If a child just did not have to grow up, life would stay fun longer.
The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny went the way of childhood. I did not want the same thing to happen to Santa Claus. It was the year 1934 and I was seven years old. I still hung my stocking over the huge hewn stone fireplace. The mantle was a solid stone and the stockings had always been lined up on nails in a board just under the mantle.
I decided I would catch Santa in the business of filling the stockings and stop the rumors that were circulating. There were chairs around the front of the fireplace, and my parents’ bed in the back corner of the room. I went into the back of the house and dragged the baby cradle into the fireplace room. Of course, I had outgrown it a long time ago. It was the only thing I could find to get close enough to stand guard for the night.
I crawled into the cradle but found my legs were too long to pull in. I lay on my back and hung a leg over each side. I put a quilt over me and got ready to catch Santa in the act of filling stockings. This would once and for all prove the jolly man could come down our big chimney and he WAS for real.
At 4:00 A.M., my brother Charles awakened me by poking the coals in the fire, adding splinters of rich pine, and fresh logs to get a roaring fire going. I tried to get out of the cradle, and my legs were asleep though my mind was awake. I finally struggled out of the cradle and found the stockings already filled and my last chance gone to prove Santa was real. Before Christmas came again, I was pretty well convinced the rumors were true.
The clincher for me came when Mama returned from shopping in the little coal mining town about two miles away. I hurried to help her bring her things from my brother Elbert’s car. She laid a package on the bed and it cried. Dolls had a crier inside the body and if you laid them on their stomach, they cried. When the doll showed up as a gift to me, I was finally convinced who was the gift givers in the family. My brother, Elbert had begun work in a large coal mine in Jefferson County, and he was able to buy a few gifts and he gave me my first tea set. I cherished it through the years and used the sugar bowl for a toothpick holder for many years.
During this time, we got few gifts. Our stockings contained fruit, nuts and candy. We were rich! These items were not every-day snacks. They were once-a-year special treats. Our Christmas tree was cut off the farm. The decorations were strings of popcorn, red berries, ropes of colored paper, cut out stars, all handmade items. We made popcorn balls from our own corn and sorghum syrup as well as parched peanuts and peanut brittle.
Mama cooked a large fruitcake in a big dishpan. She took a number two can, which had been emptied of its contents, and put washed gravels in it to weight it down. This was placed in the center to make a tube pan out of it. The huge cake was cooked carefully in a wood cook stove oven. The fire had to be watched to keep the temperature just right. When it was finished, apple slices were put over the top and it was wrapped in a clean, white cloth and left to mellow. Many trips were made to the storage cabinet to sniff the aroma from the apples as they mellowed the prized cake.
Nearer to the big day, a stacked coconut cake and a chocolate cake would be added to the “fixins” for the very special meal. We would have ham taken from the row hanging in the smokehouse, and slowly baked. Added to this would be a big, fat hen with cornbread sage dressing. Candied sweet potatoes, potato salad, green beans, beet and cucumber pickles and other vegetables from storage shelves in the hall would finish out a banquet-sized holiday meal.
These were good days. No one thought for a minute that we were poor. What else could one want if they had never been exposed to the “finer things” of life? To be classified poor, you would have to have something to compare with — we were well off according to the day’s standard. Our cousins would arrive by the “dozens” to share in our bounty, as did the older married ones of the family and their children. Anyone was welcomed to the table in our home at any time. This was a truly “holiday spirit” of giving as we celebrated the “gift of all gifts” and HIS birthday.