The first Christmas I can remember was in the house on Turin Street. I remember my mama’s upset because we did not have a Christmas tree; her upset was probably a result of me asking why we didn’t have a tree when Martha, my best friend who lived downstairs, and her family had a beautifully decorated tree in their front window. I also remember my daddy telling my mama not to worry about it. That’s when she told me Santa would bring the tree. I know I was excited about Christmas and was wondering what Santa would bring. I was so happy that Santa was bringing our tree since everyone else seemed to have to get one on their own.
I have to say that Christmas was my most favorite time of year. Christmas and the Fourth of July, but I didn’t get any presents on the Fourth of July, so Christmas was really the highlight of my year when I was young, and it still is.
This particular Christmas was not a disappointment for me. On Christmas morning when I woke up, there was the Christmas tree in our living room. It was beautifully trimmed, and I truly couldn’t understand how Santa could do such a wonderful job, not only for me but for all the children of the world, and all in one night. Our tree had the most beautiful angel on top that I have ever seen and some of the lights were called “bubblers” because the colored liquid in them bubbled once they warmed up. There was also some deep red and dark green garland that was thinner than most but beautiful because it was made out of velvet. I never have put garland on my trees as an adult and I think it’s because I’ve never found anything to compare with the elegant swooping strands I remember as a child.
What I didn’t know then was that there probably wasn’t any money to buy a tree and my daddy, along with one or more of his good friends, visited a local golf course and cut down a perfectly shaped Christmas tree in the middle of the night, dragged it home, and trimmed it just for us.
I remember one gift. There may have been others, but this one gift was one I have never forgotten. It was a hooded cape for my doll, in fact, I don't remember having the doll before Christmas, so it may have been a present too, but the cape was the best gift ever. It was a beige tweed woolen material with a light-yellow silk lining and pinned to it was a note personally written to me from Mrs. Santa Claus. In the note, she apologized for not having time to finish hemming my doll's cape, but she added, she was sure that my mother could finish it for me. I think I was more impressed with a real note from Mrs. Santa Claus than I was with the cape with no hem. It never mattered to me that it wasn't finished; it was the best present in the whole wide world.
We moved a lot, and by a lot I mean I had lived in 13 houses by the time I was twelve years old. So, I guess by now you know the next line of this story…we moved again. We didn’t move far actually, just around the corner into a house that had once been owned by a relative of my Grandma. It once belonged to a dead lady called Aunt Addie. It was kind of spooky and my brother and I often wondered if she died in that house, but she was long dead by the time we moved into the house which had stood empty for many years.
It was always thought that Aunt Addie left a lot of money hidden in the house. My brother and I looked for it in the dilapidated back shed, even crawling under the house which didn’t have a cellar, but we never found anything.
It was a pitiful house with very old faded brown shingles and well-worn linoleum on the floors, but a place to live, nonetheless.
There were five rooms in the downstairs of the house. There was a front door which we never used; we entered from a side porch into the kitchen. The house did not have central heating and most of the heat came from the ancient black iron stove in the kitchen that burned coal or wood and was also used for cooking. Off the kitchen was a pantry with cupboards with glass doors and another room that was my bedroom. It was a very tiny room, just enough space for a single bed and a dresser. I really liked the Birdseye Maple dresser as it had been my Grandma’s. It had four drawers and a large oval mirror. I even had a pretty dresser scarf for the top of it.
From the kitchen, you walked into my parent's bedroom, which was probably a dining room at one time. Given the slant of the floors, you could put a ball on the kitchen floor and it would roll, all by itself, right down to the living room. I always imagined that a dinner served in that room never could include peas as they would roll right off the plate, off the table and onto the floor. I often wondered why neither of my parents rolled right out of the bed and thought it was a good thing my baby sister, who was born when we lived here, slept in a crib or she would have rolled right out on to the floor. You could walk straight through to the living room (which my father also used as an office) or turn left and walk into the bedroom shared by my brother and my sister.
My sister was not well while we lived here. It is now thought that she had polio as she continued to fall down, and her legs didn’t work right. There were times when she couldn’t walk at all. A doctor came to the house; back then doctors did make house calls, and he gave my sister shots of some kind in her butt cheek. I’m sure it was very painful for her as she screamed bloody murder with each shot. I never liked that doctor and I thought he was cruel. She may have needed those shots, whatever they were, but just the way he held the needle so far up above her and jabbed it hard into her small butt cheek looked unnecessary to me even at my young age of about eight years. Even my Grandma said so. I made up my mind that if I ever felt sick, I wasn’t going to tell anyone. I didn’t want that doctor taking care of me so I would suffer in silence if ever I didn’t feel good. My brother and I made a pact and he wasn’t going to tell anyone if he didn’t feel good either.
