I was the middle child. Not the middle child in one family, but in between aunts, uncles and cousins on my father’s and mother’s sides of the family. All three families were close and we celebrated holidays together, taking turns being the host family.
No one had a table large enough for the crowed, so children had a separate table where we were served after the adults had their plates loaded with the abundant, mostly home-grown food. No one even thought of turkey during those Depression days. because all three families raised chickens. Two or three roasting hens were a treat.
Without enough chairs to go around, we sat on the piano bench, end tables, and apple boxes on end. Because we kids knew we could depend on cousin Barbara spilling her milk, we never relaxed completely, but were ready to jump up to avoid the flood.
After dinner, if it wasn’t pouring rain, a frequent occasion in western Washington state, we played Cops and Robbers or Cowboys and Indians. The boy cousins supplied the firepower with their cap guns. Although we seldom had boughten caps, we didn’t need them with all the loud “bang-bangs.” The only arguments were over who was “dead” at the time.
Christmas gifts were few, but we never would have expected multiple gifts like we exchange today. My best present ever was a delightful surprise, even though I had caught my mother at the sewing machine after my bedtime. But she had been able to hide her work. Under the Christmas tree, I found an unbleached muslin doll with an embroidered face and with a pretty dress. I called her “Raggedy Ann” even though she had black yarn hair and did not resemble the original.
I learned to sew by making dresses for my doll. Now, almost seven decades later, Raggedy Ann sits on the back of my davenport in a red taffeta dress I made when I was about 11 years old.
Raggedy Ann was definitely a special gift from my mother. but the most disappointing gift came from my older boy cousin. He was so excited about his present for me that be could hardly wait for me to open it.
Thinking it must be fabulous, I tore the wrappings off to find two of the old 78 rpm records. So far so good, but for someone who disliked what we called “cowboy” music (now called country), it was a shock to see they were Ernie Tubbs records. In my estimation, he was the worst singer of all.
Shirley Temple, of course, was at the height of her popularity. A few Christmases after my homemade doll gift, my mother managed to squeeze out enough money to buy me a beautiful Shirley Temple doll that was the size of a 6-month-old baby.
She has a hard head and legs, a soft body and rubber arms, which have not survived.
Mother was so happy to be able to give me Shirley, but I never loved her like I did the homemade doll. Raggedy Ann was soft and cuddly and nice to take to bed.
We no longer have big family dinners, Barbara isn’t here to spill her milk. and the Cops and Robbers long ago grew up. But the memories live on, of Christmas in the good old days.
LaVonnne M. Sparkman has written six books of East Lewis County history.