It's easy to still believe when holiday conditions are right
There was plenty to do in the winter even without an abundance of television channels or video games.
Our lone grandchild — blessed with a Christmas birthday and receiver of many gifts — stopped playing games on his computer tablet long enough to listen as grandpa told a story from his youth.
He had probably heard the tales before.
Boys slept in what had previously been the attic, two more in a fold-out bed, and a sister had her own room. Christmas time blessed us with an endless amount of decorated sugar cookies baked in star, tree, and Santa shapes. The best were Mother’s date cookies, prepared from a recipe found in a black book kept in a drawer near the stove.
When time allowed, she promised to make suet pudding — a delightful treat rich in sweetness and calories — from a recipe that had been handed down from her mother.
Students on holiday could stay up late with certain restrictions. Since I shared a bed with an older brother, I was responsible for warming it ahead of time. He enforced the requirement religiously. It took, he said, from 15 to 20 minutes to lift the cold from beneath the blankets.
The heat from the wood-burning furnace was distributed unevenly through the night until the morning when Mother rose to restoke the fire.
There would be no time for Gunsmoke and other shows that struck my older brothers’ fancy. There was time for the Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres, shows that poked fun at rural people’s ways. Both shows were canceled at the peak of popularity because the network president decided that his outfit needed to reach a more sophisticated audience.
Arnold the pig and the Clampetts have been brought back to life via stations that broadcast endless reruns. Our grandson is amazed that we survived with three channels and no computer games.
There was hockey to play on the creek’s ice, sledding on the pasture’s steep hill, and, of course, chores made more difficult in the cold and deep snow. Hands and feet lost their feeling when using a pick to knock frozen silage from the silo’s cement walls.
“Let’s play checkers,’’ Dad said in slow afternoons as the register kicked out enough heat to make sweat. To replace pieces lost, a used-up broom stick was cut into pieces and colored red and black. Dad was competitive as could be in checkers, cards and on the ballfield. In cards, we played for matches or pennies, though winning was the grandest prize.
Serious cards were played in the church hall, where dozens gathered to see which team would reach the head table. The most outgoing among them told jokes while they played, which caused belly laughs among listeners.
At home, Dad did not understand why I didn’t keep track of who played trump or didn’t lead the right card at the right time.
“You are as good as a bump on a log,’’ he’d say when yet another mistake was made.
The hall was where women made funeral lunches of scalloped potatoes and deserts.
It was also the place where Santa’s helpers handed out small paper bags containing apples, popcorn balls, candy bars and peanuts.
It was there that an older boy insisted that Santa Claus didn’t really exist, a blow to a boy who had written to the North Pole to ask for a Mickey Mantle baseball glove.
My sister confirmed the terrible news. It was time to stop believing, she thought. However, the belief remains that Santa still exists. It’s easy to think so when watching Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,’’ in the calm when new snow covers blackened fields, the sky is filled with stars that seem close enough to pluck from the sky, or when fire-colored cardinals feast on bird seed.
In these times of great distress, it is important to ponder the little things that aren’t so miniscule at all.
Mychal Wilmes is the retired managing editor of Agri News. He lives in West Concord, Minn., with his wife, Kathy.