When I was about ten years old, we went to find a Christmas tree. The only problem was that Greeley, Geral and I werenít able to find even one tree with branches all around it. They were growing on a hillside and there were no branches on one side of every tree. We got the bright idea of cutting two trees and nailing them together back to back. It made a beautiful Christmas tree standing in a wash tub with rocks around it to keep it from falling. We decorated it with bubble lights and those big Christmas lights they had before the miniature lights came out. We put garland around it Ė that old kind that was made of a string with foil wound around it like a rope. Iíve had many Christmas trees since then and never have I ever seen one that was prettier than our two half-trees.
Over the years the boys always got cap pistols with guns and holsters; however, in 1944 during the war, they didnít have metal to spare to make toys so they made cap guns out of compressed saw dust. On Christmas morning when we hurried into the living room to see what Santa had brought, I discovered, not the pearl handled cap gun I had pictured, but one made out of sawdust that, naturally, didnít shoot caps. Greeley got a metal gun that Mom had found somewhere. I was really hurt because my gun was made of sawdust and Greeley, as usual, got the best. I played with the gun for an hour or two and got tired of it. I was so infuriated, watching Greeley shoot caps with his gun that I put mine in the fireplace and burned it. Mom later asked where my gun was and I told her I had burned it. She didnít say anything, but I know she had to be very hurt.
After the war was over, we got the usual pearl handled cap guns and were happy again that we had gotten them. The girls, except Tracie, all got dolls. She got a cedar chest. A lot of times Mom would get Tracie and Geral (the oldest girls) powder, rouge and lipstick to put in that cedar chest.
Our great uncle, Harmon, had been dropped on his head as a baby and was retarded because of it. All of his life, Harmon was like a little child in many ways. For Christmas, he always got a set of cap guns too, and we would all play together. The Christmas that I got the sawdust gun, I suspected that Harmon got my cap gun and always disliked him from then on because of it. Looking back, I can now see that, in his condition, Harmon would have been just as satisfied with the sawdust gun.
Another time, about 1947, Mom couldnít get Greeley and me each a toy so she bought a toy tractor-trailer log truck for us to share. It had a red tractor and wooden slats that looked like ice cream sticks on the tractor-trailer bed. It had little round sticks that resembled electric poles on the trailer. Greeley didnít want to share with me and we were out at Ma Sarahís (our grandmother) house playing with it. We got into a fight over it and Ma got some kindling wood and thrashed us real good. Greeley finally tore up the truck. It sure was a beauty.
Once, at Christmastime, a bunch of us boys were gathered on the Lou Flat shooting carbide cans. We had a bonfire and somebody suggested that we needed a chicken to roast. Troy Wolford said that he knew just where we could get our hands on some very easily. It was at night and a couple of the boys went with Troy to steal the chicken. They roosted in an apple tree that had some low branches. Troy put his hand behind and under a chicken and it stepped backward right into his hand. We skinned the chicken because we had no way of plucking it. Then, we put it over the bonfire to roast it. We roasted the chicken until it was tender and done; then we divided it up and ate it. Old Man Troy missed his big white hen, but never did find out what became of it.
Greeley and I used to go to the store and, from mid-November up to Christmas, we would always get a little extra (cream drops for Dad, hard-rock Christmas candy, a present or two, pop, coconuts, fruit and nuts) to store them up for Christmas. It would have been hard trying to get all that just before Christmas, so Mom had us get a little at a time each time we went. The goodies were stored in a little cellar under the house. Mom was the only one who had a key to the door. Along about the end of November, the smell of fruit coming from that room was almost unbearable.
One day, we got the bright idea that, since Dorse was the smallest one, we would hoist him up to the top of the door, where there was a board missing, and let him down on the other side feet first. He was supposed to reach some of each thing (just enough so Mom wouldnít miss it) out to Greeley and me and we were going to have a feast. The only problem was Dorse decided to eat his share inside the cellar. After he ate his fill, he reached some things out to us (cream drops, apples, oranges, grapes, etc.) and then we decided it was time to get him out. He had eaten so much that his little belly would barely come through the crack over the door and we nearly tore his clothes off him getting him out. That really was a close call and you can bet we didnít try that again. Years later, we found out that the girls were doing the same thing.
Pricie, being the skinniest and the bravest of the girls, (Opal was too little to put in there and get back out) was elected to go into the cellar. So Coon, Geral and Lucille put her through the opening feet first and she landed on the other side. While she was in there, like Dorse she decided to eat first. The others kept trying to get her to reach them something, but Pricie stayed until she foundered on moon pies and peanuts. To this day, she absolutely will not touch, much less eat, a moon pie or peanuts.
Our cousins, Benny Joe and Peggy, always got better toys than we did for Christmas. One year, Benny Joe got a stake-side Radio Flyer wagon. We would bribe him into letting us ride it by giving him our rock-hard Christmas candy or slices of orange. He would only let us ride from the gate to the top of the bank where the barn was. To this day, the little boy in me still wants a Radio Flyer wagon.
Santa brought Benny Joe a Daisy BB gun one year and it was the envy of all us boys. Just to get to shoot it once or twice was a great pleasure. Again, we had to bribe Benny Joe with our Christmas goodies to get to shoot it. He dearly loved oranges, so thatís mostly what we bribed him with. Each orange was worth five shots with the BB gun. It was well worth it because I didnít really like oranges. Mom always gave us castor oil on Saturday morning and we would get a slice of orange as a chaser. It took me twenty years to be able to eat an orange. I still think of that castor oil every time I eat one.
The year I had to drop out of school after my sophomore year and get a job to help the family, was our poorest Christmas ever. I got a job in Ohio and helped the family in addition to saving every spare penny so I could finish school. I had gone to Rosieís Department Store, in Columbus, and bought the girls each a doll and bikes for Dorse and Clint. The rest of us werenít going to get anything, so we got the empty boxes left from previous Christmases and wrapped them to make people think that we had a lot of gifts. It sure was a sparse Christmas, but one I still fondly remember.
We had gone home in Greeleyís old í52 Ford that he had bought on the installment plan. He had graduated when I was a sophomore. We didnít think we were going to make it home in that old car because it quit on us two or three times in that eight-hour drive. They didnít have four-lane highways then and the trip took twice as long as it does now. It was worth making the trip to see the look on Momís face and to see the younger ones enjoying the gifts I had bought for them. After that, I felt like the family Santa Claus.
Once, Mom roasted a turkey for Christmas and John Dotson (Dadís first cousin) came visiting all the way from Vulcan. Since we didnít know he was coming, we had already eaten when he got there. Mom had the girls put the leftovers back on the table for him to eat dinner. He sure did appreciate it, but he couldnít stand to look at that turkey carcass so he ate with one hand and put the other one over his face so he wouldnít see the turkey carcass on the table.
This year, the floor around the tree is covered with gifts and there will be even more when the family gets here tomorrow. Even though Iím grateful for what I now have, I canít help but remember some Christmases when we literally didnít know where the next meal was coming from.
I hope this has helped to keep me humble.
Luther G. Eldridge©
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