One of the first things you need to know: Christmas was special for several reasons, not the least of which was the fact that Mom and Dad eloped on Christmas day, just 10 days after they met! But when we were small, that was a non-issue because for our parents, their kids came first.
Dad could never wait until Christmas morning for us to open our presents. 1 minute after midnight, he’d be standing in our bedroom door yelling that Santa had come and gone. 5 little girls would scramble into the living room, indulge in an orgy of paper ripping, and then surge right into fighting over who got the best present, someone always yelling: “Mom, make her leave my stuff alone!” Sibling rivalry would finally die down as the Sand Man caught up with us and Mom & Dad would carry the smaller ones while herding us older kids back to bed.
Mom was a wizard with a sewing machine; most of our clothing, while stylish, was homemade. She could copy any fashion we lusted after no matter if we saw it in magazines, in the stores, or on TV; she even made inch-high felt knee boots for our Barbie dolls.
We usually didn’t see much of Dad, he worked lots of overtime to support all of us; but one year Dad broke his leg bad enough to require 7 pins and a year-long recovery period. Out of boredom, he made Mom show him how to operate her sewing machine. That year we each got a complete wardrobe of custom Dad-Made Barbie-doll clothes. He covertly cut and stitched itty-bitty bits of material for months. I’d come in from school and he’d try to hide all the evidence before we caught on that he was doing “Santa’s job”. It’s amazing now to remember him, his big calloused hands handling those fragile little Barbie dresses. Oh yeah, he did a damn fine job of tailoring those doll clothes, too!
Christmas was Mom’s favorite holiday. When we were younger there wasn’t much $$$ for fancy decorations (although I still have the string of lights from our first tree, damn those things are over 50 years old now!) so we would cut a cedar out of the pasture and make our own frills. More than once I took my preteen self out on horseback with a hatchet, chopped down what I considered to be the perfect tree, tied a piece of bailing twine to it and dragged it back home behind Thunder (my horse).
Crayons were broken out and no matter how laughable our artistic efforts, Mom would help cut them out to hang in a place of honor on the tree. We’d string popcorn, glitter-rize pinecones & gumballs (as well as the floor and each other) and make colorful construction paper chains. Scrap material would be cut, stitched and stuffed to make stars, candy canes, Teddy Bears, Santas and whatever else we could think of. Foil would be crumpled into shiny balls and paper would be folded and refolded in an attempt to cut out snowflake garlands. We had never heard of origami back then, but let me tell you there’s an art to folding a piece of paper so that a few snips will result in a perfect snowflake! Empty tin cans would be washed and have Christmas designs punched in them using a nail, a child’s rural luminary.
We didn’t know we were poor. We lived in a decent home, even if it had an outhouse and a #10 washtub in the kitchen floor for our baths. We never went hungry, we had money for whatever school trip or function came up. We dressed as well or better than anyone else at school (thanks to Mom). True, we didn’t have cable. Hell, cable didn’t even run in our part of the country until 10 or 15 years ago. But we had Mom and Dad and each other, that’s all we needed.
Our imaginations knew no bounds because our parents encouraged us to make our own fun. Kids today don’t even get into the tree trimming thing, but we would spend weeks at a time laboring over our decorations before the tree was even cut. It become a contest, with each of us hiding our projects and competing for the choicest pieces of paper, flannel or satin so we could out-do the other 4. We’d roam the woods looking for pretty red berries or an unusual piece of wood. I guess what I’m saying is that sometimes you can give a child too many material things and not enough of your time and encouragement. When’s the last time you tried to do some kind of handi-craft with a kid?
Donna can carve just about anything out of wood, and both she and Teresa are crafty as hell. Me, I’ve got the imagination but my artistic abilities leave a lot to be desired. All of us can repair, paint and decorate furniture and our homes. But I doubt if any of us would have these gifts if it hadn’t been for our parents’ encouragement and the fact that we were allowed to try to do things for ourselves.