Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christmas During the Great Depression.

People keep asking about growing up during the Great Depression. Specifically, “how was Christmas celebrated? "

Today we see Christmas decorations in stores before labor Day. When I was a child in the 1920's and 30's, we did not start decorating for Christmas in September. Neither we nor our neighbors had the time nor money to decorate for Christmas until Christmas week. Usually it was done on Christmas Eve.

Our Christmas tree was a pine tree brought in from a nearby wooded area between our house and the Yellow River. In my earliest memories of our Christimas trees,(late 1920's) we decorated the tree with strings of popped corn, red and green roping from the store and home made roping made of colored paper rings as in the picture above.

I remember at least one Christmas when we had the red and green roping from corner to corner across the ceiling, coming down into a swag with a large Christmas green paper bell attached in the center! It was the kind of bell that folded up and made a round bell when spread open.

I remember as a child, lying in bed on Christmas Eve, trying to go to sleep so it would be Christmas when I woke up. Christmas was Christmas Day.

Children in my day didn't have as much reason to be excited about Christmas presents as children do today. Or perhaps they had more reason?

When I woke up, there would be a stocking (one of my knee stockings left on a chair beside my bed) filled with candy and raisins (dried on the stems), a large red apple and an orange. There would also be some stick candy and chocolate drops and nuts, walnuts, pecans and large Brazil nuts.

I might also receive a pair of warm gloves, a scarf or cap and a pair of roller skates. I loved skating and skating up and down the paved sidewalks was a common activity for children and youth. We had paved walkways as everyone walked. The first paved roads in my town are in my memory bank as the South began to recover enough to prepare roads for the a few cars that were appearing in the mid thirties.

We did not have bowls of fresh fruit and/or nuts on the table or in the fridge all the time as now. Of course, we had peaches, pears and country apples in season. But not large red "store bought" apples. Not oranges.

Oranges had to be shipped from Florida so were expensive and rare in the late twenties and early 30's. My mother (3-6-1885 - 12-07-1973) told me how she and her little sisters would sit and eat their once - a -year orange and excitedly swap slices with one another.

Bishop Arthur J. Moore, a prominant Methodist Bishop of my mother's generation told "if one fell madly in love with a girl, he might share one piece of his Christmas orange with her".

Cooking and sharing cakes was one of the special Christmas traditions in our area. Mama always cooked a Japanese Fruit Cake. I do not have the recipe but the three cake layers of the JFC would be put together with two fruit and nut layers.

Mama's chocolate cake (still the best chocolate cake I have ever tasted) with her homemade fudge icing was my favorite. She made favorites for family members and friends including a coconut layer cake, an applesauce raisin cake, and several other kinds. Cakes were ready to be served when neighbors and friend dropped by for a Christmas visit.

Mama always cooked a hen with dressing and a ham for Christmas also. Mama cooked only one turkey that I can remember. She bought the turkey alive (chickens were also bought alive in those days.) I remember that after Mama got the turkey prepared (it's head chopped off, plucked, cleaned, dressed, and cooked), she had lost her appetite for turkey.

I hate to say it, as some of you may be on your way to a Turkey Dinner, but Mama never wanted to eat turkey again. I think the ordeal of preparing a smaller bird was not quite as traumatic as preparing a big turkey.

I have seen Mama wring the neck to kill a chicken, then pour boiling water over the limp bird and pluck the feathers off a few at a time. Smelly! Then she would singe the smaller feathers and hairs off with a burning piece of newspaper, scrub the skin, and finally take the insides out.

Mama would never have been so "wasteful" as to skin the chicken, as I soon learned to do. This would delete the "singe the hairs off" step.

Also, being a city girl, I could never wring the chicken’s neck but found it easier (and I thought more humane) to chop the neck off with an ax. Just thinking of this has helped to make me more and more vegetarian.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Santa Claus Is Alive and Well

" There is no Santa Claus. " My big sister dropped the bomb, "even dummies know that."

I was just a kid. I remember tearing across town on my bike to visit Grandma.

My Grandma was not the gushy kind, never had been. I fled to her that day because I knew she would be straight with me. I knew Grandma always told the truth, and I knew that the truth always went down a whole lot easier when swallowed with one of her "world-famous" cinnamon buns.

I knew her cinnamon rolls were world-famous, because Grandma said so. It had to be true. Grandma was home, and the rolls were still warm. Between bites, I told her everything. She was ready for me. "No Santa Claus?" she said...."Ridiculous! Don't believe it. That rumor has been going around for years, and it makes me mad, plain mad!! Now, put on your coat, and let's go." "Go? Go where, Grandma?" I asked. I hadn't even finished my second world-famous cinnamon bun.

"Where" turned out to be Kerby's General Store, the one store in town that had a little bit of just about everything. As we walked through it's doors, Grandma handed me ten dollars. That was a bundle in those days. "Take this money," she said, "and buy something for someone who needs it. I'll wait for you in the car." Then she turned and walked out of Kerby's.

I was only nine years old. I'd often gone shopping with my mother, but never had I shopped for anything all by myself. The store seemed big and crowded, full of people scrambling to finish their Christmas shopping.

For a few moments I just stood there, confused, clutching that ten-dollar bill, wondering what to buy, and who on earth to buy it for. I thought of everybody I knew: my family, my friends, my neighbors, the kids at school, and the people who went to my church. I was just about thought out, when I suddenly thought of Bobby Decker. He was a kid with bad breath and messy hair, and he sat right behind me in Mrs. Pollock's grade-4 class.

Bobby Decker didn't have a coat. I knew that because he never went out to recess during the winter. His mother always wrote a note, telling the teacher that he had a cough, but all we kids knew that Bobby Decker didn't have a cough; he just had no coat. I fingered the ten-dollar bill with growing excitement. I would buy Bobby Decker a coat! I settled on a red corduroy one that had a hood to it. It looked real warm, and he would like that.

"Is this a Christmas present for someone?" the lady behind the counter asked kindly, as I laid my ten dollars down. Yes, ma'am," I replied shyly. "It's for Bobby." The nice lady smiled at me, as I told her about how Bobby really needed a good winter coat. I didn't get any change, but she put the coat in a bag, smiled again, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

That evening, Grandma helped me wrap the coat in Christmas paper. A little tag fell out of the coat, but Grandma said it was okay and just tucked it in her Bible. We finished wrapping the coat and tied the package with pretty ribbon, then wrote, "To Bobby, From Santa Claus" on it.

Grandma said that Santa always insisted on secrecy. Then she drove me over to Bobby Decker's house, explaining as we went that I was now and forever, officially one of Santa's helpers.

Grandma parked down the street from Bobby's house, and she and I crept noiselessly and hid in the bushes by his front walk.Then Grandma gave me a nudge. "All right, Santa Claus," she whispered, "get going." I took a deep breath, dashed for his front door, threw the present down on his step, pounded his doorbell and flew back to the safety of the bushes and Grandma.

Together we waited breathlessly in the darkness for the front door to open. Finally it did, and there stood Bobby.

Fifty years haven't dimmed the thrill of those moments spent shivering, beside my Grandma, in Bobby Decker's bushes. That night, I realized that those awful rumors about Santa Claus were just what Grandma said they were: ridiculous. Santa was alive and well, and we were on his team.

Grandma has long since passed on, but I still have the Bible, with the coat tag tucked inside. ....It says, $19.95