As with every kid I know, Christmas is the Absolute BEST Day of the Year! So it was for my sisters and I. We spent a lot of energy everyday from Thanksgiving looking forward to it! We involved ourselves with friends and school activities and, of course, church activities. But the best were those we made at home within our family.
My sister, Kathy, was only 20 months younger than me. My sister, Cheryl, followed nearly six years after her. Kathy and I were very close and did most things together. The excitement at school rose daily. Everything involved Christmas, from the stories we read to the songs we sang for Music class. The school usually had a Christmas Assembly and a classroom Christmas Party on the last day before Christmas break. Kathy and I both played the violin and soon started playing Christmas carols in school as well as church.
We had several mutual friends at church and were much closer to them, really, than our school friends. Several families had children our ages. Our entire families became friends. We were involved in so many of the same things and had similar interests. We saw each other every Sunday morning for church and Sunday evening for Youth Group. During the school year, we went to Youth for Christ every month with Mr and Mrs Brenneman and their sons, Brent and Brice. We loved going to the Cupie, a local fast food restaurant, afterwards for hamburgers and chocolate malts. Carolyn and Cynthia joined our group when they moved to the area when I was in Junior High. We all visited each other at our homes on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. In high school, Kathy and I spent a week with them in the Summer while their parents attended a National Church Conference. My parents checked in on us, as well as, Mrs Brenneman and the ‘boys.’ We all remain good friends to this day.
Getting back to Christmas memories. The Sunday School Leaders always planned a Christmas program. We all had a spoken part. As we got older, Kathy and I played carols on our violin. We always ‘poo-pooed’ it, but the Church loved it so we played every year. In our teens, we had enough kids to have a small girls choir. We learned different parts and sang special music as well as for Christmas and other holidays. The program was usually the Sunday evening before Christmas. It was always exciting. As every child walked out of the door, they were given a little box of candy. It was only 6-8 pieces, but they were special: Chocolate covered creams, colorful hard candies, and jellied fruit. One year my parents were chosen to make the little boxes. Mom and Dad were very organized. They chose special little boxes, scouted the stores for special types and priced the candy. They even added some of their own money so we could get the special chocolates! That year we got TWO mountain shaped chocolate covered vanilla creams, colorful hard tack, big gumdrops, and some other special candy. I remember the kitchen table covered with little white boxes, newly folded, with white paper bags sitting around, the candy spilling out of them. They count the boxes the candy and then counted them again to make sure none got missed. That night I was still awe-struck when I opened my box! I was so proud when I overheard the adults words of praise when they Mom and Dad for their work. I don’t recall that they ever did it again.
Home, school, and church became interconnected. My Mom and Dad both worked full-time so Kathy and I were ‘latch key kids’. We watched out for each other and came home after school by ourselves. Cheryl went to a sitters’ until she got older and would behave for Kathy and I. Our Christmas traditions started when Kathy and I would take Cheryl to see Santa come to town the day after Thanksgiving. This was before Black Friday. We stood in line until Cheryl sat on Santa’s lap. Kathy and I were to keep our ears ‘peeled,’ so we could report to Mom what Cheryl told Santa she wanted.
We really looked forward to Christmas vacation from school. Mom always had a list of jobs for us to do. We did those in the morning and spent the afternoon doing what we liked, reading books and baking cookies for our present to Mom and Dad. They knew what we were doing. We baked them every year. But we went to great lengths to hide all signs of that activity! We cleaned up everything! We ate what we wanted and hid every other cookie in a place we were sure Dad would not find. There wasn’t a crumb to be found anywhere! We had five or six different kinds of cookies in a large suit box that sat on my Dad’s lap while we opened our presents. It was the first gift he opened, and he ate his fill watching us open our gifts. He shared the cookies, but the box never left his lap.
