The Christmas Sweater – A Depression Era Story
It’s very nearly Christmas. The living room is rather frigid as I sit here dreaming of a new angora Christmas sweater. I watch the snow falling gently through the window, and I wonder what my mother was like. Father gave me the wedding picture they had taken of the bride’s maids and her. I gently rub my finger across her face. Looking at her picture is the only way I can be close to her now.
I like to pretend Mother’s still here and I pray she’d be my best friend. My hair is dark blond. It’s nothing like Mother’s beautiful auburn hair. My grandmother said I take after my father.
A House Bursting With Men and Boys
John, George, and Buddy are great brothers, but they can’t take the place of a mother. I wasn’t quite four-years-old when she died, but I still remember her scent. The lavender soap she made on the stove is one of my fondest memories of her.
It’s early on Sunday morning. Dad and the boys are out doing the chores before we head off to church.
I see Father racing from one barn to the next. It’s freezing out in the farm lot.
We raise lambs, pigs, cattle, and chickens to feed. Father’s cattle go to the Chicago Market. That’s where he makes most of the money we need to pay the mortgage each year. I don’t think he trusts those banks yet, though
The Depression Continues
At least things are beginning to look up. The depression has hurt people, but we have a huge truck patch in the yard, and between that and the animals, we’ve been able to eat well over the past few years.
The men will be starving when they get in the house. I gathered nearly three dozen eggs yesterday, and there’s plenty of bacon from the hog father butchered last week. Breakfast needs to be ready when they come in, so I need to get going. It’s already nearly six o’clock.
As I hurry around the kitchen, I think about the wealthier girls in school. They are all wearing the newest fashion, angora sweaters. That’s all I want for Christmas this year, but Father is still struggling to pay off the steep mortgage he took out at the bank.
The Bills Mounted During the Depression
Mother was ill for nearly a year when she died. In the end, we lost her from pneumonia. The hospital bills and funeral expenses were brutal, and father struggled so hard to keep everything afloat then.
It didn’t get any easier when Grandmother died. She had come to help take care of us kids after Mother’s death. Our grandmother stayed with us for nearly three years, but she followed mother to heaven. I was seven-years-old when Grandmother died, and I remember her so clearly. She’s the one who taught me to cook with her. I didn’t do anything terribly involved, but I was a quick learner and watched everything she did.
We had a woman in the house for another year after Grandmother died. Her sister took care of the house and meals, but she also died one year after Grandmother. That left Father with three funerals to pay for and all the hospital bills.
He very nearly lost our farm, but he was able to get a new mortgage to pay off all the bills.
Now, we had to make enough money to pay the mortgage. Things were awfully tight this year, and I knew I couldn’t expect to get the sweater.
A Father Unequaled
We were still so lucky to have a home, good food, and a father who adored us.
Our house was out on the prairie in western Iowa. God couldn’t have put a better father on Earth than our dad. He worked tirelessly, and we were so thankful for his guidance.
I’d shared at the table one evening how much I wanted an angora sweater for Christmas, like the popular girls in my school wore.
Father’s response was kind, but firm: “You might not have the best or the latest style, but you have your brains. So, you need to study hard.”
His answer that day wasn’t the first time I’d heard this advice over the years. We needed to build the assets to get what we wanted in life.
George had a terrific memory. He was the best at telling stories on a cold winter night. My oldest brother, John, was brilliant, and my baby brother, Buddy, had a memory that never quit.
I was also a standout in my efforts at school. Our education was Father’s greatest gift to us. He made certain all four of us were well-schooled before anything else.
I Am the Woman of the House
I’m nine-years-old now, and the house and cooking are my responsibility. Our home is huge with six bedrooms and five porches.
The hard work keeps me busy and gives me time to ponder the future. I still dream of the angora sweater I want for Christmas.
Each day I check every single present under the tree. None of the gifts are the shape of a box the size it would take to wrap an angora sweater.
