would remember them differently. I've found that out on many occasions, but these are my memories.

I wonder if our little ones will look back on Christmas, the way I do now? I guess they will, for childhood memories are usually hazy and what we remember are the happy times and the excitement that comes with Christmas. Our family and traditions are so different now.

Many years ago Leo had an idea. He wanted to do something that would make Christmas memories, so he hooked-up his team of Belgians, decorated the hay wagon and took us all for a Christmas Eve ride; then back home for food and a few presents and off to bed. The tradition has grown through the years. Now it's the truck towing the big wagon or sometimes 2 trucks and 2 wagons.

Everybody is bundled, even little tots and babies, bundled into snow suits and tucked under warm quilts; around the big block we go; singing, laughing, bringing-up memories of some now gone, shedding a few tears, but mostly making new memories for the younger generations. Stopping-off at Bald Rock Lodge, where there's always a pot of chili, or something to eat and where Mary always had a pot of coffee for Leo. Then around the block and home, for way too much food, and a lot of memories of Christmases past.

Always missing Leo and John and Keith, but remembering all the times they were with us. Our Great Grandchildren will have much different memories than I have, but I hope they'll bring as much comfort as mine.

By Nancy Bond

Nancy Bond began writing in high school 60+ years ago, but then family life took hold, as she and her husband, Leo, raised twelve children, on their farm in the town of Clayton. It was only recently that Nancy began writing her memories on paper, for her children to enjoy. The Thousand Islands Museum persuaded her to share these memories with the Thousand Islands Sun, and now with TI Life for all to enjoy.  This article was first shared in 2013, in the TI Sun.   Click here for Nancy’s other articles.

Please feel free to leave comments about this article using the form below. Comments are moderated and we do not accept comments that contain links. As per our privacy policy, your email address will not be shared and is inaccessible even to us. For general comments, please email the editor.

Comments

Debbie (McCarthy) Boland
Comment by: Debbie (McCarthy) Boland
Left at: 4:47 PM Monday, December 15, 2014
I'm thrilled that you are sharing your writing with others.
I can't tell you how much I enjoyed your talking about your family life (as a child), and as a proud mother of 12, those 2 summers you came to TI Park to help cook and care for my Dad (Henry). You so clearly had your priorities straight about what was really important in life, and how to raise children into competent, caring, grounded, well-balanced adults, who would pass on those same values and qualities to their chidren and others; and that credit goes to Leo, you, and obviously your parents too. Have a wonderful, joy-filled Christmas with your family this year.
With much love and gratitude for having known you,
Debbie
Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle
Left at: 6:40 PM Monday, December 15, 2014
Fantistic story!
Peggy
Comment by: Peggy
Left at: 2:50 PM Sunday, December 21, 2014
This is one of my favorites Mom.
Gwen Kirkby
Comment by: Gwen Kirkby
Left at: 7:42 PM Wednesday, December 23, 2015
I so love your stories of years gone by. As I read them they bring fond memories of my own childhood that are similar.
Lee Crandall
Comment by: Lee Crandall
Left at: 10:24 AM Saturday, December 24, 2016
Thanks for another wonderful story. Even though my childhood in Clayton was a decade or more later I have so many of the same memories. Our tree was always in the corner because it came from our windswept farm and one side was usually less full. We often had a cedar because there were hundreds of them on the property. People in town wanted firs or pines and would never have considered a cedar, but the cedar had to be the best smelling tree ever. We strung popcorn on thread as one of the decorations. When Christmas was over and the lights and ornaments put away the tree with its popcorn went outdoors in a snowbank to feed birds for a while.

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