My husband and I were reminiscing recently about things children of our generation received under the Christmas tree. There are lots of sweet memories there.
In his own words, he recalls some of those special times:
"I’ve been watching many commercials lately, and just about everthing is electronic to make noise or bright lights. Most of them I can’t even turn on.
"When I was young (6-11) I had wind-up toys. One that comes to mind was an army tank. It had a strong mainspring and low gear drive motor, and could almost climb a wall straight up. My brother and I would nail boards together and build an obstacle or trap, and that tank would tear them apart. We never had to worry about dead batteries.
"Another wind-up toy I had was a float plane. We would set it on the water and it would go across a big pond or reservoir. One of us would be on the opposite side to send it back.
"But my favorite wind-up toy was a submarine that would run under the water. It had brass gears and shaft so it wouldn’t rust.
"Sadly someone stole all my old toys from a barn we had them stored in while we lived in Corpus Christi for four years. My daddy had lived in Corpus just before World War II and was homesick for the coast. So we had to leave our toys behind to save space. Daddy had the barn locked and chained, but when we came back for a visit one time we found the chain had been cut and most of the the things were gone.
"We were in an antique store in Van Buren, Ark. a number of years ago and I saw a submarine identical to mine. I really wanted it, but it was priced at $425, so that solved that. Maybe some day."
When our son was a little boy my parents gave him a book by Richard Scary for Christmas one year: "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go." We read that book night after night before he went to sleep.
And when Santa Claus came, he most always brought new cars, trucks or tractors. In the summertime Darrell would build roads outside in the sand and push his vehicles along those roads.
One of his favorites was a small yellow car that he called "Goes." Anytime Darrell went anywhere, Goes went along in his pocket.
A few years ago he came in and said, "Look what I found -- it’s Goes!"
Sure enough, he held a sort of rusty, but still recognizable, little yellow car. He said he saw a very small spot of something yellow peeping out of the ground as he was coming in the back door. He kicked at it and up came Goes.
None of us could remember the last time we saw Goes. It must have been left outside in the sand the last time Darrell played with it, "many long years ago."
That won’t happen again, for Goes now occupies a special place on a shelf in Darrell’s home.
Darrell had quite a collection of Tonka trucks and tractors, all which operated with "people power." He wore the knees out of numerous pairs of jeans by crawling around pushing those trucks.
One year Santa brought an Evil Knievel action figure and launcher. You could place Evil Knievel on the launcher, wind it up, push a button and it would take off across the room. Still, people power was needed.
He loved Matchbox cars, and collected lots of them as Christmas or birthday presents. He carried one of those in his pocket too.
When our grandson David came along a number of years later, Santa brought similar toys that David loved to push across the floor. None of them were battery powered (except maybe a siren on a fire truck or police car).
These days just about everything requires batteries, which most of the time of course are dead when the child wants to play with the toy.
Mother told me that most of the Christmas trees in their home when she was a little girl were holly trees. She said this was because the holly trees already had lots of bright red berries on them and didn’t require a lot of decorations to be pretty.
One year when I was four or five Mother left my younger sister and me at the house with our older sister while she went to get us a Christmas tree from the woods near our house. She came back with a holly tree. I guess this was because of the happy memories she had of such trees when she was little.
But I didn’t share those memories -- my memories were of pointed cedar trees tied to a nail in the ceiling with twine so it wouldn’t fall over.
That year I felt like we didn’t have a Christmas tree. But I guess it wasn’t so bad, because I still have a Humpty Dumpty pull toy that Santa left under that holly tree.
When my son was about eight I found a beautiful pine tree growing in our meadow, just the right size. But when I took it in the house it received the same kind of welcome as Mother’s holly tree did all those years earlier. Til this day Darrell talks about the year "we didn’t have a Christmas tree."
Daddy was famous for waiting until the last minute to get a tree, but he always managed to get one in time. Until one year in the late 1960s, that is. That year my husband and I were living in Dallas. There were tree lots everywhere, so we didn’t have a problem finding one.
But "back on the farm" in good old Upshur County it was raining, and it continued to rain right up until Christmas. It would be after dark when Daddy got home from work, leaving only Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon to search for a tree.
By Christmas Eve it was still raining, so Daddy went to Perry’s and bought an artificial tree. There were several problems with that. First of all, none of us liked "fake" trees. We’d always had a live one cut from the woods.
Second, it was skinny, and maybe five feet tall, and didn’t look like a real Christmas tree at all. It didn’t smell like a Christmas tree either.
When we walked in the door that night I know my face fell, and Mother and Daddy both had a sort of helpless look on their face. I’m sure that Daddy was thinking about all the times we’d fussed at him for waiting so long to get a tree. But we had a wonderful Christmas, Charlie Brown tree or not.
After we moved back to Upshur County in late 1972 we resumed the tradition of going to the woods to cut a Christmas tree for a few years. Now it was our responsibility to get the tree to stand up, and to get the "bad side" turned toward the wall. There always seemed to be one. Putting lights on the tree was fun, but we usually wound up in an argument about whether the tree was leaning one direction or the other, or if the lights were spaced properly.
The trips to the woods turned into "trips to the Christmas tree farm" in later years. Most of these involved riding on a tractor-pulled trailer through the farm. Some of the trailers had seating built in, but most of the time passengers were seated on bales of hay. That was what I liked best. Each family was furnished with a saw to cut down their perfect tree, then after a while someone would return with the trailer, load up the tree and take us back to the area where we’d boarded the trailer.
Santa Claus was usually around to talk with visitors, and most of them had a small gift shop and snack bar where you could get hot chocolate.
There were lots of Christmas tree farms around East Texas, and it was hard to choose your favorite. But as time went by the number of tree farms grew smaller and smaller. You don’t find them too often anymore.
After the kids grew up we decided to try the artificial tree idea, and found that the quality had greatly improved, and trees could be found that actually looked like a real tree. We found that these trees actually had some advantages over the live ones. For one thing, they stood up straight, so there was no more discussion about whether it was leaning to one side. There were no more needles in the carpet to pick out after the tree came down. And no one was sneezing because of pollen from the tree.
The tree didn’t dry out, so there was no more moving presents around, getting down on the floor to water the tree, then putting the presents back again.
But I still miss looking for just the right tree. I miss seeing Daddy bring the tree in the house, discovering that it had grown two feet or so after he left the woods with it, and hauling it back outside to cut some off.
I miss watching Mother put our one strand of seven lights on the cedar tree, waiting excitedly for them to light up. If one bulb burned out, the remainder would stay on, even if you didn’t have a replacement bulb. My grandmama’s set had only seven lights too, and if one bulb burned out the whole string went out until the burned out bulb could be replaced. Having only seven lights didn’t bother us one bit.