Since I’m too old to believe in Santa Claus, I have to understand that we just don’t have the money this year. I’m sad about it, but I understand. Perhaps next year I’ll be able to buy one with the money I earn from my project.
Father gives each of us a Ewe each year for our project. Ewe’s typically have twins, but mine had triplets this year. I was so excited when my pocket was full of money from the sale of the triplets.
Father took us to the city, and I spent all my money on presents for Father, Uncle Ed, John, George, and Buddy. I’d hoped to make enough to buy my angora sweater, but I couldn’t stretch the money to buy something for everyone else. ‘
It’s a little sad, but there’s always next year.
The Boys Are Hungry
“Hey, Mary!” Buddy stumbled on the rug in front of the back door as he barged into the kitchen. “I’m hungry!”
“Okay, I’m getting it as quick as I can!” I tossed the bacon into the skillet, one strip at a time. The meat sizzled as it hit the pan and the scent filled the kitchen.
“Boy, am I hungry! It smells great in here.” John followed Buddy into the kitchen as I heard George’s boots hit the floorboards on the porch.
“You guys get out of those wet boots and get cleaned up for the church services. Breakfast will be ready in ten minutes.” I had to giggle as Buddy struggled out of George’s cast-off winter jacket from last season. He looked like a cat stuck in a bunch of taffy.
Father had his boots in his hand as he came across the threshold. My mother had trained him much better than I’d been able to teach the boys.
Don’t Be Late for Mass
“You boys hurry up and get ready for church. That fifteen-mile trip is going to take forever in this weather.” Father hurried them along.
All four of them disappeared into various areas of the house to get cleaned up.
I turned the bacon and thought about the trip to church. It snowed yesterday, and that meant we’d be taking the Belgian Team instead of the Draft Team.
I loved riding in the wagon box half-filled with clean straw. We’d cuddle up under the horse blanket. It was fur on one side and thick silk on the bottom. We stayed cozy warm between the straw and the blanket.
When we had snow like the one yesterday, we had to take the Belgian Team. John told me that each of those horses weighed a ton. The horses are huge. Father is so proud of them!
We’ll be taking the sleigh this time. It has heavy runners and a bell harness. The countryside will feel like Christmas today as we glide across the white landscape with the bells ringing.
The Priest Visits Again
The priest was here last week. He wanted money from our father and chastised him for missing services last Sunday. Buddy had a horrible cold and was too sick to make the trip.
Father couldn’t take the risk of losing another family member to pneumonia, so we all stayed home.
I knew he made the right decision.
I preferred to go to the Methodist-Episcopal Church in town. That was only two and a half miles away. Father was a Protestant when he was a kid, and I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t just go to his church. It was so much closer.
Father explained to me one day after the Priest had been here that he’d made a promise to my mother to raise me Catholic. That sacred pledge was getting harder to keep each time the Priest arrived to collect more money.
John was the first to come back to the kitchen.
“Boy, am I ever ready for bacon & eggs! Thanks, Sister!”
I chuckled as I placed three eggs, over-easy on his plate. He grabbed four slices of bacon from the platter in the middle of the table.
“Aren’t you going to wait for Father and the boys?”
“Not this morning. I need some fuel to warm up. It’s freezing out there! You’re lucky you get to do the house chores!”
I swatted his shoulder as I place one egg on my plate.
Father and Buddy arrived with George on their heels.
“Mary, it looks spectacular! You’re as good a cook as your mother was!” Father gave me a big hug as he walked around to the head of the table. “I’m going to take you children to the Methodist-Episcopal church in town today. There’s too much snow, and the temperatures are horrible out there. I’m not taking the chance of dragging you fifteen miles to the Catholic Church.”
“We’ll be seeing the Priest next week, then.” John didn’t look up from his plate.
“If he shows up here again to give me a lecture…well, I swear I’m not going to go back there. I made a promise to your mother, but I will not do it at the expense of my honor in front of my children!”
Buddy glanced up as he took a big gulp of milk. He had a perfect white milk mustache, but I couldn’t laugh. Father’s words hung heavy in the air.
