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    They Shoe Horses, Don't They?

    Christmas Time in 1944

    by Lois Zook Wauson

    The wind was icy and cold as it whipped around my legs as I squatted in the cow pen to milk the cow. My fingers grew numb and cold as the wind hit them, and I nudged my hand farther into her udder to warm my hands. It was December 23, 1944. “Yellow”, our cow, gave lots of milk. It took a long time to milk her. I finished with her and went over to the other cow, while Junior finished up with his two cows. We let the calves in to finish up with their supper, and headed for the house with our buckets full of milk sloshing out onto our jeans.

    It was dark by then, and we had to have a kerosene lantern with us. After all it was December and it got dark early. As we headed toward the house, we could see the glow of the light in the kitchen and the bedroom window. I could smell the wood smoke drifting up from the house. We came in through the back door and the smell of hot bread and rolls filled the house. Mother was at the stove frying ham. The smell was so good. Daddy had butchered a hog a couple weeks ago, and we would be eating ham, and pork chops and sausage for a while.

    We put the milk buckets on the kitchen table. We would have scrambled eggs, and ham and hot rolls for supper. With the big glasses of fresh milk, we would all go to bed with full stomachs tonight. We set the long table and all the kids sat on the two long benches on either side, with Mother and Daddy at each end. The kitchen felt warm with all the people in it, and the pot-bellied cast iron heater giving out waves of heat as we shed our coats and prepared to eat.

    The little kids began talking about Santa Claus coming tomorrow night. I looked around the table with seven of us kids, (this was before Sammy was born in 1948), and Mother and Daddy, and knew that Santa Claus had a lot of work to do. I had quit believing in Santa Claus quite a while ago, but when I remembered those times I used to believe, it made me happy. I wanted the little ones to believe too. I helped them with their imagination.

    When I was very young, there was always a doll for each for the girls, if only a little rubber doll. They sat under the tree on Christmas morning. I loved the smell of the new baby dolls every Christmas. But this year I wanted my very own Nancy Drew Mystery book, one I wouldn’t have to take back to the bookmobile .... and also an autograph book.

    I knew things were a little better this Christmas, The peanut crop was better this year, and Mother was able to order some things from the Sears Roebuck Catalog. I saw her one night, from my bed in the bedroom, and the door was ajar into the kitchen as she sat at the table, a cigarette in her hand, writing things down as she pored over the big thick catalog. She brushed her hair back from her eyes, looking tired, and picked up her coffee cup, took a swallow and then a puff on her cigarette. I had seen my little sister Gerry looking through the catalog pages of dolls, and some of the pages had even come loose and were dirty where smudged fingers had fingered them so many times.

    We helped clear the table and wash the dishes and I helped get all the younger ones ready for bed. Later, I it was quiet in the bedroom and as I lay next to my two sisters in bed with me I shivered with the excitement of Christmas Eve tomorrow. I was too old to believe in Santa Claus, but I still loved Christmas. I heard Mother and Daddy talking about going to town to get a Christmas tree tomorrow. I could hear the wind whistling through the cracks in the house, and snuggled down under the big quilts Mother had spent so many hours piecing together and quilting. I heard Daddy banking the coals in the stove, in anticipation of starting a new fire in the morning, the house got quieter, as everyone settled down to sleep. I could feel the cold creeping in the room, as the kitchen was the only one that got any heat. The bedroom was cold, but at least the door was open to let in some heat from the other room.

    The next day, Christmas Eve, Mother and Daddy went to town and bought a few things along with a tiny tree. Excitedly, we did our chores, and ate supper and then we all helped Mother decorate the tree with home made ornaments of colored paper garlands and strings of popcorn and cranberries, and a few priceless glass ornaments and little candles that clipped on the branches of the tree. We found some icicles saved from last year, and hung them on the braches. Mother made some eggnog and let us all have a cup. Then the candles on the tree were lit, and we turned out the lights. I sat there staring at the little tree with the lights flickering on it, the icicles glistening with the lights on them, and everything in the world seemed so far away. I sat there with my younger brothers and sisters on the benches next to the wood heater as Mother handed out her home made sugar cookies. Mother and Daddy sat at the kitchen table smoking and drinking their eggnog and Mother got up to make a pot of coffee, as I, being the bossy one, said, “Let’s sing “Jingle Bells” and “Silent Night.” We all sang and then finished up our eggnog and then went to bed.

    No white Christmas for us. We always dreamed of a white Christmas but we never had snow at Christmas time. It seldom snows in South Texas. It was only in books and stories and on the radio, when we listened to One Man’s Family on Sunday nights, that people had a White Christmas.

    Christmas for our family was what we made of it. Our imagination was a big motivator for Christmas. We could imagine what we wanted Christmas to be like, and it was the simple things that mattered the most. When I was little I could imagine Santa Claus riding through the air in his sleigh and reindeer, and could really hear the jingle of the bells in the night. I would look out at the evening star, and imagine what it was like on the night Jesus was born in the manger, and the shepherds saw that very star. It was so real. We listened to Christmas carols on the radio. It was making our own tree decorations.

    It was the smell of apples and oranges in our stockings on Christmas morning. Somehow Mother and Daddy made Christmas special for us. No matter how little money we had.

    Oh, for the simple life of days gone by! I think that is what I miss most of all. I try to look for the simple things. When I walk outside in the cold night air and smell wood smoke, I think of Christmas on the farm. Thank goodness for my memories!

    © Lois Zook Wauson
    "They shoe horses, don't they?"
    December 21, 2012 Guest Column
    Related Topics: Christmas in Texas |
    Columns | Texas

    Lois Zook Wauson's book "Rainy Days and Starry Nights' (2004) is a collection of her stories about growing up in South Texas during the 1930s and 40s.

    See Floresville, Texas
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