A Merry Christmas

by Margaret Miller Goodwin, Montezuma, Ohio

    It was Christmas 1936.

    The small six room house still held all the delicious smells of the holiday meal.  Probably the most overbearing smell was the wood and coal burning stove in the dining room with the smell of pine tar from the tree limbs and sulfur from the coal.

    From the kitchen came the sweet aroma of sage dressing and the smell of roasted chicken.  The old hen had given up her life that morning.  The ax had fallen, and she had been dipped in scalding water and plucked clean.  The cold water, from the well on the porch, had rinsed her cavity.  She had been salted and stuffed and pushed into the gas oven of the old high four legged stove.  The strong odor roamed through the house like a lost child seeking out every nook and cranny.

    The family was poor.  The father found just enough money each week to fulfill his drunken Saturday or holiday stupor which every day appeared first in the week.  The mother washed dishes at a local college for $5.00 a week.  On her weekends and days off, older girls, 19, 11, and 12 did their part by working in neighbor homes, yards, gardens and baby-sitting.  They were well versed in all of their chores.  They were able to contribute to their own clothing and a few special items for the home.

    Now Christmas was almost over, and though sparse as it had been, they were all comfortable.  Now they were enjoying their gifts.  Each had gotten a gift and an orange, an apple and a small bag of hard candy.  The older girl had saved her orange, and was now making a project of slowly peeling the orange jacket away and enjoying each segment to the fullest.  The next two oldest shared a Montgomery Ward catalog, and were observing the fashion, style and pattern of each dress.  They had both received a piece of cloth.  Now they must decide on a pattern.  It would be drawn on newspaper, and cut as close as possible to the style in the catalog.  There was no money for patterns.  The two younger girls shared a book they had received.  The six year old was reading some of the book and adding her own words to fill in what she did not know.  She amused both herself and sister, who was sure the older one could read.

    The father sat hunched over a wicker rocker rolling homemade smoke, a cigarette of Prince Albert tobacco sifted down into the paper he held in one hand as he tapped it gently with the other hand.  The daughters had pooled their money and bought him a carton of Camel cigarettes.  He said he was saving them for a special time.  That would be when it was impossible for him to roll a homemade smoke when he was drinking.

    The girls had gathered their resources to purchase a pretty pink glass vase accented with painted flowers for their mother.  She followed it over and over in her small white hands; admiring the color of the glass and each stroke of the white that had been left to form a flower.  She told them how beautiful it was and she would save it for a bouquet of special flowers when company came.

    To this day, it would be hard to say if the husband had bought her a gift or not.  She would never have said.  She was tired, exhausted from the long day and night.  She had to have a heavy heart from the lack of presents.  Yet there was a feeling of accomplishment in her soul.

    Once again she had held the family together, bought the necessary extra food, chosen from the cellar jars of green beans, mincemeat, peaches, jelly and pans of Irish and sweet potatoes.  She had made fudge and seafoam candy late in the night.  She had been able to supply each child with a gift and fruit.  Even a new shirt for her husband.

    Every muscle in her body ached.  She had spent the wee hours of the morning retrimming the tree and sweeping up the mess of broken ornaments and pine needles.  The father had entered in his usual Christmas spirit - that from a bottle, and turned the tree over as he fell into the living room.  

    The older children knew what had happened as they were awakened by the crash.  Yet they pretended they had heard nothing.  They treated him with all the kindness they shared with each other.

    Although the elder daughters had a different idea about Santa, they dared not spoil it for their younger sisters.  They were all happy and content as the mother looked around the room.  She was full with accomplishment and felt the wealth around her.  It reeked from each child; they had expected nothing and received much.  Even the husband passed the fleeting small smile toward her as he observed how happy his children were.

   She walked into the kitchen, standing close to the door.  She parted the curtains and pressed her face against the glass.  Looking out with tears running down her cheek; she lifted her tired eyes to the heavens and whispered, "Thank you, God, Merry Christmas."