Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Always Brings Wonder

I was born on a farm in the south. It was a small farm. I didn’t know that. It was a place of adventure and surprise and wonderment. The sky was an inverted bowl that touched the earth just beyond New Liberty Church and on the far side of Larraine and then encircled River Rock’s outer limits and rounded out across the back side of our farm. It was the world—my world. There were other places—I knew that. There was California. Hadn’t we lived there for a while? And there was Big Springs. My Grandma and Grandpa lived there. We got letters from them and once they came on the bus to visit us. There was Wisconsin. My Aunt and Uncle lived there. I knew about these places, but I didn’t have to make room for them under that bowl. I knew what I knew and the world was complete with just my boundaries.

We were poor. I didn’t know that either. I thought cornbread and milk for supper was the food of the gods. Well, I didn’t think that exactly, because that little church on the edge of my world wouldn’t have permitted me to think of God in a plural form. The church was small and poor (are you seeing a pattern here?) and could only afford a preacher to come once a month; but in the meantime, we had Sunday School and prayer meeting and someone led in a few inspirational thoughts. Theology was simple and would never have permitted the word, gods. Nevertheless, the food was…Heavenly? Divine? No, I couldn’t have used those words either about food. Vocabulary was important and you didn’t use words lightly. For instance, the word, liar, could only be used about the grossest of sinners who would be consigned to eternity in Hell. If you used it about your sister or brother or neighbor, then you might be the one with the consignment. And if not that, you’d certainly be the one with the slapped face or the spanked bottom. Giving children time out was an unheard of thing in those days, and wouldn’t have set too well with parents who were trying to raise their kids “right”. And that meant getting the meanness out of them as quick and as soon as possible. Nothing is quicker and sooner than a slap or a whipping to make an impression that the behavior is unacceptable. Back to the food… I guess you would have had to come home from the fields for dinner (which came in the middle of the day and supper came at night) and, while we were washing up at a tin basin out in the yard, be smelling candied sweet potatoes and fried ham and gravy and homemade biscuits to know why I can’t use mere words to describe the smells and tastes that have stayed with me for a lifetime.

My first recollections of Christmas are from that little farm.( Apparently, our theology permitted us to believe in Santa. After God, of course.) It was cold and the windows were frosted over. The house was heated by a little gas heater in the front room. If you stood near enough to feel the heat, you might get burned, and beyond its radius, you were cold. My sister and I stood by the window and, with our sleeves, cleared patches to look out. We were watching for Santa. I heard the sleigh bells first. And then I saw him. We ran pell-mell for bed—not even waiting for Mom to warm the quilt, which was freezing cold in that unheated bedroom. We didn’t care. We knew we had to be in bed and asleep for Santa to bring us anything. Although I had unshakeable faith in Santa, I wasn’t so sure of myself. I knew all my transgressions for the past year and was hoping against hope that he was watching some other child during those times I had transgressed and had somehow missed my misbehaviors. Sleep hurried the time and we ran to the front room and, Wonder of Wonders, Santa had been there! We set up a whoop and a holler that brought Mom and Dad running from the back bedroom with our little brother. In post-war farm poverty, it was a miracle. There was a doll for me. She was beautiful. She had a pink dress and bonnet that far surpassed anything that I had noticed at the dime store in town. She was the real thing. Designed and fashioned by Santa and his elves in faraway North Pole and transported to me by flying reindeer. She had that new doll smell that I would only experience four times in my childhood. Oh, there was MORE. We had hung a sock –a clean one—from the back of the kitchen chairs and they were lumpy. There was a candy bar in the top. We didn’t tear into it. We would have to look at it and find the perfect time and place to enjoy it. The next thing to be pulled out was an ORANGE. We only had those at Christmas; And at the bottom of the sock was a handful of mixed nuts. Later in the day, Dad would bring in a big rock and the hammer and crack those nuts and tell us their names and we would feast on their unusual and wondrous tastes. Mom sat in the rocking chair with the contents of her stocking in her aproned lap and said she thought she would make cookies and put candy pieces in them. Dad said no, we’re all going to eat our candy bars and be thankful for the treat and the abundance of Christmas. At the time, I thought my parents were old, but they were young: Too young, really, to deal with the hardships of their life, but apparently old enough to be brave and loving and good. Oh, what a memory!

Posted by The Editor for Gigi

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