Christmas Commentary

Christmas in the 1940’s was the same for most kids who lived in the hamlet of Greenwood Center and adjoining village of Locke Mills, Maine. We were children of, for the most part, mill workers and though we joined in the excitement of the holiday knew that we would probably not see any of the wondrous toys pictured in the “wish book”under our trees.

The school Christmas party was a joyous occasion, the drawing of the names, the anticipation of going to school the very day we opened our presents. When my brothers and I brought home the names we had drawn, my mother made a trip to Brown’s Variety in Bethel or if she was fortunate, got a ride to Norway to J.J. Newberry’s where she picked  up coloring books, crayons and other small gifts for us to wrap.

Today, as we all know, there are still children who get very little, if anything, for Christmas. No matter the fund raising, the gathering of toys by organizations, there are always some who are left out and forgotten. But we also have to think of those who ARE remembered and thank God that there are  those who are willing and able to collect and distribute toys and other much needed things.

In the 1940’s, back in the lake and mountain regions of Maine, there were no holiday trains coming through, no toy collections. Each child seemed to know, at least in our family, that we would get something and that it WAS a special day.

Christmas Eve we hung our stockings by the wood box behind the wood stove. Mine was the longest because I was forced to wear the ugly brown cotton stockings to keep my legs warm. However, size did not matter. Everyone received the same , ending with the big orange in the toe.

I went to bed early with the thought that morning would come sooner. I can still hear the rattle of Christmas paper as my mother stood in the kitchen and wrapped the few gifts we could afford. It was so exciting to think that in the morning there would be presents under the tree!  I fell asleep to that noise and soon it was 5 a.m. and I scooted down the stairs to grab the long brown stocking and take it to bed with me. Up the stairs I went and under the covers to take out pencils, crayons and maybe some hard candy! Candy before breakfast? That was a treat!!!

The tree stood in the kitchen corner, resplendent with its paper colored chains against the frost covered windows. We gobbled breakfast and presents were passed out. I always stood by the wood box because it was the warmest place in the kitchen!  We could depend on Grammy Martin knitting each of us a hat and mittens. I counted on my mother getting me paper dolls and she never failed me!

Needless to say, it took very little time for us to unwrap and see the presents . I cannot remember anyone ever complaining on how little they got or if they did not get what they wanted. I think we all knew and understood that the “big” presents in the catalogs were not meant for people like us…hard working people who had to work twice as hard to make a holiday nice.

We wrote our notes to Santa and left them on the frosty windowsills a few nights before Christmas and told him what we would LIKE to get but somehow in our hearts, we knew we would probably not get what we had wished for…and yet, that was part of the fun, part of the holiday, part of the excitement.

Perhaps that is why today I wonder if this generation of children get way too much. I know..I know..the world has changed and I have tried to change with it. I just cannot imagine my sitting in our little kitchen in the 1940’s with presents stacked around me, tossing paper and tags in the air and not knowing later who gave me what gift. Each one was so precious to us.

Even our Christmas “dinner” paled in comparison to those we view in magazines today and on television. Our little round, oil cloth topped table, held potatoes, one of Lester Cole’s chickens ( roadrunner to my Dad) and a vegetable or two with a glass of water by each plate. Dessert was red jello from the snowbank. What a treat!! After all was cleaned, we went ice skating and the day was complete.

I am glad that today’s children have as much as they do…wonderful that so many children are remembered who would otherwise go without…sad that some get way too much and appreciate so very little. That makes up the world…I guess.

We may have been poor, but I would not trade one of my Christmas memories back in the little house for anything.

Suddenly December

November has slithered off the calendar and December has arrived on its little chilly feet, threatening snow every day with its grey, dismal skies and an occasional peek of sun.  These are the days that take me back to the Maine farm and its ever changing seasons.  The trees are barren with skeletal fingers reaching for the sky and once again, we can see Indian Pond down in the valley from our front porch.  The garden lays barren and ready to sleep for the cold months.