The temperatures are still freezing out. The four of us stand at the end of the lane, waiting for Mr. Griffin to arrive with the school bus to pick us up. Father used to take us to school with the Draft Team before they finally got a school bus.
John, George, and Buddy huddle closely around me. They make a perfect circle to keep the winds from ripping through me.
I wondered if the girls would include me in their discussions today. I felt sorry for Bertha yesterday when I saw her standing just outside their circle of conversation.
The bus is late again. Someone at the beginning of the route must have been late. Mr. Griffin is a sweet and gentle man. He’ll wait for any child who is late. The bus was supposed to be here at 7:55 A.M., but it’s way past that now.
“I hear it!” Buddy stuttered from the cold.
The school bus isn’t large. There’s room for fourteen students. It only has one door for coming and going. They painted it yellow. I rather think it looks silly, but that’s the rule across the country.
Mr. Griffin brought the bus to a stop at the end of the lane, and we scampered in. The boys let me go first.
“Good morning, children!” Mr. Griffin tipped his hat. His farm was terribly small compared to our 220 acres, but he took the time away from his chores to make sure the country kids got to school safe five days each week.
The bus was already almost full. We’d have a couple more stops before we got to school.
The day went quickly. Today is our last day of classes before the Christmas Holiday.
The Celebrations Begin
The teachers brought in sugar cookies and fruit cake for our afternoon Christmas party. We each drew a name, and we were expected to get a present for them.
I use colored paper from last Christmas to make a wreath for my teacher, and her face lit up when she opened the package. I’d wrapped it in one of the newspapers Father brought home with him from the Auction House in Chicago.
Earlier that month, I’d drawn Bertha’s name. She was a quiet girl who lived on a farm on the other side of town. I didn’t know her well, but I did know she liked to wear pretty ribbons in her hair. Some of the money from the Ewe’s triplets went to purchase her a beautiful red and another white ribbon to use to tie her hair back. She was more excited than I’ve ever seen her. These ribbons were velvet. I doubt she’d ever had velvet ribbons before.
Finally, We Head Home for the Holidays!
John and George were waiting for me at the front door when school was out. Buddy and his friend from the neighboring farm had already boarded the bus. We were excited because school let out early today for a holiday gift to the families.
Everyone was talking so loud on the bus that I don’t know how poor Mr. Griffin kept his wits about him as he headed back over the same route he drove that morning. Since we were some of the last to get on the bus, we were the first to get off.
Home for Christmas
I ran into the house and placed the large red apple I received on the kitchen table. We’d all enjoy an apple bread pudding for Christmas dessert.
I heard Shep barking in the yard before the knock came.
“Good afternoon, Mary!” Helen Stewart stood at the door holding a plate wrapped in a cloth dish towel.
“Hurry, come in, Mrs. Stewart. It’s freezing out there.”
A Gift for Father
“I’m all bundled up, dear. The sleigh carried me over; all cuddled down with heavy wool clothing and a fur blanket. I’m feeling rather exhilarated from the ride over.” She held out the plate.
“Thank you so much.” I set the plate on the table and pulled off the dish towel. “Oh, Mrs. Stewart, this is Father’s Christmas braid. It looks just like the one’s Mother and Grandmother used to make.”
“It’s exactly like theirs. Your mom taught me how to make it the year Howard and I got married. I’ve been making it ever since. This year I decided to make a second one for all of you. I know John must miss this on Christmas morning.”
“How perfectly wonderful! I’ll hide it in my closet upstairs so that he won’t see it.”
“Well, you’d better hurry and do that before he finishes with his chores. I have to get going. Merry Christmas!”
I moved forward and gave my mother’s friend a warm hug. “Thank you so very much. The rolls will be the best gift Father gets this year.” Tears stung at the corner of my eyes. “Could you do something else for me?”
“Of course, dear. What do you need?”
“I was hoping some day after Christmas you could teach me how to make one myself.”
“Absolutely! We have a date. Take care and give my best to your father and brothers.”
Mrs. Stewart scurried out the door.
