A surprise Christmas gift from an unexpected source

Published 11:12 pm Saturday, November 25, 2006

Thanksgiving and Christmas offer wonderful opportunities to celebrate family. The cost in time and money is huge, but the payoff is worth it all. The greatest joy for parents comes from enjoying the pleasure of the little ones as they anticipate their gifts, then open the packages on Christmas morning.

This year wife Johnie and I decided to concentrate on the youngest members of the family. We bought 9 look-alike dolls for our 9 great granddaughters and a small teddy bear for our one great grandson. That left us wondering what we could do for our 3 sons and wives and 6 grandchildren.

The answer came in the form of a surprise gift from my mother when I discovered a folder containing hand-written stories of her childhood. Over half a century ago she started the stories in typed caps, which are easily read, then changed to writing with a pencil on tablet paper. I cannot remember ever seeing the manuscript before. How the little folder survived the many moves we have made over the years, and how we came to discover it just before Christmas is a miracle in itself. The pages have become yellow and brittle with age and the penciled words are not easy to read, but I find great pleasure in typing them. In fact, over the next few days, I plan to complete a small volume from mother’s stories — the perfect gift for each member of our extended family. This is the first story from page one just as mother wrote it. (My comments will be in parentheses.)

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Grandmother Midge Watson

My first memory of anything is of Papa building a room on our prairie home to accommodate our fast growing family. Mama and Papa were married previous to their marriage to each other. Mama had six children and Papa had four. Mama kept hers but Papa’s mother-in-law raised his. But at that it was quite a sizable household. Mama and Papa had seven. The oldest died with pneumonia before I was old enough to remember her.

I am the third of five girls born to Mama and Papa besides two younger boys. To me Mama was the most beautiful person in the world. She had black curly hair — in fact they never knew what a permanent was for that was before they were invented. She had the kindest brown eyes I ever looked into. Papa was a very handsome man. He was six feet tall, had black hair, brown eyes and mustache. But the best thing about Papa was his patience and kindness to all those in his household. (Her father, John Frederick Pearce, grew up in Mississippi and went to Indian Territory as a young man.)

One happy remembrance of Papa is when he would get up early in the morning. Papa would dress all of us. We never could seem to get those long underwear to go down in our stockings right but Papa knew just how to do it. He would get up first to make a big fire in the cook stove, grind the coffee, slice the meat and fry it for Mama.

By that time the children were getting up. After all had had breakfast, Papa and the boys would go to the fields to work. Mama and the older girls would do the housework. Housework was an endless task in those days with all the clothes and bedcovers to make by hand. Quilts were pieced by hand, put in a frame and quilted.

I can still feel the whacks I would get on my head when we would get under the quilt and start some game and jiggle the quilt and cause Mama to stick her finger with the needle. She would whack us on the head with her thimble.

We always looked forward to Christmas for it was a big event in our lives. We would go to bed long before our regular bed time then we couldn’t get to sleep. We were too excited to go to sleep and we didn’t dare to make a sound for fear Santa would come and find us. We would listen to all the sounds in the room where we had hung our stockings. We could hear paper rattling and someone moving around and we would be so thrilled we couldn’t get to sleep.

But finally, after a long time we would drift off to wake earlier the next morning than we had all year. No matter how cold it was we didn’t wait for Papa to get a fire going in the wood heater but would hop out of bed to see what Santa had left us. I can see that row of long stockings hanging up with bulges in them where oranges and apples and candy and nuts were stuffed in the bottom with a small china doll for the girls and some toys for the boys. The dolls would be peeking out the top of our stocking.

(Mother’s large family observed Christmas a great deal like the other families of that day. This was long before television, movies, or even radio, but their lives were never boring; there was always something going on in such large families. Also, they were very busy. Except for coffee, sugar, flour and a few other supplies, they grew their own food and sewed their own clothes. Survival took the combined efforts of everyone from the youngest to the oldest. I’m sure the stories mother shared in her hand-written account are only a sampling of the things that were going on in the Pearce household.)

Children’s children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children.

— Proverbs 17:6.