The “Fabulous Four”, as I always called them ,arrive home from school with various holiday cut-outs and stories.  Each year the big event is the “exchanging of names” for the school Christmas tree! How horrid that one of the boys got a girl’s name!! What do you give a girl? Why couldn’t I have got a boy’s name? I wanted to get so and so’s name, but that would have been cheating….and so it went each year. Until they were too old for that…and of course I missed it!! ( To a point).

I looked in the freezer, knowing it was filled to the top with butchered meat , in preparation for the winter. That was an autumn happening each year, which I did not relish coming on, but I spent nights at the kitchen table with freezer wrap and masking tape and black marker until the freezer was brimmed with pork, bacon, sausage (hey I made my own and the ground meat) and beef. We were set in that department. A few jars of green tomato pickles and assorted jellies sat on the shelf leading to the cellar.

I won’t kid anyone. I hated snow; I hated cold. I dreaded every hour of every day that did not include green grass. However, there was a highlight…a silver lining behind every cloud if you will. Her name was Winnie Hanscom and she was my neighbor just down below the hill.  Now, back in those days, Rowe Hill consisted of year round residents such as : Monte Brooks and his wife Eunice and family at the top; Lee and Myrtle Sumner and their beautiful family half way down the hill; Winnie and Ray Hanscom and their daughters and Wilmer Bryant at the bottom of the hill. The Colby Ring home held different families at different times; sometimes it stood silent. Howard and Alice Emery came at various times of the year to their home at the top of Velvet Hollow.

What I most remember about the Brooks was seeing Mont and Eunice driving to town with their horse and buggy. What a beautiful sight and how I wish I was camera happy back then and could see it one more time. Myrtle Sumner, although we lived close by, was more a telephone friend, giving me news for the newspapers each week as to what her family was doing. Alice Emery , when home, supplied my kids with her molasses cookies, which I could never duplicate even with her recipe and they have never let me forget it.

Wilmer Bryant was a farmer and my Samaritan. How many times he gave me a ride to Dr. Nangle’s in West Paris in the early morning hours when I suffered migraines. He was a typical quiet farmer with a heart bigger than his barn.

But Winnie Hanscom! What a tangled life we led. She was my mother’s childhood friend and graduated high school in 1933 with her. For years, she was a baby sitter for my brothers and me. Fast forward, I married and moved into the house behind her on the hill. She became a mother and I baby sit her daughters.

Our mutual friend was the telephone. If she found an EASY recipe, she was on the phone with it immediately. I have never before or since tasted anything like her glazed raised donuts. I couldn’t make them….mine were glue. Hers were plump, golden and sugary heavenly glazed. Come near holiday time, when the snow was really piling up and all moods were pretty well scraping the bottom, she was on the phone with another tried and true recipe.  One was some sort of relish made with orange rinds (?), cranberries and something or other. I lost the recipe, but could never duplicate it anyway.

Together we rejoiced that the cows were in for the winter. I would  not be chasing them back into the pasture and she would not be behind them with a garden implement heading them in my direction. That was our bright light of the winter months.

Winnie and I had one of those friendships where one knew the other was there if needed. She is one of my happiest memories from the years on Rowe Hill. I always tell and laugh again, as we did so many times, about the morning she got up and was getting the girls off to school. Feeling empty, she reached for a handful of cereal to munch on and suddenly declared she was not about to feed the girls that stuff. She took a second look and realized that she was chewing on dry cat food. I know, I know, I’ve told that story a hundred times but every time it is funny and it was to her the last time I saw her.

I often look back at those days and remember going up and down the cellar steps to feed the miserable beast known as the “wood furnace” trying to heat that old farm house. We had an Ashley wood heater in the kitchen which did a pretty good job, but the cold seemed to settle in my bones.

Now I am here about 5 1/2 hours away from the old homestead and wishing that I could see Indian Pond, as in the picture, one more time. It is highly unlikely I will at this time of year…but maybe come next year when the pond lilies are blossomed or the apple trees are in bloom.

Those are the mental images that make me tolerate December.