We had such a hard time going to sleep Christmas Eve! Our house was built in 1901. It had two furnaces, one in the kitchen and one in the family room in front of the closet. They were under the floor and covered with a grate. The heat would radiate from there to the rest of the house. We entered the family room from a large front porch with big banisters and a knotty pine ceiling, In addition to the family room, downstairs was the formal living room, kitchen, and bathroom. The steps with their beautiful cherry banister led from the family room turned to the left 3 steps up and met the landing on the second floor that led to 3 bedrooms. Kathy and I slept above the family room where Mom was wrapping presents and Dad wad watching TV before nodding off in his chair. We would listen to them talking in hopes of hearing what we were getting. Mom always whined while complaining that Dad wouldn’t help.
Christmas morning always found the bedrooms freezing cold. We all snuggled deep under the blankets trying to stay warm. We kids woke at about 5 AM. (Mom told me later that she and Dad often stayed up wrapping gifts until 3:00 or 4:00 that morning.) We talked among ourselves until we got the nerve to wake Mom in preparation to get up and open presents. We all needed to use the bathroom, but only one of us was to go into the living room to turn up the heat. We were not supposed to look at the tree or the presents. All 3 of us would traipse down the steps and slow way down taking in everything visible while we paraded past the living room. The Chosen One would step into the living room to reach the thermostat. We only needed a brief glance to turn the dial. We spent several seconds taking in everything around that tree! We congregated in the bathroom whispering about what we saw. Then we went back to bed moving very slowly past the living room door checking out what the others saw. We never went back to sleep and were finally able to go downstairs when we became too loud for Mom and Dad to sleep.
When I was sixteen, my dad bought my mom a top of the line Singer sewing machine as Kathy and I we beginning to sew a lot of our clothing.. It was beautiful! It came with an oak cabinet and stool. I was able to drive to the store and pick up the machine while Mom was at work. Grandpa went with Kathy and me to help load the machine into the car. Cheryl told Mom EVERYTHING! We were lucky, she was still in daycare, so we were able to keep our secret. We got the gift home and used two rolls of paper to wrap it. We really ‘dolled’ it up with beautiful curled ribbons flowing down the side of the box. The stool did not come in a box so we just sat it in my sister Cheryl’s closet. No one ever used that closet, and the stool would be safe in there until Christmas. Mom always wanted a dishwasher, so that‘s what we told Cheryl we got. It wasn’t long before we heard the word dishwasher spoken around the house. The rest of us just smiled to ourselves. Mom was in that room every chance she had feeling the box, trying to read through the wrapping paper (We wrapped newspaper around the box under the wrapping paper.) and asking every type of question trying to trip us up into telling her a clue. The Sunday afternoon before Christmas, my Mom was trying to find a rarely used garment, and she was asking us if we had seen it around. She finally determined it was in the closet in Cheryl’s room. I was a lazy teenager and deserved the comment my Dad used, that he needed a microscope to see me move. My Mom was only a few feet from the stairs when I ‘fell’ out of my chair trying to get to the stairs in front of her. To this day, I can’t believe she didn’t realize something was amiss. I never moved that fast, much less volunteering to stop reading my book to go upstairs for someone else.
On Christmas morning that year Mom woke everyone at 5 AM announcing it was time to go downstairs to open gifts. She had already turned up the heat. We were all so tired! Mom led the pack down the stairs.
As she opened the package, she cried, “Where’s my dishwasher?”
In the end, Mom really liked the sewing machine and was pleased that all of us used it so much. She couldn’t believe it that we lied to my sister Cheryl and had kept the secret from her until Christmas. Cheryl never forgave us, even to this day!
Following our extended family tradition, we all took side dishes and desserts to the home of the designated maternal family member for a large turkey dinner and gift exchange. My mom had seven brothers and sisters and we always had upwards of 40 aunts, uncles, cousins and in-laws present. A touch footaball game frequently followed in the afternoon. It was an awesome time. Even though my current family is not in a position to be a part of that extended family, those memories play in mind as I work to make meaningful memories for my children and grandchildren today.