Marilyn Ingram holds a picture of her four daughters on Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: January 26, 2013 6:01AM
Editor’s note: It is a holiday tradition for The Beacon-News to invite readers to share recollections of their most memorable Christmas. And every year, readers respond with heart-warming tales of family gatherings, holidays marked by joy and sadness, and the never-ending wonders of childhood. We hope you enjoy their memories, presented as our Christmas gift to you.
Winter wedding dresses
It is the Christmas of 1967 and I was 7-years-old. My mother took bits of her old slips, along with some white netting and lace, and made my sisters and I each wedding dresses to play dress up in. She even made veils for us to wear!
Mom had us each open our package at the same time. I can still remember our screams of joy after opening them! We immediately had to try on our new outfits.
We still have a photo of myself and my two sisters standing in front of the tree, holding our poinsettia bouquets, all decked out in our wedding dresses with goofy grins on our faces! I remember how proud and beautiful and grown-up I felt standing there in that dress that day.
Though the gift was simple and inexpensive, it was a work of my mother’s heart and hands that brought me exceeding joy!
St. Anthony comes through
The holiday season was always very slow for my Dad. He was a painter and wallpaper hanger and most people did their painting well before Christmas so jobs were few and far between.
With four children to feed, he did his best but most years, Christmas was pretty lean for us.
We were rather poor but my Dad was a happy-go-lucky optimist who had a lot of faith. He would often say, “just talk to St. Anthony (his namesake) and everything will come out all right.”
This one year was particularly bad, so we knew not to expect anything for Christmas and we were feeling pretty sorry for ourselves. We were living in Indiana at the time.
It was Christmas Eve and my Dad decided that we should go to St. Joe’s for midnight Mass. St. Joseph College was in Rensselaer, about 17 miles from our house. It had begun to snow when we set out and we made it just in time.
Grumbling, we got out of the car in time to hear the bells pealing out the midnight hour across the silent campus. As the all-male choir joyfully sang the Mass in celebration of Our Lord’s birth, presents and grumbling were soon forgotten.
After Mass the six of us piled back into the car for the long, snowy ride home. We resumed our crabbing and picking at each other as we crept along the deserted highway.
All of a sudden, in the light of the headlights a dark figure appeared to be walking along the side of the road. My Dad stopped ... and came back to the car with a young man who said he was from the college. He had sung in the choir and didn’t have a ride home so he set out on foot in the dark. So in the spirit of Christmas, Dad said we could drop him off. We piled together in the back seat to make room for him.
He told us how lucky we were to have such a nice, thoughtful father. His father had died in the spring and he missed him terribly.
When we finally got home, it was very late and we were very tired. My Dad insisted we give him our socks. We peeled them off and stumbled up to bed.
The three of us girls slept in the attic and my brother slept downstairs. In the morning my father called up the stairs to hurry and come down. I barely got all the way down when what to my wondering eyes appeared such a sight that I laughed so hard I could barely make it down the rest of the stairs.
There hanging on the oven door were all of our socks and peeping out of the top of each one was a bottle of Pepsi Cola. In each sock there was also a handful of unshelled nuts and an orange.
My Dad stood there grinning. “See,” he said, “St. Anthony always comes through.”
Surprise in the kitchen
I was about 8 or 10 when this “surprise” occurred in 1937. I was living in Maine at the time, the only residents on the Advent Christian Campgrounds. My dad was a pastor and at this time received about $10 a week for his ministry at a nearby church. He also worked as foreman in a papermill and so he was pretty occupied most of the time!
Christmas was an exciting event for all of us as it was a main family event.
This Christmas was the year I wanted a desk and chair. Of course I imagine there were many other things this little girl wanted, but that was what I kept saying over and over.
“What do you want for Christmas, Madeline?”
“I want my own desk and chair,” I would reply.
On Christmas morning, all four of us siblings ran down the stairs and looked through the glass door of the porch where we had all helped decorate the fir tree several days earlier. Dad and Mom reminded us every year that if we were not good, Santa would not stop at our house. I was also afraid that this year Santa couldn’t reach the tree because it was on a glassed-in porch which was always locked since we had no close neighbors — only open fields and empty summer cottages.
I stood there looking at the tree, all my hopes and dreams dashed, and as I looked at my stocking by the chimney, it, too, was empty!
After a bit of a wait, dad said, “Well, if Santa couldn’t reach the tree maybe he left something in the kitchen.” Of course we all ran to the kitchen, and there stood a newly cut fir tree, reaching from the floor to the ceiling, bare of Christmas decorations, BUT sitting under the tree was a desk and chair just my size! And my filled stocking was on it! Yes, Dad was always playing tricks on us, and, on reflection, life was just a bit more exciting because of it.