Money was always in short supply; that’s a nice way of saying we were dirt poor. My brother and I always walked along what would one day become Erie Boulevard where all the construction was going on. We rummaged through the garbage behind all the stores looking for treasures. We mostly found comic books with the covers torn off which I guess were old issues that didn’t sell. Occasionally we found something worth taking home and one of those times it was a crate of fresh eggs. There were twelve dozen eggs in that wooden crate; it was heavy, and we had no idea how we were going to get it home. But where there’s a will, there’s a way. We pushed it; we pulled it a few feet at a time until we made it home, a distance of about four blocks. We were thrilled with our find, but mama said she was sure the eggs were stolen from one of the restaurants in the area. She called the closest one to the place we found the eggs, Ray's Coffee Shop, and sure enough, she was right. A delivery man took in one crate of eggs, got shooting the breeze with the owner, and when he went out for the second crate it was gone. They figured one of the local drunks pulled it away and hid it. He was very grateful that we found it and came to pick it up. He gave my mama some money for a reward and I thought that was very nice of him.
As luck would have it, I eventually did begin to feel sick and so did my brother. Neither of us said a word about it. The day before Christmas, both of us came down with Measles and we were peppered with the red spots. Mama moved me into my brother's bedroom, closed the door that opened onto her bedroom and nailed a sheet over the doorway of the bedroom that opened onto the living room. We could peek through and see the Christmas tree, but we couldn't leave the room and it had to be dark in the room too so we couldn't turn on the light. I remember having milk toast and poached eggs to eat. We felt real lucky that there wasn't anything that doctor could do for measles and that he was never called to jab us in the butt cheek. I think both of us got Christmas gifts that year but neither of us remembers exactly what we got. I remember that he got cap guns and a holster and while I was happy for him, my feelings were hurt that I didn’t get any cowgirl guns. The Lone Ranger was one of our favorite shows and my brother’s holster came with silver bullets in these slots on his gun belt and he even got a black mask. I probably got something stupid like panties with Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on them. I always thought they were stupid because it never failed that you were wearing your Sunday panties sometime during the week.
I know we got shoes because we got new shoes every Christmas. My Grandma’s cousin worked for a shoe store which was a couple blocks away, and every year she bought shoes for all of us. My mama took us in to pick out a pair of shoes just before Christmas. They were usually oxfords, usually sturdy and made by Buster Brown. My brother liked to get what he called the bloodshot color – they were actually called oxblood; I got plain brown. We got to stand with our feet in a machine and we could look into it and see the bones of our feet inside the shoes. I know now it was an x-ray machine but at the time it was more fun than actually getting new shoes because mama and I always fought over which shoes I could have. I always wanted pretty patent leather buckle shoes and she said they weren’t practical. Of course, Grandma’s cousin always went along with mama.
I really did appreciate the shoes and they were perfectly good shoes except for being ugly, but when you only get one pair of shoes and you wear them every day for everything you do, they don’t last from one Christmas to the next. If, when the soles wore out there was money to have the shoes resoled, we had that done by the shoemaker, but more often than not, a good sturdy piece of cardboard worked just as well, and it was free. When I had cardboard covering the hole in my shoes, I hated kneeling in church because the kids in the pew behind me could see it. I didn’t mind so much if it was only one shoe because I could twist the good shoe over the cardboard and no one would see it.
I’ve always believed to know a person it helps to know where they’ve come from, what they’ve experienced in their life. I could tell you many stories, but let’s just jump ahead to today.
I am a mother of six wonderful children, a grandmother of 18, and a great-grandmother of four. I am a widow. I put myself through college working many jobs. As a substance abuse counselor, I worked with the homeless, many of whom were Native American. I was given a Native American name Speaks Like Dancing Brook by the Chief of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Dakota, an honor few receive. I finally ended up as a crisis intervention counselor working mostly with women. I still volunteer once a week. I am the Founder and CEO of Immigrant Ships Transcribers Guild; if you are interested in genealogy the website is immigrantships.net. I am an author and an editor. I am Patty MacFarlane and I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished as I celebrate my 75th Christmas.
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