Here are some childhood Christmas memories from Gramps. Merry Christmas.
It’s Christmastime at Walden Farm and I have spent my allotted Christmas money. The Christmas conundrum is this – how to get gifts for my five siblings and parents with ONE DOLLAR. This is the time to be resourceful. Well, I sent away for Jergins lotion, perfume, powder, and soap samples I saw in Saturday Evening Post magazine. That takes care of my three sisters. The perfume goes to Babs since she is always trying to be such a fancy lady. The pretty smelling soap goes to Ruth and the powder, a more practical gift, is for Lambie. I bought Ma a card of safety pins for 10 cents and for my brother Bud I found a pair of shoestrings. I thought of giving my father a lump of coal or a rusty nail but then I figured that in the spirit of Christmas, I should probably hold off on that thought. And that was my gift to him.
Most years we get a box of gifts sent to us from two maiden ladies, Eleanor Marie Duval and Edith Thompson. They come to the Walden Farm for their summer vacation and these very proper ladies are always trying to educate and civilize us barefoot, scraggly kids. We don’t think of ourselves as lacking in any way; we are proud East Roaders. The gifts Duval and Thompson send at Christmas are nice but I think they send them to teach us farm kids some manners. Enclosed is a box of thank you cards which makes us feel all thankful and warm inside. (Well, not quite.) After Christmas, Ma, being the lady of good manners she is, will make us sit down and write those thank you notes.
Happily, there is also Russell Francis, a famous photographer, who has become Santa Claus to us. A frequent visitor to the Walden Farm in the summer, he has taken a liking to the family. He’s walking around with some lead in his gut since he was wounded in World War One. (Maybe he finds some peace in the quiet, solitude and beauty of the ‘wilderness’ here.)
I don’t know if he feels sorry for us farm kids tucked away in such a remote place all winter or if he just likes us but he sends a big box of gifts every year. I take a moose sled (so called because it could haul a moose, of course) and walk downtown to the Junction where the train comes in, load up the wooden box and haul it the well over four miles back. It is a task I delight in doing!
Let’s just say Russell Francis has a better idea what kids like than the aforementioned maiden ladies. There might be a construction set for me, fishing gear for Bud and dolls, watches or bracelets for the girls. Russell Francis also puts his whole character into the wrapping of those presents. They look so fancy and nice and are cleverly packed into a wooden box about three feet long, eighteen inches wide and a foot deep.
One time he sent a gift I shot myself in the leg with. It was a lemon wood bow with a seventy five pound pull. The arrows were target arrows – not built to kill someone, just to wake them up. All I was doing was shooting the arrow straight up in the air and dancing around underneath trying to see how close I could get to it as it came down. At the last minute I would move out of the way. I had done this about five times, but the sixth time I didn’t move fast enough and it hit me in the leg as I jumped sideways. I ran into the house with it stuck in my leg, my sister pulled it out and life went on.
Thank you notes to Russell Francis are not a chore because we sure are thankful for the gifts he sends. Each year when we get a call on our 8 party line from Mr Canders, the station agent, telling us the box from Russell Francis is in at the Greenville Junction, we know our Christmas is coming and it will be good.
On Christmas morning we are allowed to get up early and get our stockings. In the top is an orange, which I eat leisurely, one section at a time before breakfast. It will be a long time before we get any oranges in this neck of the woods again. After the orange I find a small Dick Tracy comic book, a pack of cards, some of Ma’s homemade candies and a little Uncle Wriggly book.
When the chores are done, the horse has been fed his oats and the milk is separated, we open the gifts one at a time. Ma exclaims over the safety pins I got her and I feel good about that. My brother, sisters and I happily open our own gifts. Santa Russell Francis has made us East Road Walden kids happy. Once again it is a Merry Christmas at the Walden Farm.