The Christmas train
There were six girls in our family. I was next to the oldest and was a “tomboy.” I helped my dad work on his car and other motors, helped plant our big garden.
I traded comic books with a freight conductor on a steam locomotive — the tracks were not far from our hose. The train engineer would give two long and two short whistles a block away and I knew that was my train. I would have my comics ready and would run to the crossing and hand them to the conductor as the train went slowly by.
I thought the steam locomotive was the most impressive thing I had ever seen. I wanted one for Christmas and did not want anything else.
I took my younger sisters to see Santa at Sears in downtown Aurora and they told him what they wanted and, of course, I had to tell him what I wanted. The girls thought it was dumb wanting only a train, a Lionel train that had smoke coming out of the smokestack.
On Christmas morning Santa did not leave me my train. But there was a huge box all wrapped up with my name on it and I thought, “Boy, that’s a lot of train.” I opened the box and there was another box all wrapped up inside. I kept unwrapping the boxes ’til I came to a box that was 12-by-12 inches in size. I knew this was not my Lionel train when I opened the box there was a really small train that you wound up with a key. I felt so bad I wanted to cry. My oldest sister said, “Oh, Ann, there’s one more present for you,” and she came in and I knew by the shape of the box it was my train.
To this day I don’t live too far from the railroad — at night I hear the train whistle and the clickety clak of the wheels on the tracks.
First, I must say I am 88 years of age!
We could not afford a tall tree, very little money, only 50 cents to spend.
I spotted this beautiful half-bottom of a tree. My mother hesitated to spend our half-dollar; the answer was always “No.” I guess I got the better of her — we came away with it.
My sister was wrapping $1 gifts. I got one! This completed my happy Christmas Day.
During the days of the Depression, our family had very little, but we always somehow managed.
My cousin lived a short distance from my family and during Christmas Eve they were wondering what they were going to serve for Christmas dinner, especially with a “zero” budget.
I was spending Christmas Eve at my cousin’s house. In the early evening I decided to go home and with a heavy heart. I was wondering what they would eat the next day. As I started home, going through their back yard in the darkness, I stumbled over something that startled me. I sounded like a duck or a goose.
I picked it up and it squirmed and flapped its wings. I ran back to the house, goose under arm, and said, “Hey folks, I’ve got your Christmas dinner — a goose!” My Aunt Karen thought perhaps the goose belonged to a neighbor and wandered over to inquire if they were missing a goose. They took inventory and said they weren’t missing any from their flock.
So, “Mr. Goose” provided a wonderful Christmas dinner. That was like manna from Heaven. God provided for his people.
Mom fills in
My sister Dorothy, age 7, and I, age 4, slept on an opened sofa in the living room, next to my mother’s bedroom
On Christmas Eve, our long tan stockings were pinned to the back of an overstuffed chair, ready for Santa to fill.
About 2 a.m., my mom came in from her bedroom, using a flashlight to see to fill our stockings. Of course, “we were sleeping soundly,” breathing deeply and our eyes closed when she came into the room.
She put an orange, an apple, a few nuts and some delicious homemade fudge — and possibly another pair of ugly tan stockings — in our stockings.
We probably were still awake when it was time to get up to discover our “wonderful filled stockings.”
We lived on a farm and had very little money in 1929 when “The Crash” came, but we had lots of food; corn to burn for fuel as it was selling for 36 cents a bushel and we couldn’t afford coal.
Our home had joy and we had Christ in our hearts. We had our family together, so every Christmas was beautiful and is still beautiful.
A living gift
What should Santa Claus bring to our three daughters on Christmas 1964?
The girls had stated once again they wanted dolls. Their father responded by stating Santa had already brought enough dolls as he pulled doll after doll from their toy box to prove his point.
Gifts from Santa were ready to place under the Christmas tree. There were no dolls but doll accessories ... a doll crib, baby buggy and a toy kitchen.
It was now Christmas Eve... “time for bed, girls; Santa is coming tonight.” However, soon after they fell asleep, my husband had to wake them up as we needed to drop the girls off at their aunt and uncle’s before going to the hospital for the birth of our next baby. On the way, we explained to our daughters, “Santa will stop at our home on his way back to the North Pole on Christmas Day.”
Christmas Eve brought us our fourth darling daughter, and her older sisters soon found they had a real live doll to play with and cuddle.
Marilyn J. Ingram
Tale of Small One
My fondest Christmas memory is less about a specific Christmas and more about family tradition from long ago. Part of our Christmas Eve celebration (Mom, Dad and six kids) was to gather around the record player and listen to the “The Small One” album, the story of the Christmas donkey.
