Tag: Christmas

The Ten Dollar Bill

Money was always tight at our house, especially after my dad died. Christmas was a struggle within our family. We lived on two pensions my mother got, one from the Civil Service and one from the VA.

Even so, we tried to share what we had. We often tried to have someone over for Christmas dinner, which usually was turkey. We all loved turkey dinner even though we’d just had one at Thanksgiving.

One Christmas was particularly hard. There just wasn’t anything extra. People, relatives, would come to the door with plates of cookies, maybe some fruit. And we had nothing for them.

As I was helping my mother with cleaning to get ready for the holiday, a strange thing happened. We had an old radio cabinet that had come from The Aunts after they broke up housekeeping. It was an odd looking piece of furniture. Radios had been large box-like structures back in the 30s and 40s. The cabinet was four to five feet long and about 18 inches deep. There were no drawers or doors. There were two fake doors on each side of the front and then a curved area in the middle. And it was hollow. Occasionally we would pull it away from the wall and dust the inside even though it didn’t ever show. This cabinet backed up to the stairway going upstairs.

I decided I had better pull it out and give it a good dusting behind since it was Christmas. As I moved it, I spotted a ten dollar bill sitting in the empty back in the dust. I called to my mother. “Look what I found!” We puzzled over that ten dollar bill. Where had it come from? We weren’t missing any money. How long had it been there? In the end we sat down and decided how to spend it. My mother had me bundle up and walk downtown to Woolworth’s. They had lovely boxes of peanut brittle for a dollar each. I bought ten boxes of peanut brittle.

We wrapped the boxes up in pretty paper and gave one to my aunts and uncles and whoever else we thought should have one. We felt so good about having something to give. To this day, I have no idea where that ten dollar bill came from. It could have fallen from someone’s pocket as they were climbing the stairs to the bathroom, but no one complained of missing that much money—and it was a lot of money back then. It could have been casually slipped into the back of the cabinet by someone who knew we would eventually find it.

Finally we stopped trying to guess and just accepted it as the small Christmas miracle it was.

Cris Roll

Off to get a Christmas tree

Uncle Stuart was the husband of my mother’s sister, Thelma. He looked out for the widow ladies in the family: his sister Margaret; my mother; and one of her sisters, Leota. He had a bit of a round belly and sat with his hands folded over his belly when he sat at the table with a cup of tea. Stuart made home repairs, picked up the ladies to play cards, and sometimes took us on Sunday drives and picnics in his red station wagon. Stewie seemed to know the name of every plant in the woods, and he could identify a bird simply by the shape of the outline in the sky.

For several years while I was still in school, Stuart picked me up on a Saturday near Christmas, and we drove out to their farm to look for a Christmas tree. He poured hot water on the engine of his rusty old tractor. It chugged a few times before it got running, then off we went back through the woods behind the house. I loved riding on the tractor and looking for the tracks of small animals in the snow. Stewie always seemed to know what made them.

Sometimes we brought home a spruce, but I favored balsam Christmas trees. I liked them best because there was plenty of space for the ornaments to hang free, unlike many of the trimmed and cultivated ones from the tree farm. (I suspect Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree was a balsam.) One year we found a tree that had grown up alongside another tree. It was mostly flat on one side. I decided it was perfect for us because it would fit well in the corner where we always put the tree.

When Uncle Stuart stopped the tractor, the silence was nearly complete. Just the wind blowing lonely through the trees and maybe the call of a chickadee. After the tree was cut down, we dragged it to the scoop on the tractor to take it back through the woods. Before we headed back, Stewie broke off branches of spruce, pine, cedar, and hemlock so we could make a wreath. I especially liked the tiny needles on the hemlock. And I loved the smell of the fresh greens.

When we got back home, we dragged the tree to the shed on the back of the house and stood it up to shake the loose snow off it. We’d set it up later. There was always a glass of warm milk with Nestle’s Quik stirred into it to chase away the cold.

I cherish the memories of those wonderful times

Cris Roll

Pete’s Christmas Present

One Christmas—I don’t remember how old I was—I was consumed with a desire to know what I was getting for Christmas. I didn’t believe in Santa Claus anymore. I had discovered the truth of that one year when I woke in the night to hear voices downstairs in the living room.

We had a floor register in the bedroom. I crept silently out of bed and knelt down on the floor by the register. I still remember the smell of that register. It was a little metallic and a little lubricating oil and a little dust. Well, maybe a lot of dust. As I peered into the living room, I saw my parents placing presents under the Christmas tree. I had suspected for quite some time that there really was no Santa Claus.

We didn’t have two sticks to rub together. I was suspicious that some of my friends received presents from Santa that were quite grand, while our presents tended to be things we needed, like socks, slips, warm hats and mittens. It didn’t seem quite fair that Santa would bring fun stuff to my friends while we got useful stuff.

So, there I was, snooping in all the places where presents might be hidden in the days before Christmas. That’s how I found myself lifting the lid of the old cedar chest in my brother Pete’s bedroom. That cedar chest had seen better days. It came from my dad’s house when he was growing up. It had once had a caned lid, but the caning had long since fallen apart.

I lifted the lid ever so quietly so no one else would hear me. And then I saw it. A brand new copy of Jim Kjelgaard’s book, Big Red. My heart sunk with disappointment. It was a book about a dog. How boring. How dumb. What did I want with a book about an old dog? I liked the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. And then there was the Lives of the Saints book club my mother had enrolled me in. Every six weeks, I got another saint in the mail. Anything, anything but a book about an old dog!

I quietly replaced the lid of the cedar chest and slipped out of Pete’s room. What was I going to do about this? He had already bought the book. And we weren’t a family that returned gifts. I could never do that; it would hurt his feelings.

The only thing to do was pretend I never saw the darned old book about a darned old dog. I knew I had to act happy and excited about that book.

And that’s what I did on Christmas morning. I acted all happy and excited. I thanked my brother for that dumb old book about a dumb old dog. And, honestly? I never read it. It sat on my shelf for years and years. I was grateful that Pete never asked me how I liked it. Maybe he knew, now that I think about it. He might have figured out that I had snooped, because he probably did some snooping of his own over the years.

We don’t always get what we want. Our loved ones can’t always figure out what to give us. Sometimes we all may have been guilty of buying something for a loved one that we want ourselves. But I knew then, even as a little girl, that I had to rise above my disappointment and not hurt my big brother’s feelings. And I think that is one of the messages of Christmas.

Cris Roll