My father died nearly thirteen years ago. He was part of the “Greatest Generation”, a title popularly assigned to veterans of WWII, and affirmed by my personal experiences and observations of how my dad lived his life. He was a child of the depression, got by with very little, served his country, worked hard, worked well, gave himself to others, served the Lord, could always be counted on, asked for little of himself and never complained!
My father was also the 7th of 8 children from a poor family in Lexington, KY. His father was a brick mason who was out of work like some many others in 1933. Many of Dad’s older siblings also had lost their jobs and had moved back into his parent’s house, the ones married brought their spouses. Dad slept in an unheated attic on a mattress with his brothers and the only bathroom had been built on the porch, also unheated. Dad’s mother was the only one in the household at that time that managing to bring in money. She did so by baking and selling the goods to other families in the area and a few sorority houses at the University of Kentucky.
Dad told us a story about one of his most memorable childhood Christmases. There really isn’t much to it but when it is contrasted against today’s consumerism and personal entitlement, it serves as a reminder of what is really important. This story is taken from Dad’s handwritten notes that he titled, “They Didn’t Ask Me (but I decided to tell them anyway) – Things I Remember Before I Forget”
The Christmas that stands out in my mind is the Christmas of 1933 when I was 8 years old. It had been a very bad year for my daddy’s work and money was really scarce.
By Christmas Eve we had not been able to get a Christmas tree and there were no prospects for getting one. My mom and I had walked downtown on an errand and on our way home I asked about a Christmas tree as we neared a tree stand at the corner of Limestone and Vine Streets. Mom said she had no money for a tree but I told her I had a quarter and maybe we could buy a tree. The tree stand had 3 left and it was getting late. The man at the stand seemed very nice and when I asked him how much the trees were, he said, “How much do you have”? When I replied 25 cents, he said, “That’s how much the trees cost!” I was excited! He said to pick one and take it home. When the best of the 3 had been selected, he returned my quarter and said, Merry Christmas!”
Now the problem was getting the tree from Limestone and Vine to 262 College View. there was only one way, tug and pull and I was to be the “tugger” and “puller” for over a mile, as Mom has things to carry herself.
When you are only 8 , kind of small and skinny, pulling an 8 foot tree for blocks and blocks is exhausting but off we went. It was a Cedar tree and smelled good but it was sticky with sap and Cedar branches were like like needles in my hands and arms. My mom was worried so we walked slow and I got tired pretty quickly, but I would not give up.
Mom kept saying that we would be home soon as her way of encouraging me with the task. Suddenly, College View was in sight and my strength was renewed. Joy took the place of fatigue. The three of us, my mom, our tree and me, finally arrived home just after dark. The tree was worn on the smooth on one side – the sidewalk side – but it looked great. We placed it in the corner of the living room and decorated with old ornaments, a few lights and much used tinsel that had been saved year by year.
You know pulling that tree all the distance didn’t hurt me a bit. it kept me warm pulling it and it sure looked great on Christmas morning. Merry Christmas to all.
This should be a reminder to us all that memorable Christmases are not the gifts but family and small acts of kindness. His memory also triggers those of my own when I, along with my four older siblings, would save the silver tinsel off our tree each year along with used wrapping paper carefully unwrapped Christmas presents.