In this story, Small One is an elderly donkey who has a young boy who cares for him and loves him, but the boy’s father considers Small One a burden and sends his son to town with instructions to sell him to the tanner. The child can’t bear to deliver the faithful donkey to such a dire fate, so he spends the day searching for a kind owner who will buy him for the same price. After several disappointments, he meets Joseph, and his fortunes take a turn for the better at last. This tale of Small One carrying Mary to Bethlehem reminds us all of the true “reason for the season.”
Our tradition was to listen to this heart-warming tale after dinner, before we would open our gifts from each other.
This year our family Christmas Eve celebration will be at my house. It won’t be eight of us like when I was a child, it will be up to four generations and an entire house full. At the time of this writing, my parents and siblings don’t know it, but I will be rekindling that long-ago tradition. I have acquired a copy of the original book by Charles Tazewell and made my own audio version. Hopefully the grandchildren and great grandchildren will enjoy the story as much as we all did when we were kids.
Dad and Santa
Growing up, my father wasn’t the best at keeping Santa Claus a secret. I was about 6-years-old and it was Christmas Eve. In my Disney Beauty and the Beast nightgown I started arguing with my father that I desperately needed to leave some milk and cookies for Santa Claus and his magical reindeer.
“I need to thank Santa!” I exclaimed while my father attempted to brush my raggedly thick, brown hair into a bedtime ponytail. “He NEEDS cookies and milk!”
This was so crucial for me because a childhood friend told me a few days previously that Santa wouldn’t leave me presents if I didn’t leave him cookies and milk.
My father stopped forcing the comb through my hair and looked at me. First, my father’s face lit up with sheer joy; his blackish brown eyes appeared childlike as if he was becoming a kid again while witnessing his only daughter enjoy the fairytale of Christmas. It appeared as if he was going to let me stay up so he could help me bake cookies and set out the glass of milk. Then, his bushy, gray eyebrows moved to a concerned frown and then he stated:
“Leave Santa some Sunny Delight orange juice and Oreos.”
“But…Dad…Santa drinks milk…”
“No, Santa likes Sunny Delight,” my father corrected, ending the conversation.
This compromise was confusing to me. In my imagination Santa only ate sugar cookies and a glass of milk. What if he didn’t like my Oreos and orange juice and would leave me a lump of coal? Before I could protest my father pulled out the alternative cookies and beverage, placed them on the table, and sent me to bed.
In the morning, I woke up to a paper plate full of Oreo cookie crumbs and a glass half empty of Sunny Delight on the dinner table. Next to Santa’s treats was a note from Santa Claus that stated:
“Thank you Darsha for leaving me some cookies and juice. Merry Christmas. Love, Santa.”
I noticed right away that the note was in my father’s handwriting. I also remembered that my father never drank milk (years later I discovered this is called being lactose-intolerant) and he despised wasting things, especially food. My father couldn’t pour a glass of milk because then he would have to dump it out when I went to bed. Giving “Santa” a glass of Sunny Delight was something he didn’t have to waste and he could leave for me in the morning, thinking it would reassure my dreams that Santa Claus was real.
When you are a child, Santa Claus is a magic being that makes anything you wish and imagine come true. This is what parents are to their children. It’s not about the presents necessarily, but it’s about the Santa Claus character that each kid looks up to; admiring his gracious gift-giving adventure and making you feel loved. My father is gracious, giving, loving, jolly; everything like Santa Claus and more.
Darsha Squartsoff Anchorage, AK
Helping Hesed kids
Two years after retiring as a teacher (I had taught for 34 years in Aurora), I missed working with children. I then made up my mind to do something that would bring satisfaction and fulfillment to the intense feeling I had to continue helping children who needed it the most.
So that year, a month before Christmas, I went to Hesed House and asked the administrator for the names and ages of the children (infants to teenagers) who were spending Christmas at Hesed House. I explained my secret plan. I was so happy to receive a list, 60 in all.
My biggest joy and special memory which I shall forever cherish, was in picking out gifts for each one of them. It was like buying gifts for my own family.
The gifts included dolls, clothes and games for the young, and for the teenagers watches, cosmetics, books and, yes, candy. An added joy was in wrapping their gifts and attaching their names with a Christmas blessing for each one.
I don’t think I will ever forget the day my husband and I took these gifts over to Hesed House to be given to the children on Christmas Day. The vision of the joy and excitement they had when opening their gifts is still vivid in my memory. The children expressed their gratitude in very special thank-you notes.
It was a Christmas I will always remember, for Christmas is indeed a time to care and to share. God did so for all of us.
Isabelle Beamish, Yorkville