A Farm Boy’s Christmas by Chuck Thurston

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Scribbles_FarmBoyChristams

Once upon a Christmas, in the 1940s, my four brothers and I hardly dared to think about the biggest day on our calendar until the last of the Thanksgiving turkey was relegated to soup, hash or casserole. Two events seemed to signal that it was OK to unpackage the Yule spirit — the first radio airing of Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and the arrival of the Sears Christmas catalog!

I can’t describe the thrill of finding this document in our rural mailbox. It would lie prominently around our house as the local newspaper printed its daily countdown — 19 shopping days until Christmas, 18 days…17…a countdown that fueled our delirium.

We boys were told to look at the catalog and make a few selections for Santa Claus’s consideration. We pored over it with shivering anticipation until it was dog-eared. Parents became more secretive. We would catch glimpses of strange packages, hear murmured conversations and were cautioned not to “snoop around.”

Early to bed on Christmas Eve, and so keyed up, we were sure we would never sleep — though warned that Santa wouldn’t come if he found children awake. Miraculously we drifted off.

On the magic morning we would come down the stairs and pass through the dark living room. We could see vague and enticing shapes under the tree, and sneak furtive peeks. Could we each identify that one “big” hoped-for present? We were doomed, though, to endure the torment of several delays.

Chores first. Hay to be put down from the mow, cows to be milked, chickens to be fed.

And then Christmas morning church service. Father Gaffney — who seemed ancient from the time I first met him, until he passed on — celebrated the Mass at a snail’s pace. We agonized as the last chords of “Adeste Fidelis” echoed off the old church walls and we left for our second trial — the obligatory visit to Grandma’s after church — a thorough joy on any morning but this.

We fidgeted as she got out sugar cookies and gave us our presents — most always socks or mittens…then homeward bound at last! We all piled into our ’38 Buick to negotiate the hills of northern Pennsylvania toward our small farm. As often as not, Bing’s longing was fulfilled, and the hills would indeed be white.

We shucked caps, gloves and coats, while our parents, oblivious to our agitation, insisted that we have a bite to eat. Finally, by now almost maddened, we made for the pile under the tree.

What wonders! Ice skates, baseball gloves, chemistry sets — and these were the war years. Invariably, there would be tanks with wind-up motors and caterpillar treads that would climb over piles of blocks. Airplanes, aviator’s helmets with goggles, trucks, ships, cap guns – paradise!

The old folks are all gone now — resting in those Pennsylvania hills — but Christmas is still a joy. Toys have changed — lots of plastic, and we lay in a supply of batteries, but a few things seem timeless. As I watch the mad scramble of grandchildren squealing their delight at the pile under the tree, a familiar melody wafts from the radio. I hear Bing croon, and I sing silently along with him: “I’m dreamin’…”

 

Chuck Thurston lives and writes in Kannapolis, NC.  “A Farm Boy’s Christmas” is excerpted from his book “Senior Scribbles Unearthed.”  His third book of Scribbles is in the works.  He can be contacted at cthurston@ctc.net, and you can find his stuff on Amazon.

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The Days Are Just Packed by Chuck Thurston

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Toward the end of each year, my wife and I experience a strange cosmic phenomenon. Our calendar fills up in exponential leaps. The number of obligations increase in numbers beyond the time available for their attending to. Late October provides the first little road block. We no longer have to mess with children’s costumes, but we must still do some modest decorating and load up on Halloween candy. After that, we gear up for Thanksgiving, and are still dealing with turkey leftovers when the real tidal wave hits.

You know the drill – shopping, office and house parties; baking cookies; Christmas and Hanukah and Kwanzaa celebrations, each according to his and her own. Cards and candles and lights and ornaments and lists of things that have to be done.

Christmas presents

 

Somehow amidst all this, we have found time to write our yearly Christmas letter and get it off to selected friends.

Of course, the yearend turmoil is only the capper on what is usually a busy year throughout. We have three grown children, seven grandchildren and three greats. Keeping track of their comings and goings is a delight, and we feel lucky to participate when we can. We are mindful of our own needs for rest, relaxation and the right amount of exercise so we can keep up. We hit the Y most weekday mornings, and along with our reading and writing, we throw in an occasional cultural outing to keep our brain cells tuned – movies, theater, concerts – you know the drill.

All of the activity that we think close friends would enjoy hearing about goes in the letter.

For many years after graduation, I kept in touch with my high school English instructor and student counselor. He was a writer and encouraged my efforts. Whenever Heidi and I would visit my old hometown, we would drop in on Clyde and his wife Elizabeth – both in their late 80s. Elizabeth would always bring out a pot of tea and a plate of cookies. Clyde was invariably sitting in an easy chair in front of his fireplace. We would chatter about this and that – careful not to overstay our welcome.

This practice continued until they were both well into their 90s. On one of our last visits, Clyde mentioned they had just gotten our Christmas letter. “You are certainly very busy people. Aren’t you lucky!”

Both of them were largely housebound at that time. They could only re-enact the activities of their earlier years in memory.

Clyde’s remark has stayed with me to this day. Whenever we are tempted to think that many of our obligations are hassles – we pause to reconsider. What’s the alternative? Soon enough we may be spending much of our time in rocking chairs listening to the mantle clock tick. For now though – aren’t we lucky?

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             Chuck and Heidi Thurston share tidbits from their lives in this blog.  Their books are available on Amazon.  They are incredibly busy, but your phone messages will be answered, your notes responded to, the doorbell answered if you catch them at home.    There is always time for family and friends.