Getting Ready For Christmas
I nearly tripped as I ran upstairs to hide the Christmas roll. Wouldn’t that be awful? Father would never forgive me if I messed this up for him. Someone needs to remind me to be more careful. Mother would expect me to be a proper lady. I sure wish I had someone in the house to teach me how.
There are a lot of girls in my seventh-grade class who live in town. None of them have near the amount of work to do at home that I do. It’s funny, but somehow I don’t mind it. I may not have all the polish they do, but if I work hard, I’ll be able to find someone to teach me.
Father and the boys are proud of me, and it makes me feel like I already have worth. I’m going to graduate with honors and go on to college, I’m convinced of it. Like Father says, I can do anything as long as I have a brain.
I hid the Christmas roll and quickly changed out of my school clothes into a warm sweater and a pair of coveralls that George had outgrown this year. Buddy was still too young to fit in them. By the time I went back to the kitchen, Uncle Ed was warming himself by the pot-bellied stove.
Uncle Ed Gets Home
“Whatcha doing there, Mary, darling?”
“Hello, Uncle Ed, when did you get back?
“We finished the barn over at the McAllister’s early this afternoon. The men celebrated for about an hour before we headed out. I’m surely glad we finished that project.” He shivered. “I’m pretty sure the horses and cattle are relieved to be back inside again, too.”
“Dad told me about the fire. They were lucky it didn’t take the house too. If the wind had been coming from the other direction, it would have wiped them out.”
“Let’s not think about that. It all turned out good. I’m just glad the family still had the bunkhouse, so I didn’t have to travel back and forth every day. We worked from sun up ‘till the sun went down every day.”
I nodded as I began to prepare the chicken to go into the pot for dinner. Uncle Ed picked up his duffle and headed off to his room in the back of the house. He’d come all the way from South Dakota to help Father with the livestock a couple of years ago, and he’d never left.
I woke up before the rooster crowed again. It was Christmas Eve.
I hurried to get dressed and downstairs to fix the men and boys breakfast.
Of course, there is a quick detour through the living room where I stop before the crèche I knew Mother had cherished. The pine tree in the corner smelled heavenly. George and I had strung popcorn for the tree, and Buddy made ornaments out of the seed sacks father emptied in the spring. We also used the treasured ornaments Mother had stored away.
I counted the presents under the tree again. There were the five from me to Father, Uncle Ed, and the boys plus six more packages. Quickly, I picked up the one that looked like a rolling pin. It had my name on it, but it didn’t have a name to let me know who it was from. I couldn’t even guess who had addressed the card; they printed my name.
Shaking the tubular gift, I was pretty certain it couldn’t be an angora sweater. Was it marbles or pencils for school perhaps?
I put the package back under the tree and shuffled slowly to the kitchen.
Some Hard Work Will Keep My Mind Busy
Very carefully, I took Mother’s white pitcher with the roses on it out of the cupboard and filled it with water for the tree. It was probably time to water it again. I’d noticed a few needles had shed on the hardwood floor. Father wouldn’t be happy if he knew I’d forgotten to water it yesterday.
I carried the pitcher into the living room. It had been a wedding gift to my parents from my mother’s favorite aunt. Father told me repeatedly to be extremely careful with it so I could have it when I grew up. I poured the water into the tree stand without a drop hitting the floor.
With my index finger, I wiped the last drip off the spout as I turned to go back to the kitchen.
There was a thud in the kitchen.
“Mary!” Uncle Ed called out.
I hurried to the kitchen.
“There you are. Your dad wanted me to check to see if you were up. He’s bringing a surprise up to the house in a few minutes, and he wanted me to make sure you were awake.”
Could it possibly be my angora sweater? No, that didn’t make sense. He wouldn’t have it out in the barn. I heard Father’s boots on the steps outside as he stomped up the steps, dislodging as much snow as possible before coming onto the porch.
A Christmas Gift
“Mary!” He said.
I turned toward him.
