Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Christmas, 1939

 Pop with a cache of furs about the time I was born in 1927

Author’s note….This is part of a chapter from the book ‘Little Home on the Piney”, which is the book about my father’s boyhood, published in 2017.

         It was a happy time when Pop got back from his trapping excursion down the river, and eventually all the way to the F.C. Taylor Fur Company in St. Louis. It took him twenty-three days to get back up the river to our little cabin in his johnboat. It was three long days of upstream travel from the railroad crossing at Jerome. I had heard him talk of the days before I as born when that river trapline would bring him six or seven hundred dollars with less than a month’s work. But that first winter at our new home on the Piney, the same cache of furs would bring only a couple of hundred dollars.

         It was money that was used to get new shoes and a new pair of overalls for all of us kids. Pop actually had enough money to buy some lumber at the Williams’ sawmill only a couple of miles away, lumber to build a new johnboat. With Norten and Zodie both guiding fishermen in the summer, we would need two boats. Bt there was a third boat to be built that winter for a resort at Jerome. They had seen Pop’s boat and wanted one like it. If it was a good one, they intended to have him build two or three more. Pop intended to make it 15 feet long, out of yellow pine, and sell it to them for ten dollars. He agreed to throw in one of his hand-made sassafras paddles, since they were willing to pay so much.

         Christmas was wonderful that year. When Pop got back we cut a cedar tree and put it in a bucket filled with sand so it would stand up, and we decorated it with painted pinecones, and strings of popcorn on sewing thread. Mom put a half dozen candles on the tree, and when it got late at night we could light them and sing Christmas songs like Silent Night and Little Town of Bethlehem, and Hark the something or another, Angles Sing. My little brother, Bryce would get all the words wrong, but his little face shined in the glow of those candles. Afterward, Mom took the Bible out and read us the Christmas story while Pop smoked his pipe.  Bryce didn’t want to go to sleep; he had figured out that we would all get something on Christmas morning, thinking Santa Claus would come. Pop didn’t think much of letting his kids believe in Santa Claus, but he let it go when we were very young, because Mom insisted on it.

         On Christmas morning I got a book. It was a used one, but a treasure to me, a story by James Fennimore Cooper about Indians call Mohicans. We didn’t sleep much on Christmas Eve, and Bryce was awake before anyone else was. Pop had a big fire going in the old barrel stove he had made. We climbed down out of the loft and there were some apples and oranges scattered around under the tree, and a pair of coconuts. Those coconuts fascinated Bryce. He carried one around for days. There was also a cap pistol and holster for my little brother. It was the same one I had got a couple of years before, and I had played with it until I ran out of caps in a few days of playing cowboys and Indians. When I got tired of shooting it, with no caps left, Mom had taken it and put it away, and for that Christmas, Pop had brought a whole bunch of caps from the dime store in Houston making it a brand new toy for Bryce. At first I was a little bit upset because they had given my little brother one of my toys, but shucks, I knew that it had been Norten’s pistol when he was younger…and beside I had a book.

         Norten got a whole box of .22 shells and Zodie got a dress that Mom’s sister had made on a sewing machine. Even Mom got something. Pop    bought her a hat and a shawl while he was in St. Louis selling his furs and he brought them all the way up the river, only bending one feather on the hat.

         I reckon Pop didn’t get nothin’ cause no one in our family ever got their hands on any money back then but him Pop and he said he was too old for Christmas presents. But I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for him, cause when he was a boy, he never had got anything for Christmas, and then he wound up having to take care of all of us and never got anything after he was full-growed neither. I said back then that when I grew up and if I was ever able to get a job and make three or four dollars a week like some of the town folks did, I would buy Mom and Pop lots of things, especially at Christmas time, and for their birthdays.

         But times were hard in 1939.  Sometimes I wondered if I would ever grow up and be a man like Pop.  But when Mom read the story of Jesus being born from that old Bible, for some reason, just for awhile…I never worried about anything.  That night, life was just too good.

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