Celebrating the Gift
When we Rawlins children were young in the 1940s, money was scarcest at Christmas time. With five children in our family, close as stair steps, frugal meant making do.
Excitement built as we threw ourselves into holiday preparations. We memorized songs and pieces for programs at school and Sunday school. Giggles and shushing came from various corners as we children used our imaginations and household scraps to fashion gifts for family members. Mama’s treadle sewing machine clacked downstairs at night, and Daddy worked in the garage behind closed doors.
We snipped white-paper snowflakes to decorate the windows. Mama pulled her stash of already-used wrapping paper from the far recesses of the under-the-stairs closet. Lois and I heated flatirons on the woodstove and ironed the creases out of the paper. We cut some into strips to make colored chains for the tree, fresh from the woods , damp smelling and spicy.
David and Patty, our youngest siblings, festooned the lower boughs with clumped tinsel. When they weren’t looking, Mama thinned the clumps, hanging the strands higher and more evenly until they glittered in the Aladdin lamp’s light like rain falling through sunshine. The beautiful cardboard angel in her cloud of spun glass soared from the topmost spire. The colored coating inside the old glass balls and blown-glass ornaments was flaking, but we noticed only if we looked really close. The finish on the blue and red and purple clip-on candleholders showed the shiny metal underneath, but who cared?
None of our town friends had candleholders. They used strings of big, glowing colored lights, but electricity hadn’t yet come to Robe Valley. The holders held candles about five inches high, twisted in pretty spirals. Keeping a bucket of water nearby in case of fire, we lit them on Christmas Eve and turned the lamps down. We sang a carol and watched the points of flickering light. Then we blew the candles out, to be lit once or twice more before the tree came down.
(From A Logger’s Daughter: Growing Up in Washington’s Woods)