“Grab your coat; it’s cold out there.” Uncle Ed held the handle of the door, ready to open it for me.
I scurried into my coat and gloves and went through the door Uncle Ed opened for me.
“Oh my, it’s wonderful, Father.”
There on the porch stood a beautiful reindeer made out of small logs, with legs made from smaller branches, and antlers fashioned out of sticks.
Father used white wash and charcoal to make the eyes. And a walnut hammered on the end of the head to make the nose.
“I love it!”
“I’m so glad. I know how much your mother loved to decorate for Christmas. I thought you might like to put this by the front door.”
“It would look perfect there with the cloth Santa Mother made! Oh, thank you, Father.” I ran forward and kissed him on the cheek.
I Am My Mother’s Child
“You’re so much like your mother! She loved Christmas; she asked me to make her a reindeer to go along with the Santa before she…”
“It’s okay, Father. You’ve granted her wish now. Can we take it in to put with Santa?”
Father only nodded. I knew he was too choked up to say anything. He was like that at Christmas time. I knew he missed her every day, but it was harder during the holidays. She was everything to him.
“Here, I’ll do it.”
I didn’t see John walk up behind Father. He picked up the deer as if it were nothing and carried it into the living room. He carefully set it next to the cloth and velvet Santa doll Mother made the Christmas John was born. Father said she delighted in seeing her children’s eyes light up. I don’t remember most of those moments.
When John turned around, I swear it looked like he had diamonds sparkling in his eyes from the flame in the fireplace. Is that what Father saw when he looked at Mother?
The guys each ate a big breakfast, and then we all piled in the wagon to make a run into town to deliver milk and meat Father butchered for some customers there. The jingle of the bells on the Belgian Team lifted my spirits as we glided across the snow. Father made his deliveries and was still able to make it to the bank before it closed at noon. Nothing was more important than making those mortgage payments on time.
When we got home, Uncle Ed chopped up firewood for the evening gathering around the Christmas tree. We always listened to Father’s stories of the early Christmases with our Mother. George loved to tell stories of more recent celebrations. By the looks of it, we’d have ample firewood to keep the fires going tonight and all day tomorrow.
We could listen to hours and hours of stories this fine Christmas Eve.
The stars were in the heavens and all was good in my world.
Christmas Eve Dinner
That evening, father led the prayers at the evening meal.
It was something he did every Christmas Eve.
The rest of the year, he asked one of the boys or me to do the honor; but Christmas Eve was the most special night of the year for him. It was Mother’s doing, I’m sure. He remembered the magic of every single Christmas he spent with her.
The Christmas Prayer
“Loving God, help us remember the birth of Jesus, and show us the way to share the glad tidings of the angels, the humble righteousness of the shepherds, and the moment of truth of the wise men.
Teach these children that hate is not to be tolerated, and that their mother’s finest message was love for their fellow man, no matter how wealthy or how poor.”
I could feel his eyes on me.
“Allow my children to find the kindness that creates a fortress that hate and evil will never penetrate. Teach all of us the blessings of the Christ child and to act with clear hearts.
Share our love with the beautiful woman who filled my life with joy and gave me the most wonderful gift of all; the children who are everything to me. May Christmas morning awaken to the song from the heavens and the grateful acknowledgment of another year filled with heaven’s blessings. Teach us to forgive and to be forgiven, for Jesus’ sake.
I didn’t think even my mother could have said anything more beautiful than my father’s prayer this Christmas Eve.
Concern About The Great Depression
“John, it’s been six years since this lousy depression started. The folks in town are struggling to make ends meet. I don’t know if this country can recover from it.” Uncle Ed said.
“Well, at least we were smart enough not to put money in the Stock Market before the crash!” Father didn’t look up as he took another spoonful of the potato and ham soup I’d made for supper.
“That’s a blessing, for sure!” Uncle Ed paused for a few minutes to reflect. “You know, John, the line in Fort Dodge at the soup kitchen seemed to be longer today than I’ve ever seen it. The only thing I’ve seen from ‘The New Deal’ here in western Iowa is that Cass County Courthouse they finished in Atlantic last summer.”
