by Doris Hadlock
Christmas Day 1906 dawned bright and cold. At my insistence, Papa had joined me in hanging up stockings by the stove according to tradition.
I put a little pen knife in his stocking and he put a cute ring in mine along with a big orange, a rare treat in out village. We tried to make the season festive.
It wasn't easy to be festive that year.
My mother had died the year before at Christmas time. Papa tried to make life better for me at much sacrifice to himself because he knew how much I missed my mother.
But, today! Ah, goody! We were going to Grandma's. So we got ready, took Old Sam out of the barn and hitched him to the cutter. Each thill on the cutter had three little tinkling bells, Christmas music.
Then away we went. The snow was deep and hard packed in the sleigh tracks. Old Sam trotted off gaily. I think he enjoyed the bells. Papa and I bundled warm and cozy in the cutter, sang Christmas songs all the way to Grandma's.
When we got there, what a greeting! Grandma, Uncle Charlie and Auntie all welcomed us. I anticipated fun with my cousin Gerald. We were the same age and he was the best playmate I ever had.
Grandma's kitchen was large and light with many windows and plenty of chairs, a big table and an old-fashion kitchen stove. A goose was roasting in the oven giving off a wonderful aroma.
Gerald and I were thinking so much about the gifts that we just hung around Grandma and Auntie in the kitchen until Auntie said, "Put on your warm clothes and go out and slide on the hill by the farm." So we did until we got so cold we had to come in to get warm.
Grandma's bedroom was next to the dining room and we stood in the doorway looking at the pile of gifts on Grandma's bed and trying to guess what was in the packages. We wouldn't dare to touch one. We just looked from the doorway.
Finally dinner was ready. We all sat down at the big dining room table. Nobody said the Grace, but I think everyone was thankful. First course was oyster soup. with those big fresh oysters that came by train from New York. Then came the goose, mashed potatoes and gravy, hubbard squash (the best squash ever raised in Uncle's garden) and Aunties home-made rolls. Grandma's pickles and jellies pepped everything up. Then came desert. It was Grandma's special: stewed figs and whipped cream. Everyone gorged, except Grandma. She was still slim and if anyone said to her," How have you kept your girlish figure, Phoebe?" She would laugh and say, "Well, you know, I have had only sixteen birthdays." Grandma's birthday was on February twenty-ninth.
After dinner, we children were fuming and fussing to see the tree, but no one could go into the parlor until every last dish was washed and dried.
We were told Santa was in there fixing the tree. The little cousins believed this, but Gerald and I knew better. It was Grandma arranging the gifts we had seen on her bed.
At last all trouped into the parlor and saw the tree, resplendent with draped strings of popcorn, little bags of red netting with nuts and candy hung on the branches, and many gifts. There were no lights or candles. Fire was to great a danger in the country. Colorful mittens, scarves and ties were lying on the branches. Books and games were under the tree.
There was a big doll in a pretty blue dress sitting under the tree too. The little children were most pleased with Noah's Arks and at once had fun playing with the little animals. Gerald got a roller organ. What fun to have music just by turning a crank! He also got a warm jacket. He would need it for his long walk to school.
Papa gave me a gold locket with the horses by Rosa Bonheur in relief. He knew how I loved horses. The big beautiful doll was for me. I thought her lovely, but she was not cuddly like my old Ruthy doll.
The books were good: The Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, Black Beauty, Greek heroes. Papa got Round the World in 80 Days and an Old Farmer's Almanac.
Because Gerald and I were both only children, we never had been given games for two, but that time we got a board game called India. A little card with a pointer came with it. We snapped the pointer and the number where the point stopped told us how many moves we could make in that turn.
After the tree and gifts, came the singing time and soon Uncle Will took out his fiddle and with Auntie at the piano, went to town on the old dances: square dances, jigs, reels like Money Musk, The Devil's Dream, Sailors Hornpipe and many more, rousing entertainment.
Gerald and I sat on the floor playing India. His big orange cat, named Tommy, lolled on the floor by us, sated with his Christmas goose. The India game was quiet fun.
By this time it was beginning the early dark of December. The little ones were tired so they were taken home, but Papa and I stayed for the evening treat.
We cracked butternuts, peeled apples from the orchard and tasted Auntie's special rhubarb wine.
By now it was dark. We said our good-byes and Thank you's to Grandma and all the folks at Grandma's, took Old Sam out of the warm barn and hitched him to the cutter and started home. Old Sam hurried along. He knew oats and hay were waiting in his manger in the home barn.
The snow crackled, bells's tinkled and never, never have I seen so many stars. The Milky Way us like a ceiling. I could hardly find Orion among the multitude of stars.
Home and bedtime. It had been a grand Christmas Day at Grandma's house.