Wednesday, December 22, 2010

A Great Depression Christmas

My father always managed to convey a sense of optimism and excitement to his children as Christmas approached. It began with bringing a tall spruce, or sometimes a pine tree, into the house, with all the bustle of getting it situated in its corner. South Texas afforded no proper Christmas trees, so my parents bought one that had been trucked in from East Texas. Then came the ritual of putting on the strings of serially wired colored lights and hanging the glass baubles imported from Germany and arranging the tin-foil icicles to everyone's liking.

In 1937 an extra step was added: papering the wall behind the tree with Christmas cards. The rooms of our house had been hung with wallpaper in pleasing neutral colors. But this particular wall was covered with ugly brown stains from the leaking roof which he had not had the money to repair, nor, of course, the money for hanging new wallpaper.

But he did have many friends and acquaintances, and cards from them were overflowing the living-room's library table. To my ten-year-old eyes, the sight of him gluing all those cards to the wall behind the tree, ceiling to floor, was amazing. It had not been that long ago that one of my younger sisters had been reprimanded for marking the hall wall with a crayon. And here was my father, pasting up cards in such a way that they could not be removed without destroying the wallpaper. I had no idea that his thought was he'd soon be able to fix the roof and redecorate, after the hospital bills had been paid.

Those hospital bills had piled up during the past year because my younger sisters had developed severe complications from their bouts with scarlet fever. And the youngest was still in the hospital.

But, on Christmas Eve, just at dusk, with the Christmas tree baubles sparkling and all its colored lights glowing, he brought her home, so tiny, wrapped in a pink blanket, and carried her into the living room and laid her tenderly on the sofa where she would have the best view.

And I can't remember the rest. Surely there were presents, if only one or two apiece, but in my memory there's only my youngest sister, home, happy, and getting well.

Thelma Sue Roberts, age 14

Here she is, in all her sweet seriousness, seven years later, towards the end of World War Two.

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