Happy excitement coursed through my veins. I couldn’t put a finger on any one thing causing the elevated state of mind, but I knew all the contributing elements. I ticked them off in my mind. One, my family was gathered together in one room, a rare even. This happened only rarely since all my siblings were much older and seldom home together at the same time. Two, they were talking about the upcoming Christmas season. I shivered with delight. Three, we would celebrate the eve of Saint Nicholas in a few days. I looked forward to putting a letter to Saint Nicholas in my cereal bowl at bedtime. In the morning I’d find candy but no letter in it. At school, small brown bags of candy would be left on our desks while we played during the last recess of the day.
The biggest reason for my excitement was the weather. It was snowing. Earlier, I’d heard the grown-ups say this would be the first big storm of winter. My seven-year-old mind could scarcely take in all these wonderful blessings in my life.
One of my big sisters questioned, “Casper, didn’t you have a race car toy once? What happened to it; is it still around?”
My brother grudgingly admitted, “It’s on the top shelf in my closet. I’ll get it out for us to look at, but then it goes right back in the closet. I don’t want Kathy to break it.”
As the baby of a large family, I had many toys of my own but also many hand-me-downs toys. I knew my oldest brother had a few clever, depression-era toys that were so special he kept them hidden away. My oldest brother’s closet was a treasure trove of interesting, wonderful things. Last year I’d discovered Mom stored enough Christmas candy there to tide my candy-hungry family over for the 12 days of Christmas, December 25th through January 6th.
Wind outside our living room window swirled white flakes of snow around and around like a cotton candy machine at the fair. The beef supper Mom was making smelled so good, my belly rumbled. Casper returned from his room holding a metal toy. Setting it down, he turned a crank. Buzzing and rattling, small cars began to rumble around and around on the painted tin freeway.
Some people dread fall and winter because of the cold, dreary weather, but as a child, this time of year for me was nothing but one big, exciting gift season. It started with dressing in costumes for Halloween candy. For Thanksgiving we had visitors and big meals. Saint Nicholas was a small, but exciting taste of the upcoming Christmas season. For many children Christmas Day was the end of the gift season, but not for me. There was one more star on my calendar; my birthday fell between Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Starting as early in the fall as our Sears-Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs arrived in the mail, I’d carefully pour over the toy pages, debating over which toys I wanted. Seeing me laying on the living room floor with a huge catalog open to the toys, my brother Billy would tease, “Kathy’s examining the monkey ward again.”
My family never owned a television until I was 11 years old. The only telephone we owned was a complicated affair that gave long and short rings to indicate who the call was for on a several family party line. It was firmly attached to the living room wall by a cord. Examining the toy pages in catalogs and reading golden key comic books was my era’s version of browsing Amazon and watching You Tube videos.
As I grew older, the meaning of gift season shifted. I suddenly wanted to give gifts as well as receive them. I lacked for little, but Daddy never gave me an allowance until I was a teenager. Until then I told Mom what I wanted to give people and she bought them for me. Looking back, I realize that during those years, gift season was a double blessing.