“Maybe the word got out that we butchered a hog and donated half of it.” George picked up on the first part of Uncle Ed’s comments and was grinning from ear to ear.
“We don’t brag about the things we do to help those less fortunate.” Father continued ladling the soup in his mouth as he broke off another piece of soda bread.
George cleared his throat. “Sorry, Father.”
“Roosevelt said on the radio that he could assure us that it is safer to keep our money in a reopened bank than it is to keep it under the mattress,” John said.
Father gave him a look that warned him to be careful of what he said.
“That newspaper you brought back from Chicago this fall said that the economy started improving last year, but I haven’t seen it here in the Midwest.” Uncle Ed said.
“The depravation and sacrifice the people of this country have made will make us all stronger in the future.” Father would never give up hope for the future. It wasn’t who he was.
“You still have that pioneer spirit, brother. It doesn’t matter if something knocks you down, you always rise to the challenge. You allowed me to stay when I had nothing to go back to, and I appreciate it.” Uncle Ed started buttering his bread. I don’t think anyone noticed how shiny his eyes became as he concentrated on that piece of bread in his hand.
“Well, I’m betting 1936 is going to be a year where things here in the Midwest begin to prosper again.” Father lifted his steaming cup of coffee.
“I hope you’re right, brother!”
The Christmas Eve tradition
That evening, we each got a small cup of eggnog to drink as we sat in front of the fire. I tried not to look, but I couldn’t help counting the presents again under the tree again. No new boxes had appeared.
Mother would be ashamed of me if she knew how hard I’ve wished for that sweater. It doesn’t matter that the other girls have one. I can’t compete with the daughters of the town merchants.
It was bitterly cold that Christmas evening. Father and John went back to the barns to make certain everything was shut up tight, and the animals had plenty of bedding for the coming winter night.
I saw them with the lantern, through my bedroom window, as they returned to the house. I cuddled up under the ample quilts my grandmother and great-grandmother had made and slipped into a peaceful sleep after I said my “Our Father.”
I heard the boys rustling around when I woke up.
It was time to put on my best Sunday dress and an old sweater my mother had previously worn. I was beginning to fit into some of her old clothes. The garment was a bit large, but it was warm.
My room was freezing because the heat didn’t get up to the upper bedrooms as well as the main level. The frost on the window looked festive this morning. I made my bed carefully.
It’s Christmas, and I know I’m not going to get that Christmas sweater. I’ll just have to work harder this year and save up more money so I can purchase one for next winter. It’s prideful to want something this fancy, and we can’t afford it. My biggest wish is that I can get through the tree ceremony without letting everyone know how disappointed I am. Please, help me with that, precious manger child!
I pulled the Christmas roll out of my closet and headed downstairs to the kitchen. Father sat at the table, drinking his morning coffee.
“What do you have there, Sister?”
I set the plate down on the table in front of him and removed the cloth. His eyes nearly popped when he saw the frosted Christmas bread twist with nuts and cherries on top.
A Gift from Above
“Where…where did you get this?
“It’s Christmas, and that’s my secret. It’s a special gift for you from heaven this Christmas.”
“Your Mother used to make this every Christmas. It was the most special treat of the year.”
“I know, Father.” I patted his shoulder as he sat staring at the Christmas surprise. “Let’s call the boys in and then we can all share a piece.” I turned to the drawer to get a knife out to cut the roll.
After we all finished breakfast, we went into the living room and gathered around the tree.
I Kept Silent About the Christmas Sweater
“Buddy, I think it’s your turn to hand out the gifts this year.” Father sat in Mother’s old rocker and smiled as the chair flowed gently back and forth.
Buddy raced over to the tree and grabbed a present wrapped in old-worn flannel. “Looks like this one is for you, John.”
John opened the present and produced two pairs of woolen socks. “Thanks, Uncle Ed! I’ve wished for warmer socks. Mine are rather threadbare.”
Uncle Ed smiled and nodded.
