Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas through the eyes of a child on South 4th Street - a long time ago

I was born post-depression era and pre-World War II. I was the apple of my father's eye. His little "Shirley Temple" complete with smile and curls and the talent to dance a bit.

Dad was a pre-depression era Southern boy who fell in love with my mother and they married at the height of the depression. Children came along and the "child" in Dad bloomed. Dad was a man who loved hobbies. One of his was electric trains. These were not the narrow gage trains with small engines. They were the old Lionel trains. Dad created a city beneath the Christmas tree each year, and his trains rounded the tree regularly. Whistles tooting! Smoke from the engine's smoke stack. Village houses lite up powered by the same electricity that powered his trains. They were his pride and joy. Of course, not as much a  pride to him as his sons and daughter.

Times were tight. Money was scarce. Food was delicious. But this little girl didn't know that money was scarce. It was years before I ever knew how tight those pennies were pinched. How Mom and Dad would sit and count out Dad's wages each week and allott it for bills, food for the week, and whatever else that was necessary. Five cents for a pack of gum was a treat as was a five cent coke. But on to Christmas.....

Mom cooked cakes every year. Pound Cake. Black Walnut Cake. Light Fruit Cake. Dark Fruit Cake. And Japanese Fruit Cake. I have memories of our sitting around the dining room table (it was so large) and Mom was cutting (dicing) candied fruit. Or she was shelling pecans and English walnuts. Her cakes were so good that she even sold a few each Christmas season. After she baked the cakes, they were tightly wrapped in waxed paper and cloth and stacked in large canisters to ripen. We only had heat in one room, so the cannisters of cakes were stored in the cold bedrooms. We did not disturb them.

But on to Christmas.... the magic of delights - food, toys, family. I remember the stories told in later years about the effort it took to bring a child's enchantment alive on Christmas morning. The year my older brother was the ONLY child in the city to get a bike for Christmas. How Dad was able to get the bike and hold on to it during a time when there just weren't any bikes anywhere is still a mystery. He was offered many times the value of the bike by wealthy folks, but that bike was for his boy and no one else!

And then after the war when things were better and Dad's boy needed a larger bike and Dad's little girl needed (of course, translate needed to wanted) a bike, Dad got bikes. Dad was a shoe cobbler and the bikes were kept in the upstairs area of his shoe repair shop where we kids just weren't allowed to venture. Christmas Eve, or so the story goes, my Dad and my Uncle Bill walked to town, put the two bikes together, and then rode them back to the house in the middle of the night. Don't you just know how much fun those two had!

Anyway, we were delighted Christmas morning to wake up and find our bikes. But bikes were not the only delights at Christmas time. There were dolls, too. And for dolls there were doll clothes. My mother was a wonderful lady and could sew beautifully. She made most of my clothes and most of her's. My dolls were well-dressed because my mother sewed when I wasn't around providing me with such delights and surprises.

And then there were the "cowboy" outfits. Dad being a shoe cobbler had access to real leather suede and heavy duty sewing machines. He decided that my younger brother and our cousin, Joe, should have cowboy outfits. this consisted of chaps and vests that he made. Well, he and Mom made. They had lots of brads (metal pieces hammered onto them), lots of fringe, and a real authentic look and feel. These were also sold to other parents for their kiddies. They were not cheap. They were custom made and absolutely fantastic. Of course, the boys had hats, plaid shirts, guns (six-shooters, no less), and holsters. And of course, Mom made an outfit for my doll, too! Vest and fringed skirt with a little plaid shirt.

I remember the Christmas trees. By today's standards, they were pretty slim. But they were certainly beautiful back then - especially in a child's eyes. And Christmas morning, we couldn't go in the living room until Dad went in and lite the tree, stepped back with his camera, and was ready to capture our delight and joy at the treasures he had set before us (in the guise of Santa).

Tradition continued through the years. My brother and I outgrew "Santa" but still tradition maintained no-peeking rules. My "baby" brother was still a believer. However, still being a curious child hopeful for delights abounding under the tree, one Christmas I sneaked into the living room under the dark cloak of night, tip toed through the door, reaching with arms outstretched and then..... the unspeakable happened!

I stumbled over a TRAIN! Dad's train!  Not knowing what kind of mess I had made but fearing discovery, I skedaddled back to my room, jumped in bed, and no one ever said a word about the noise, the train, or the mess. Well, not until we were all grown-up, of course.

So Christmas through the eyes of a child during and post-World War II on South 4th Street in Wilmington, North Carolina is filled with memories.
©Vera Godley

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