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 firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can find his stuff on Amazon.