The newspaper was found among the multitude of papers she left behind, just a small circular from her hometown in upstate New York. None of her children ever knew she wrote about her childhood memories of Christmas during that last Christmas season she was alive, or that it was ever published. Her written memories might have been lost forever if I wasn't the daughter I was, the one who threw all those papers in boxes when she died and slowly over the years has been sorting the detritus, looking for gems...
Being asked to tell memories of long ago is probably the nicest thing that can happen to a person of some age, thank you for the opportunity to dredge up a few memories of Christmases in the Twenties.
This was before Niagara Power installed electric lines through western New York and my memory of winter nights was of total darkness. People carried flashlights or kerosene lanterns when they were walking at night. There were no streetlights then in Honeoye. An early pre-Christmas memory is of walking up the street from my father's store to our house where a light shone. It was windy and the bare branches high in the trees crackled. I was absolutely positive that Santa's sleigh was causing the sound.
An annual event in our home was listening to Madam Schumann Heink sing "Silent Night" in German over the radio. My father, like so many other men, had built our radio which was powered by a big battery resting on a lower shelf of the table. My mother, father, sister and I listened by sharing the two headsets, one earpiece to each (loud speakers came later). That much-loved song, sung in that deep voice all the way from Germany, was like a miracle to me.
There was always the Christmas program at the church with a big tree, the story of the baby Jesus, music and "Santa Claus" who distributed little boxes of candies to the children. One year, one evening during supper, the phone rang and it was for me -- a rare event.
"Hello, Caroline," a man's voice said, "this is Santa Claus. Have you been a good girl this year?"
"Oh yes," I answered.
My memory tells me he asked about some lapse of good behavior that he had heard about and which we discussed briefly. I then told him about some gift I was hoping for and we said good-bye. Of course my parents were astounded at his call and asked all sorts of questions.
"Well, what did you think about Santa's calling you?"
"He sounded like Mr. Burton (the local undertaker)," I replied.
Another Christmas Eve, after we had hung up our stockings and set out cookies and milk for Santa, Mother was tucking my sister and me in, telling us to quickly go to sleep before Santa came. We heard sounds of sleigh bells outside our window and then a male voice saying, "Whoa, Dancer, Whoa, Prancer..." Paralyzed -- blankets over our heads -- we didn't see Mother turning off her flashlight and abruptly leaving the room. I now know I heard her smile.
Every Christmas Eve, as soon as it was dark, with great solemnity we, along with all the other houses with children, would place a lighted candle in a front window to light the Christ Child on his way.
We never saw our Christmas tree before Christmas morning. That morning we gathered outside the parlor door, shivering in our Dr. Denton's for what seemed like hours, before the door opened and there it was! Glorious, with the flickering candles clipped to branches, the scent of pine needles and candle wax, the packages in bright reds and greens heaped on the white sheet under the tree. To this day, I cannot remember a greater thrill.
What happened afterward now seems like anti-climax, but in those days, taking down our stockings, eating any cookie crumbs left by Santa, and opening presents made for a wonderful day, not to mention the special dinner of Virginia baked ham topped with baked pineapple slices -- an exotic menu to us.
After our mid-day dinner, we joined the other kids on Briggs' hill to slide down on our new Flexible Flyer, my sister and I not-so-graciously taking turns. Another year, we tried out new skis.
But each year, my favorite time was coming in, cold, to the warm house to open my new book, always a present from Mother. She never failed or varied, and I have never stopped reading.
Thank you for helping me remember.
Re-printed from The Honeoye Herald, December 19, 2001.
DECEMBER 19, 2011 5:27PM