(The following is an excerpt from Farm Girl, my mother reflecting on Christmas during the Great Depression)
The Depression didn’t make any difference with birthdays, or with Christmas either, because children never expected much at those times. Back then children weren’t showered with gifts, not even at Christmas. I always got a book from Aunt Bernice and as long as there was Santa Claus, I’d get something from my parents.
One time around Christmas, we were in town and I saw this nice, big beautiful doll that had curly brown hair, a beautiful complexion, and eyes that blinked. She was about two feet tall, and you could move her arms and legs. Oh, how I wanted that doll!
Mother bit her lip and said, “Oh dear, Lucille, look how expensive it is. I don’t think you can have that.”
Dad laughed and said, “That’s not for you, Lucille. It’s not worth it.”
A few weeks later I was playing in the bedroom next to the kitchen and saw a box under the bed. There was that doll! I didn’t say anything, just pushed the box back under the bed.
I got that from Santa Claus on Christmas Day, and that was probably the biggest present I received from Santa or anyone.
One Christmas Eve, Dad came in from doing the chores kind of late.
He said, “Better get to bed, I hear some noises out there.”
I hung my stocking on the cupboard. Our tree was a few branches from a tree, stuck in a can of sand. You couldn’t go out and cut trees, this was Nebraska farm land, and trees were scarce. And you wouldn’t think of buying one.
We’d always celebrate Christmas with the Lutz’s, Aunt Dora, Uncle Jon and their kids. One Christmas Eve they arrived in their car, and it was kind of snowing. We could see Ford and Bernice coming over the hill in their horse-drawn wagon.
Aunt Dora teased them, “All you had was a mile to go, and you had to take the wagon!” Back then, people drove their cars in good weather, but in rain or snow they felt more secure with the horse and wagon.
I’d get a present from the Lutz’s, a present from Ford and Bernice, and one from Santa Claus. In my stocking, I’d get candy, an orange, pencils, a necklace or bracelet. One year when Christmas was at the Lutz’s, my dad gave me a leather case with a manicure set containing a file, scissors, and a cuticle pusher. I used that for years and years; it was a very useful present.
I always looked forward to getting a book from Aunt Bernice, usually the Bobbsey Twins. I loved to read and always wanted more books to read. I couldn’t get books at the Red Cloud library because you could only keep them two weeks, and we weren’t sure of getting to town in two weeks. It was a nickel a day if you were overdue. We’d go to Inavale to trade eggs every week, but there was no library there. Just a post office, a bank, a lumberyard, a drug store and the Schneider and Waldo’s stores.
While Aunt Bernice was home from Lincoln for her Christmas vacation, Dad and I would go over there and visit in the evenings. Mother didn’t go, she preferred to stay home and work on one of her projects.
Dad, Bernice and Ford would talk for hours. Once I was telling Bernice about our school play, and I gave my part in the recitation as well as everyone else’s. I had them all memorized, and she was so tickled by that.
Ford’s house was heated by a round hard coal burner with lots of chrome that sat in the middle of the dining room. It had a point on top, glass doors where you could see the red fire, a chrome rack around it so you could sit close to it and put your feet on the rack. I’d sit on the little footstool next to the stove, listening to their conversation, enthralled by Aunt Bernice’s stories.