Merry Christmas! This post is of epic length, but I wanted to wish all my faithful readers a Merry Christmas and share a Christmas Memory that my Grandmother had the foresight to write down and give to me back in 1981. This was HER Christmas in Chicago, when she was 8 years old..in 1933. She created my very first scrapbook, although it is void of any pictures, and has only 4 stories in it, they were of her childhood through the Depression and a few stories of me and her memories of me. I will miss her very much, and this is one of the stories in my book. (and THIS is a great reason to scrapbook if I've ever seen one! hint hint)
Christmas in Chicago; 1933
I awakened to familiar sounds of pans scraping in and out of the oven as the tantalizing aroma of apples and cinnamon wafted its way into the bedroom. I lazily opened my eyes and then closed them again, to snuggle down deeper into the feather bed, that was so soft, so comfy, so warm. My head was filled with thoughts like snowflakes swirling in a gusty wind. Would Grandma like the calendar I made for her? Would my cousins be here early enough to play outdoors? Would it snow? What was I getting for Christmas? Soon, the anticipation and excitement was too much and I had to get out of bed, to start this wonderful day. My toes touched the cold linoleum as they searched for my slippers. I found my long underwear, stockings, petticoat, vest and dress on the chair. Shivering I grabbed them and ran behind the kitchen stove to get dressed. It was the warmest place in the house.
I was a skinny little girl, too small for my eight years. I had straight platinum hair, cut Buster Brown style and blue, blue eyes. I was a quiet, obedient child who spent much time alone, reading and making believe with my paper dolls.As I wiggled into my clothes, I watched Grandma. She must have been up for hours. There were cookies, pies and Kolachy cooling everywhere. "Good Morning Sleepyhead," she said. "I put your oatmeal on the back of the stove to keep it warm, you can help yourself." I nodded and watched as she moved quickly from the table to the oven. She was in her sixties, with flawless skin and an everready smile. She loved flowered dresses and wore them all the time.
Her name was Emily, but everyone just called her Milly. She was the mother of four children, three girls and one boy. Two daughters marriages, unfortunately, ended in divorce and they brought home four grandchildren for Grandma and Grandpa to raise. There was my step-sister Helen, my cousins Adeline and Clarence, and myself.Helen was eighteen and I didn't see too much of her. She was thin and had red hair. She was busy working, seeing her friends and going out with young men. My cousin Clarence was seventeen and my favorite cousin. He had dark, slick hair and was good looking. But best of all, he let me sit on top of his newspapers in the wagon while he delivered them. It kept other kids from stealing the papers and in return, he took me to see movies every Saturday at a downtown theater. Cousin Adeline was sixteen and she helped my Grandma a lot.
As I was helping myself to breakfast, my Grandfather came in with two buckets of coal, huffing and puffing like a steam engine. He was a small man, with wire glasses perched on his German sharp nose. He was known all over the neighborhood for fixing bikes, wagons and toys. The lemon drops he carried in his pocket, helped to mend many a skinned knee or broken heart.
As I was finishing my cereal, I suddenly remembered that tonight-tonight--was the night I had to say my piece in the Christmas Eve services. Oh, how my Grandma had coached me, to speak loudly and clearly and slowly and to stand up tall.Suddenly when butterflies were having a convention in my stomach and the oatmeal was not setting just right, there was a loud knock on the back door. I heard, "Merry Christmas, Merry Christmas!" Everyone was hugging and kissing at the same time. Auntie Lil and Uncle Cas, and my three cousins, Alice, Delores and Margies were here to spend the holiday with us.
Auntie Lil was short and plump, so easy going and lively. Uncle Cas was the family politician. He was a precinct captian and helped to get out the votes. He loved to argue local politics with my Grandpa. I never did know what kind of job he had. My three cousins were close to my age. We liked the same things, dolls, checkers, jacks and Old Maid.
After lunch it began to snow, large white flakes that really stuck to the ground. We made Angels in the snowdrifts and a snowman with coal for his eyes and mouth. It didn't take too long for our fingers to feel nippy, our noses runny and our clothing wet. After coming in, we hung up our mittens to dry near the stove and settled down to stringing popcorn for the tree. The tree was in the living room and that was forbidden to us kids. We were not allowed to see the tree until it was decorated and only after we had been to the Christmas Eve services. Time passed quickly and soon supper was ready. We raided the bedrooms for extra chairs for our guests and even had to use the piano bench. After supper all the woman and girls cleaned up the dishes and then hurried to get ready for church.
