Whenever our family gets together, the family stories abound. If it’s around Christmas, we get Arnold Family Stories: Christmas Edition. One of my father’s favorites is the one about the Christmas of 1947.
My mother was pregnant with Baby #3 who they called “Little Helen”. (Five months later, “Little Helen” had to be renamed “Steve”. It would be another six years before the family achieved perfection with the arrival of their precious baby daughter.)
The eldest two children in our family – Haase, Jr. and Bob – had a third compadre in the form of my first cousin Bill, the only child of my Uncle Sells, Daddy’s older brother, and his beautiful wife Ruby. Bob and Bill were the same age with Haase, Jr. being 17 months older than Bob.
In December of 1947, the boys were five and three years of age, respectively, just the right age for Santa to visit and Christmas morning to be a whole lot of fun when seen through their eyes.
They were all hoping for one more Christmas all together, but my uncle lost his two year battle with Hodgkin’s disease on December 10th. His son — now a grandfather of four — would grow up to have only the faintest of memories of the father he lost at such an early age just before Christmas, 1947.
I suppose the blessing amid the tragedy was the knowledge that Sells was a good Christian who deeply loved his family and who was finally out of the grip of the cancer that took him from this life at the age of 30.
My parents, Aunt Ruby, my grandmother, and my aunt’s younger brother Ralph Lee were determined not to let Christmas be laden with sorrow, so they threw themselves into what Christmas morning would be through the eyes of the three preschoolers living in their midst.
As the Arnold Family Christmas Story goes, Mother and Aunt Ruby had bought a tricycle for each of the boys in their respective colors: Haase was red, Bob was blue, and Bill was green. Everything they owned was color-coded — kept discussion about what belonged to whom to a minimum. No controversy here — they even color-coded their food. Somehow, those Christmas Eve mashed potatoes took on a whole new perspective when seen as a green, blue or red blob on their dinner plates.
They probably didn’t care since excitement abounded on Christmas Eve as Mother, Aunt Ruby and my grandmother scurried around the house trying to get three excited little boys bedded down in anticipation of Santa’s midnight visit. My father and Ralph were out in the garage putting together the tricycles while three big red bows sat on the shelf awaiting their triumphant debut on toys straight from Santa’s workshop.
The only hitch in the whole opera was that the weather had turned really cold. Then it started to sleet. A lot. Daddy and Ralph were afraid they wouldn’t be able to cross the yard if the sleet began to stick and turned into a full blown ice storm, so they moved the workshop just off the screen porch until the little crumb crunchers had gone to bed.
So there they were in the sleet trying to put these tricycles together as they balance flashlights so they can see while working as fast as frozen fingers would allow since gloves and screws don’t work well together. It’s now about 11 o’clock and the sleet is coming faster and harder and it’s getting c-o--l-l-d-d-e-r-r-r-.
Finally, the job is finished. Bows glistening by the lights on the tree, the tricycles await three excited little boys. As an afterthought, my mother had picked up three pop guns when purchasing stocking stuffers Christmas Eve at Roses’ 10 Cent store. They still had the $1 price tags dangling from them.
It’s true what we’ve always heard about leaving off the toys and just getting the boxes for the kids. On Christmas morning, three ecstatic little boys raced into the living room nearly knocking over the shiny tricycles as they snatched up the pop guns and were off into their own fantasy shootin’ bad guys in Dodge City or Tombstone or someplace Western. My father knew his big brother was getting a big charge out of the whole thing.
Wishing you and yours joy, peace and comfort beyond understanding as we celebrate the birth of Jesus so many Christmases ago. May your Christmas be warmed by your memories and your future be bright in His love.
Helen Person is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. E-mail comments about this column to firstname.lastname@example.org.