By Helen V Lundt
There was a time when I thought of December as being the most wonderful time of the year. I remember when the city was full of shoppers, going from store to store through the snow, listening to the different stores Christmas music. I went with my stepmother, who charged the cost of a book of coupons at one store; each coupon was worth so much, so she could use it as money. I think perhaps $5.00 or $10.00 coupons were in the books. I thought, how can you buy things with a little piece of paper? But now I think the same thing, with a downsized piece of plastic.
She told me to look over the mittens or slippers for my father, while she went into a different section of the store. I was about seven years old, it was during the second world war, and I didn’t know this woman very well. She was happy with my father, I thought, and put up with me, a not-too-nice, bratty kid. She always looked so clean, and kept the apartment just as spotless.
So there I was, peeking around to see what section of the store she had gone to, not finding any gloves or slippers that my father would like, and she came up behind me, with an armful of packages. She didn’t talk about them, though. We then found just the right pair of slippers for my father.
My hair was very thick and long. Grandma had always braided it and wrapped them around my head. Now, this woman said, It’s time to wash your hair. Let me take the braids out. I absolutely hated to have my hair washed. I used to make such a fuss when grandma did it, and rinsed it with rain water from the barrel outside, using vinegar in the water too. Oh, how I hated that. Combing it was such pain.
Now, my new stepmother thought it would be nice to fix my hair like hers. So I got through the washing phase, then little by little, had it combed nice and smooth. Maybe this woman knew what she was doing. She started at the top and made little curls all around my head, fastening them with bobby pins. She wrapped a scarf around my head and I went to bed like that. The next day, it was almost dry. We waited until afternoon for it to dry good, then took out the pins. A good brushing, that’s what I had. And my head of thick hair stood out in great big waves that made my face look tinier than it was. I hated it! But my father thought it was just fine, and suggested having my photograph taken for Christmas gifts to relatives. So this lady, my stepmother, with my name too, took me downtown to have my picture taken. In those days, pictures were a fine gray, brown, or black and white. Then they were tinted to look more natural. (I have that picture now and think what a lot of trouble this woman went to for me, with me not appreciating her at all. And the picture does show a little girl with a lot of hair.
So it was Holiday time during the war years; it was difficult to buy tree ornaments or lights. Everything was used for the war effort. My father was creative, and thought of a way to make a string of lights. He took little round light bulbs and painted each one a different color. Then, with his collection of useful items, he used the odds and ends of electric cords and light sockets and fixed them all together, with a colored bulb in each one. Wonderful! The little table tree that he bought only needed a few lights.
The next day, I helped my stepmother cut out paper ornaments. We used colored construction paper, and made bells, stars, balls; many different shapes. She heated clear wax in a double boiler until it melted. The ornaments were dipped in the wax and as they dried, became hard. But while they were still wet, she sprinkled soft, sparkly snow flakes over them, making each one a sparkling beauty. Wire put through the top made hooks, and there we were with a tree, all lit up and covered with beautiful ornaments that we had made. Wow, I was beginning to think this woman was pretty nice, she knew how to do so many things, including making the big star for the treetop. I thought it was the prettiest tree I’d ever seen.
I wasn’t used to getting many presents with Grandma, and that was all right, it just wasn’t something that we could do and I knew it. Now, I had new pajamas, slippers, a drawing set, crayons, things for my hair; wow, this was just great! What a good Christmas we had!
There was only one bedroom in the apartment, so I slept on the living room sofa. Christmas night I went to bed in brand new pajamas, looking at the tree with its home-made ornaments, even as my eyes began to close. I knew I was a very lucky girl and when I said my prayers, I added many more for the poor people that couldn’t have a Christmas at all.
I thanked God for Jesus, then wished him Happy Birthday.
copyright Helen V Lundt 2004
Published in U S Legacies Magazine December 2004