Mother had come home from work just in time to eat with us. She had classic looks and reminded me of picutres I had seen of Lady Astor in magazines. Her hair was bobbed and marcelled and she wore makeup. I thought she was beautiful. In spite of my anxieties about my performance this evening, I was looking forward to wearing my new wine colored, taffeta dress with the lace collar. There also was new, long, white stockings, patent leather Mary Janes and a ribbon for my hair. I loved the way my dress made siwshing sounds when I walked. I thought I could walk forever. I felt so SPECIAL! Mother decided to curl my hair with the curling iron and begged me to sit still. I did get a little burn on my ear, because I couldn't help fidgeting a little. Everyone was ready except Grandpa. When he was chided about not going to church, he'd say "I ready my Bible every day, thats more than most folks that go to church regular do." No one could dispute him.
We walked through the snow, talking, laughing, singing carols, but, hushed as we approached the church. The children were herded into the basement, for they would march into the rectory after the services started. The boys stood on one side, making silly faces, hitching up their knickers, and straightening up their ties. The girls were on the other side, smoothing down their dresses, pulling up their stockings, giggleing a lot and looking at the boys. The organ sounded. I marched with the others. Parents and relatives waved, or smiled or both as we came down the aisle. The Christmas program had begun. After a carol, the pastor started calling the children's names, to recite the Bible verses that told the story of Jesus' birthday. My verse was going round and round in my head. He called my name. I took a deep breath, stood up tall and said loudly and clearly and slowly--"Luke 2:19, And Mary pondered all these things in her heart." With a sigh of relief, my anxieties fled. Soon I heard the jingle of bells and a "Ho Ho Ho" and Santa with his overflowing sack, came running down the aisle. This is what every child had been waiting for. He gave each of us a stocking filled with an orange, nuts and candy. My family gathered up their wraps and after many Merry Christmases to friends and neighbors, left for home.
It was much colder now, as we hurried home to see the tree and our presents. The snow crunched under foot and my toes hurt as we turned the corner of our block. I could see the tree was lit. There were circles of red, blue, yellow and green on the frosted window. My cousins and I ran into the house, tore off our coats on the way into the living room, to see the splendor of Christmas. It was BEAUTIFUL! Like Heaven and Riverview Park and birthdays all rolled into one. There were stacks of presents wrapped gaily under a huge pine tree. The glass ornaments shimmered and shined, competing with our sparkly eyes. After all the adults had hung up their coats, we gathered round the tree and with bowed heads my Grandpa prayed. "Bless this house Lord, and keep us well and safe for another year." Then he started to hand out the children's presents. There was so much noise and confusion as we listened for our names. When Grandpa called my name, I piled my gifts in front of me.
Many were small for the Depression was still with us. I opened the largest box and there was a blue sweater, two petticoats with hand cotched edges, some handkerchiefs and real silk panties. I tore the paper from a new checkerboard game, some ribbons and barrettes and the newest Bobbsey Twin book. There was a drawing tablet and new crayolas too. My sister gave me a flannel nightgown and slippers.My cousins and I sat near the tree showing each other our presents. We oohed and ahhed over every wonderful gift. When every present had been opened and enjoyed, everyone helped clean up the mess. Cousin Adeline put a roll on the player piano and we all sang carols. When she tired of pumping, someone else took her place.
In the midst of all this commotion, my Auntie Louise and Uncle Tony came by. Uncle Tony brought a big bottle of his famous homemade Dago red wine. Auntie Louise had presents for all us kids. The adults headed for the kitchen and then wine glasses. The children sat on the floor, near the tree, playing I SEE A COLOR. When we tired of that, Grandma had hot chocolate and cookies in the kitchen and with full tummy's, we returned to the tree, to play someone's new game.It had been a long day and as we wound down, we laid on the rug, squinting our eyes, to make the lights on the tree look like beautiful colored stars. We talked quietly about our favorite present and the fun we'd had that day. The fire in the coal heater was glowing and sleepy heads were nodding. We could hear the adults in the kitchen laughing and talking, but sounding very far away now. Soon they'd be carrying us off to bed. We still had Christmas Day dinner to look forward to. There would be goose, cranberries, pumpkin pie and nuts -- and yawning -- but that's tomorrow.
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