“Okay, this one is for you.” Buddy handed the next present to Uncle Ed.
He Delicately Removed the Paper
He carefully unwrapped the present wrapped in newspaper and tied with a big red ribbon.
I’d decorated it with an old Christmas card I found in one of the drawers.
“Oh Mary, this is fantastic. How in the world?” He held up the flannel shirt and stroked the soft material.
“I used my money from the Ewe.”
He sat there, shaking his head from side to side. He opened his mouth twice, but nothing more came out.
Gifts from the Heart
“What a wonderful present, Mary!” Father beamed at me.
Buddy was back under the tree scrambling around, looking for the next gift. He pulled out the tube-shaped gift and handed it to me.
I shook it again. I was so sure it contained pencils or the marbles I loved so much. There was no sound.
Each end of the tube had a string tied around the gift paper. It had my name on it, but it didn’t say who had given it. I shook it again. “Is this a Santa gift?”
I looked around at the faces of the people I loved most in this world. Uncle Ed was still stroking his new flannel shirt. John and George sat on the floor at Father’s feet. They had huge grins on their faces.
“What?” I said.
“Aren’t you going to open it?” Buddy couldn’t wait any longer.
I carefully untied the string at one end of the tube, and something white and furry started to ooze out of the end of the tube.
Then, I blinked.
Father cleared his throat.
What Is It?
I grabbed that white furry end and started pulling as fast as I could. Out of that tube popped my angora sweater. It was the cardigan I’d prayed for, complete with gold buttons.
Tears slipped down my cheeks as I held it up in front of me.
“How did you do this? Who did this?” I didn’t even know which question to ask first.
John spoke for everyone. “George, Buddy and I pooled our money from the Ewes and got it for you.”
I couldn’t believe it. The boys had used their hard-earned money to make my Christmas dream come true. I jumped up and ran over to give Buddy a hug and kiss.
“Quit it, or I’ll take it back!”
John and George allowed me to give them each a hug, but there was no way I could ever thank my brothers for giving me the best Christmas ever!
We finished opening the presents and then Buddy took down the Christmas stockings from the fireplace mantle for the three of us. These were Father’s gift, and it was always the same: Peanuts in the shell, an orange, and hard Christmas candies.
It was absolutely the most perfect Christmas I ever had!
I’d heard this story from Mary last Christmas. It was early afternoon when I called to interview her on 12/20/2016 because I wanted to make certain the story continues to inspire.
Mary was 92 years young on Christmas, 2016. I had tears in my eyes when she told me the Christmas she received the white angora sweater was the best Christmas of her life.
She’s the one who worked for endless hours with me to prepare for speech and debate contests in high school. This beautiful woman has been my second mother for my entire life. She was the first person I ever trusted enough to tell about my abuse. I was sixteen when I arrived at her home at 7:30 in the morning. She was still in bed when I barged in and told her everything. She held me for hours as I cried that day.
She’s Still Going Strong
Mary still manages the finances for the farms she and her husband owned all over the United States. Her home contains original artwork and the antiques from two families, but the memories mean more to her than any of the possessions she has presided over all these years.
If you have the ability to teach your child anything, it would be Mary’s father’s message: You might not have the best or latest style, but you have your brains, and you need to study so you can pay for the things we all want in this life.
I asked her if she wore the sweater to school in January to show it off to the girls who made her feel inferior: “No, I saved that beautiful angora cardigan for church and parties for nearly a year before I started wearing it to school.”
The History of the Depression Lives in Her Heart Still
When I asked her if they suffered terribly during the depression, she again mentioned the medical and funeral expenses that forced her father to mortgage the farm. Although her father was nervous about losing the farm to the bank, he never missed a payment and the family never went hungry, thanks to the truck garden that in her words was ‘huge.’
She also shared with me that when she opened the tubular package and that ‘sweater was oozing out’ she was overwhelmed. She still claims that was the happiest Christmas present she ever received. I’m sure she’s right, but her love and wisdom will always be one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received!