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.