Christmas Memories

 When we were living at 908 Vine Street in Missoula, Dad would take me with him to get our Christmas tree. Before we left Missoula Vern got to go with us but my sister Myrtle was too small. We crossed the Van Buren Street Bridge and walked east on the Milwaukee railroad tracks up Hellgate Canyon at the foot of Mt. Sentinel. At a certain place a small stream trickled down from a spring and that is where we started to climb. In the wintertime the water was frozen so it wasn't easy to keep from falling on the ice. I would grab branches to help me along. Coming down was a different story. One could slide, which was fun. Once I tried to sit on the tree and slide but Dad put a stop to that in a hurry, for the tree would have been ruined. Dad and I would climb until we got to a meadow and there he would build an enormous fire over which he broiled steak. On this one occasion I was allowed to drink coffee. Then we would tramp through the snow searching for the perfect tree. One time Dad said the snow was so deep that I should stay by the fire and keep warm. Something about his voice and manner kept me from begging to go which ordinarily I would have done. Years later he told us that he had seen a mountain lion at the edge of the woods, attracted to the spot by the smell of the steak. Dad said he walked toward the lion brandishing his axe and the lion turned and ran. I'm thankful that the lion was behind me so that Dad saw him instead of me. Walking back along the railroad tracks in the dark was always scary for me, for at that time of the evening a Milwaukee train always came from the east. We could hear it coming when it was miles away. I'd call, "Dad, I hear the train coming. Let's get off the tracks." But Dad would say, "We have lot's of time." I wasn't sure about that but I stayed on the tracks as he did. Finally we would get off and as the train came rushing by the ground trembled - and so did I. When we got home tired and hungry. Mother would always have hot soup for us. I'd hold my icy hands over the pot-bellied stove in the dining room. Oh, how good it felt! This was the same stove around which we dressed on cold winter mornings.

Tree cutting day was one day I didn't complain about wearing long underwear, but oh, how I hated the things! I could never get the legs folded neatly so they wouldn't bulge under my long, black stockings. I wonder, did anyone? I can still remember the day I rebelled and wouldn't wear the underwear any more. It was tradition in our family that Dad put up the tree Christmas Eve and after the three of us children went to bed, he and mother trimmed it. I can remember the fascinating bulbs he bought, made in Germany, in the shapes of fruit and nuts and colored accordingly. They lasted for years. In the morning we had to stay in bed until we were called and then we walked into a dark room except for the tree lights. It was magic. In my childhood days there weren't heaps of presents piled under the tree. We always received something new to wear, a book, a game, a Parker puzzle, and a Christmas stocking filled with candy and an orange. I think I was happier than my great-grandchildren are now with so many presents that they don't know what to do first, and then ask if there are more. We spent the day reading or putting the puzzle together. That was one day in the year when we couldn't help with the dishes, either setting the table or washing them, for the Haviland china was used and we weren't to touch. The Haviland china Mother and Dad got by buying from a salesman from the Larkin Company. He sold door to door much as the Watkins company did later, and the same products. In one house we lived in there were hot air registers in the floors upstairs and many are the times I crouched over the one in my bedroom about Christmas time trying to hear what I was getting for Christmas. I never did hear a thing, but I always kept trying.

The second floor reminds me of something that has nothing to do with Christmas. Part way up the stairs of that house there was a landing that had a window directly above the bathroom window in the house next door. One day I discovered that I could look right into their bathroom and see Mr. Jones, who owned the grocery store at the corner, taking a bath. I thought it was real funny and told mother. She evidently mentioned it to Mrs. Jones for the shades were pulled after that.

One Christmas I received a little black wrought iron stove, complete with pans. It was the number one gift as far as I was concerned. During the afternoon Dad rocked too far back and fell over on the stove, breaking it to pieces. Because Dad had grown up an orphan Christmas always meant a lot to him. It seemed fitting when he died in December 1948 that the Columbia Funeral Parlor had a Nativity scene and Christmas music playing. He would have loved it - and perhaps he did.


1988/9 for Life Story Class ChritmasMem1.txt Page 2 of 2 01/19/01 2:00 AM