The Christmas of 1964

The Christmas of 1964

It was late evening December 24, 1964. I was sitting on the window seat of the bay window of our old farmhouse. It was a moonlit night and the snow covered yard sparkled like a sea of diamonds. I was nine years old then but still remember the beauty of that night. As I was looking outside I saw something moving down by the barn where the driveway ends. There were four silhouettes moving slowly towards the house.

During the fifties and sixties it was not uncommon to have large families. My parents were struggling to raise six children. Dad was the breadwinner and mom was a stay at home mom whose job was to take care of me and my siblings plus do all the housework. There was never enough money so we learned to be self-sufficient when possible. Every spring we would plant a large garden of vegetables. Mom would can enough of these vegetables in mason jars to last all year. During the summer when the blackberries and other wild berries were ripe, we would pick them so mom could can jelly. Mom and dad went to the grocery store once a month to buy staples such as flour, sugar, etc. Mom made most of our clothing. Dad worked at night for local farmers removing deer that were doing crop damage. The farmers gave dad the meat from the deer as payment for his services. Mom canned the venison so we had meat year round.

The year 1964 was a very difficult time financially for my parents. Dad was laid off for most of the summer and fall that year. As Christmas was getting near I could sense there was more tension than usual between mom and dad. One night just two weeks before Christmas after mom had put our four younger siblings to bed, she sat me and my sister down to have a talk with us. Mom, with tears in her eyes, told us there was little money this year. There would be store bought presents for the younger kids only. My sister and I would still have presents under the tree but they would be clothing items mom had made herself and maybe something from our grandparents. My sister cried a little and I was kind of sad but we understood.

Christmas was always a happy time in our home because of our mom. She did so much with so little. Dad would bring home a fresh cut tree and we all pitched in to decorate it. Other than the colored lights, all of the decorations were handmade. Mom would help us make paper chains out of construction paper and foil chains made with string and tin foil. We also made reflectors for the colored lights out of tin foil. Mom would make plenty of homemade candies and cookies. She also would remind all of us what Christmas was really about.

Just a few days before Christmas mom and dad went to town to pick up the presents for the little kids in dad’s old pickup truck. They stopped at our grandparent’s house and picked up gifts there and then started on the way home. About half-way home dad noticed a glow coming from the back of the truck. He pulled off the road and realized there was a fire burning in the bed of the truck. All of the Christmas presents went up in flames and there was nothing mom and dad could do. The fire department showed up and quickly doused the flames but it was too late. The fireman said the fire was probably caused by a cigarette thrown from the window of a passing car.

My parents were very distraught and at a loss of what to do. There was no extra money to buy more presents. All that was left were some clothes mom had made. She took some of the cookies and candies she had made and wrapped them to make a few more presents under the tree. But mom wondered how was she going to explain to her young children that Santa did not have enough toys to give. Dad became very distant and mom was heartbroken.

It was Christmas eve and as I watched out the window those four silhouettes were coming closer to the house. I hollered at mom and dad that something was coming up the yard towards the house. As they came closer I could see there were four people pulling snow sleds. Mom let out a yell and dad went for his gun. Then there was a loud knock on the door. Dad slowly opened the door with gun in hand only to realize they were our neighbors. With nervous grins dad invited everyone inside. Our neighbors had heard about the fire and they all went out and purchased toys and presents for all of us.

We saw the true spirit of Christmas that night. And every Christmas eve since, I look out the window watching for silhouettes.


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