A TAYLORVILLE CHRISTMAS
About two weeks before Christmas, all the children were given a verse to learn. It was either from the Bible or some religious writer. We had to memorize the verse and recite it at the Christmas program. The youngest children only had four lines to memorize, older children six or eight.
Around the same time Dad would put up the Christmas Tree. It was not a single tree. It was limbs and branches from a row of large cedar trees growing in a row near the barn. Why they were ever planted, I have no idea. They could have been shade for the mules and the cow.
He would arrange the branches in the northwest corner of the sitting room. A wire or wires went from the door jam to the window, holding everything tightly in place. It was a big tree, filling the entire corner, the top hitting the ceiling.
It wa the children’s job to decorate the tree. Everything was in the attic; brightly colored thin glass balls of assorted sizes and colors, packets of tinsel, strings of beads and glass icicles. A few times we popped popcorn and made strings of popcorn to drape around the tree. Etta, our older sister born in 1917, would help.
No strings of electric lights. The REA (Rural Electrification of America) had not reached Taylorville. When darkness arrived, kerosine lamps were lit. There were no lamps in the children’s bedrooms. We undressed quickly and jumped into the cold bed. Sometimes we would get ready for bed in the warm upstairs hallway. No bedroom doors were left open. If you did, someone from downstairs would yell, “Shut the door. You are creating a draft.”
We had our verses memorized. We were ready. Sometime during the week before Christmas we went to the Church in our 1940 Ford. If it was before 1940, we went in an old Ford truck. I don’t remember any car prior to the 1940 Ford. But we always had an old second-hand Ford truck.
The Church was illuminated by several hanging kerosene lamps. A wood stove warmed the people nearby. The back of the Church was cold as ice. The choir was singing Christmas hymns and carols. I remember only women in the choir and Aunt Lillie Elliott Palmer was the organist.
They got us all in a line, boys and girls mixed, to go onto the small stage and recite our lines. Most of us hurried to the center of the stage, with no introduction, blurted out our verse and ran off. A few bowed to the audience, said their verse with some semblance of poetry.
An old man in work clothes was sitting on the edge of the stage as we stepped off. He gave us a small paper bag filled with hard candy, peanut brittle and an orange or tangerine. I suppose he was meant to be Santa Clause. No name on the bag. Everyone received the same things.
When we were finished, the choir sang a few songs. The preacher gave a short sermon on the Christmas Story. A few more hymns and the program was over. The congregation milled around talking and listening to the latest gossip, all the while edging toward the door.
We went home eating the hard candy and relieved we hadn’t forgotten our verse in front of everyone.
We went to bed wondering about the old man. Was he really Santa Clause.
Christmas Eve came. Nothing special went on, no big meal or trips to stores.
I was up at daybreak. I ran into the hallway, hugged the warm brick chimney, and quickly dressed.
The tree looked pretty in the dim light. But plenty of light to see the presents. Nothing was wrapped. Boxes were open displaying their contents. I spotted my bee bee gun. Not the beautiful pump action Red Ryder gun but the standard bee bee gun with the cocking mechanism on the stock. Boys would walk around shooting at everything. We had ten to fifteen bee bees in our mouth. After shooting we would put our lips to the barrel and drop in a bee bee. Then cock the rifle for the next shot.
My cap pistol was in the next box. A big semi-automatic cowboy type. I loaded it with a roll of caps and shot a few times. Some pistols were single shot. Caps came in a small square sheet. You tore off one and loaded it behind the hammer. Whenever you fired the pistol, you had to reload.
Also under the tree were assorted paper bags of oranges, tangerines, mixed nuts, English walnuts, hard candy, a small amount of chocolate and lots of peanut brittle. There was clothing; socks, gloves, handkerchiefs, overalls for the boys, sometimes a flashlight or a pocket knife, and dresses for the girls.
Lois and some of the older children in the neighborhood were out caroling on the back of an old farm truck. They would sing carols riding down the dirt roads, stopping in barnyards, and in front of homes on the roads. They started in the dark and ended a few hours after dawn.
Mom called everyone for breakfast. At the table were Mom and Dad, Marvin, Etta, Irving, Frank, Dale, Lois and myself. Norman and Farrell were away working in Philadelphia. Ninety percent of the time, breakfast was hard fried eggs with either ham, bacon, sausage and fried potatoes. The other breakfast was pancakes with King-Porto-Ric molasses or syrup.
After breakfast, I grabbed my new bee bee gun and ran across the field to Rudy’s. I had to see what Santa brought him.