The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
Greetings to everyone in western Illinois. I'm a write'n this a week before Christmas to have it done in time for the Quill staff to print and have extra time off for the holiday.
Christmas gifts of long ago were mentioned in last weeks column. Some of youn's, especially the younger folk, asked as to what those gifts were like. They were simple, practical things for the most part, but they seemed luxurious to us at the time. There were brightly colored mittens of intricate design homemade by mother and grandma who spent many hours knitting for the whole family. The mittens for the younger ones of the family were tied together with a yarn string to keep them from becom'in separated and lost. A nice dress from a feed sack was a special treat for the girls.
Dad and grandpa made spinn'n tops from wooden spools originally made for thread mom and grandma used for her needs at gift mak'n and mend'in clothes.
Whilst times were frugal in those earlier years, the spirit and magic of Christmas was high with the splendorous trappin's of the season on the farm. We later learned as we grew up, those were financial hard times. There was barely enough money to pay for our necessities, let alone to indulge in extravagant givin' that, even back then was become'in more in style. As youngn's we hardly thought of austerity as such at the time.
Dad's workshop was available to us with easy access for freedom to experiment in our crude attempts at make'n things. However, several weeks before Christmas this fascinatin' place became closed to us youngn's.
After chores were done and supper was over, dad would slip on a warm jacket and hat and steal away for the evenin' to his workshop. Often times mom would join him, with her help, ideas, and encouragement.
Most of our gifts were of practical nature like fruit, clothing, and books. A few inexpensive toys or games were included-bought with precious conserved coins. These were wrapped in brightly colored or plain white tissue paper and placed beneath the tree or amongst the fragrant pine boughs. Of course the wrappin' paper was saved after unwrapped, folded and used for next years gifts.
But, most cherished of all were dad's workshop crafts. He made a wooden pull-toy dog not only for us but several cousins and friends as well. A large barn with livestock was a favorite as well. We enjoyed positionin' the wooden horses, cows, and pigs in their fences, stanchions, and stalls.
Dad made with moms help a small child size table with chairs that we used for play'n on and when cousins and friends came to visit. A small toy farmhouse with its own windmill for its yard and moms handmade curtains gave us years of fun and entertainment. Eventually we ended up with a whole set of farm a buildin's with house, barn, silo, hog house, corn crib, and machine shed. A church, depot, and general store added to our fancy of a nearby village. Locomotives, coal cars, includen' a caboose, made travel delightful for our young minds into fantasy land. Of course wooden toy tractors and automobiles came in useful as well. Boats, two wheel carts, sleds, miniature airplanes, a cannon, a covered bridge etc. etc. all filled our enjoyment and dad and mom gleefully participated in play'n with us with these crafts of their imagination.
Gifts from town were rare and purchased with year long saved coins for that special purpose. In the small town general store fragrant apples and oranges filled the room. We would long over chocolates, jelly beans, orange slices, candy canes, peanut brittle, and hard candies that appeared only durin' Christmas time. We knew they were most out of our budget. Occasionally the "store keep" would hear the growl of our empty stomachs with observed longin in our faces, and give us an apple or orange and with a friendly wink and wish us a "Merry Christmas!". We couldn't have been more pleased.
Our coins would buy a red handkerchief for grandpas with identical lace accomplice for our grandmas. A small vase would suit mom and an inexpensive tool for dad. Gifts for children would include a fuzzy stuffed bear to be loved and cherished into adulthood, a case iron car or tractor, cast iron owl bank whose head turned as you deposited a coin, or a windup toy clink'n and clank'n as it was turned loose to spend it stored up energy.
Whilst in town we were fascinated with all the cheery lights that glowed from homes. Our home was decorated not with electric lights but with tinsel trimmin's that reflected the light from kerosene lamps. Electricity had not yet arrived on our farm in those days.
It didn't take long for dad to make his deliveries on "cream days" and mom and dad to conduct their trade'n of farm produce for essential necessities whilst us young'ns secretly swapped precious coins, saved frugally from bounty on varmints and trapp'n proceeds.
We never tired of examinin' every detail of a shiny new bicycle in the store window, and dreamin' of the day when we would own one.
The maturity of our years now allows us to look back on those "Good ole Days" of Christmas with cherished thoughts. The fondness of loved ones, togetherness with family and friends, and ohhh.....those special Christmas meals with turkey and dressn' from a cook stove, pumpkin pies with whipped cream, pickles sliced cucumber, beets and spiced crab apple all home grown and "organic". Freshly baked buns, mashed potatoes, and gravy, creamed carrots, and a large casserole of scalloped corn, all graced our table in those by gone years.
Who could forget mom's and grandma's in their aprons full of joy and satisfaction in prepare'n for this special occasion. No one needed any coaxin' when the meal was called. Grace was give'n with great appreciation after we had gathered around the large round oak table with all it's leaves in place. The Seth Thomas clock on the wall announced it familiar clangin' designation of the hour.
After a scrumptious dessert and later in the afternoon we would share in special treats from mom's and grandma's kitchen of cookies, popcorn balls, taffy apples, two or three kinds of homemade candy include'n fudge and peanut brittle. The kitchen was busy with love'n hands prepare'n these special treats. No one could go home without a generous supply of those cherished treasures.
We never left the beasts of our farm out of the goodwill felt at this season. To give them a snug and more conformable Christmas we would deliver special generous beddin' in the stalls, pens, and sheds make'n it extra deep. This seemed appropriate see'n as how Christmas began in similar surroundin's.
To help the creatures of our farm to share in the joy of Christmas we added extra portions of grain and hay. Great pleasure was felt in goin' from pen to pen and stall to stall dole'n out their special treats.
Old "Rover" our trusty farm dog and all our farm cats received a generous extra help'n of milk at chore time. Even the barn owls with them big eyes seemed to take pleasure in observin' all these goin's on.
I wish I had more room to reminisce with youn's about Christmas time in the one room school as well as in the small rural church. I guess we'll just have to save that for another time even though these are equally precious memories.
I'm a hopen you've enjoyed this small memory walk back in time. Prepare your hearts for a joyous new year and please accept from me and all the "boys" our hope for you to have a "Happy New Year".
Keep on Smilen
Catch ya Later