by Bob Harrison
December 2000
Just saw my 76th birthday come and go and thought I would try to remember some of my memorable Christmases from long ago and far away. This will be my 76th Christmas and one would think that by this time, Christmas would be boring and tiresome. Not true!

While it is tiring, it has never been tiresome. I must confess, right now, that neither I nor my wife indulge in Christmas shopping any more. We stopped that about five years ago when the years caught up with both of us.

However, when we did get out to the shopping malls, we tried to make the holidays a time for celebration, cheerfulness, happiness, and a time for unleashed giving. We started around the first of November and didn't stop until Christmas Eve. I am speaking, of course, of a time when we had the funds to spend. 

There was a time when we had to be much more frugal with our spreading of Christmas cheer. Not that any of our kids ever went without a nice Christmas, far from it. If we didn't have the cash, there were always our credit accounts at Sears and Penny's and we could spend the next six months paying them off. In later years, we had the cash and we were lavish in our spending. 

My childhood years were an entirely different story. There were a few years when we didn't buy a Christmas tree, we simply went "out in the woods", found a nice cedar tree and cut it down. We pulled a coaster sled along and loaded the tree (usually a small one) on the sled and pulled it back to the house. There we usually had to shake the snow or moisture off before taking it into the house. We trimmed it with ornaments, bulbs, tassel, and later a string or two of colored lights. The tree, being small, sat on a table in the living room.

My Dad and Mom were extremely careful to insure that there was plenty to eat on Christmas Day. This included a fine Christmas dinner but it did not exclude the goodies associated with the Yuletide season. On Christmas morning, we found plenty of oranges, apples, tangerines, all kinds of nuts, and various types of candy from bon-bons to chocolate drops, to hard rock to candy canes to. . . well, you get the idea. The nuts included English walnuts, peanuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, hickory nuts and others whose names escape me at the moment.

Dad assumed the task of making up a huge bowl of fruit salad and the result was a delicious concoction that we sampled just one time a year. He was innovative, too, adding, from year to year, marshmallows, raisins and various other treats as the ideas came to him. If we didn't manage to eat all of the fruit salad in a day or two, some of the fruit sometimes became just a little tangy from the results of fermentation but that didn't stop us from partaking of the exquisite ambrosia.

Not to be outdone, my Mother did the honors with her homemade eggnog which we all loved. She had her own recipe, of course, which included serving the eggnog warm, whipping up the egg whites into a froth and "folding "them in to each glass so that the froth remained on top but was saturated with the egg nog mixture. Umm-umm, good.

First of all in the early morning was when we all gathered around the tree for the gifts Santa had brought. There were gifts for each of us kids, just not very many. We boys got a pair of corduroy pants and a shirt, usually two or three pairs of socks, some underwear, and maybe a winter cap of some sort. The girls got girl stuff, dresses, slips, underwear, stockings and shoes.

Then there was the good stuff, the toys, games, etc.

For a typical Christmas, I got a gun and holster set; one year, Bill and I got a table tennis set as a joint gift and a bicycle on another Christmas. As we got older, the tenor of the gifts changed to fit our maturity. Maybe a fountain pen as we approached our junior and senior years of high school.

As to the clothing, it was expected that it would last us through the school year so by May of the following year, those corduroy trousers were looking more like satin sheen than corduroy.

Shoes must be worn until our feet were visible (and soiled) through the sole, then Dad took them to the local shoe repair shop for "half-soles" and heels, at which time they came back better than new, including a polish job thrown in by the shoe repairman. I forgot to mention that when our feet were visible through the bottom, we were required to place cardboard inside the shoes until such time as Dad had the money to take them for repair. That might be a week, or a month but when the ground was wet or snow-covered, the cardboard didn't hold up well at all.

I'm off the subject just a little so I'll try to get back on track. After the gifts were opened, after breakfast was over and the kitchen was straightened up, (yes, we were all required to help with the dishes), then it was play time, maybe a game of Parcheesi, the Game of India that someone got or a game of ping-pong, or some other family game, It was a day of fun, good cheer, and happiness.

On other days, Dad was a strict disciplinarian but on Christmas Day, he was just a good father, full of fun and laughter, a generous and a loving Dad.

Mother was her usual, patient, loving self, happy when her kids were happy, doing what had to be done but getting some help from Dad and us kids. After Lucille and I married, we carried on the tradition for our kids, grandkids, and great grandkids until, as I mentioned, we became too old to make the shopping rounds. Now, we give each of them a check and tell them to buy themselves what they want.

No, it's not the same any more. With the money we give them, they can buy more than we might have given them because they can catch the after-Christmas sales. But it's still not as much fun as it once was. There's no handing out of presents on Christmas, no ooh-ing and aah-ing over some treasure, no laughter when someone opens a package and asks, "What is it?"

But that isn't what I miss the most. I miss Dad's loud voice, his huge guffaw and Mother's quiet reprimand, "Now, Arch, let's not get carried away!"

I miss Bill, and Wanda and Jerry and Linda. But they’re all gone, too. I wish I could tell them how much I miss them but it's too late. I wish there was some way I could tell them that I'll be thinking of them this Christmas.

Maybe God will open up the lines between here and His Home just so they can hear this message.