Christmas Long Ago

Remembering being a kid during Christmas long ago


| December 1999



Santa Claus

Santa Claus

Even though more than three-quarters of a century have passed, the memory of that Christmas long ago still brings a lump to my throat and a hurt to my heart.

The year was 1916, and this country boy was visiting his grandparents in town on Christmas Eve. The occasion was the Children's Christmas service at the Presbyterian Church where my grandparents were longtime members. My city cousin, Randall, who was a little more than a year older than me, had a part in the program and, since my folks would be having Christmas dinner with them anyway, Grandma Piper had invited me to come in early and go to church with them. My Uncle Shelby, Randall's daddy, brought me into town just before dark.

Sumner was, indeed, an enchanted city at Christmas time. Each gas street lamp post was entwined with evergreen branches with big red bows tied around the tops, and as we drove through town in Grandpa's new Buick, we could see Mr. Malone, the lamp lighter, using a long tool to open the gas jet and light the mantle. Those gas lights sure seemed mighty white and bright compared to the yellowish coal oil lamps at home.

The sidewalks were crowded with last-minute shoppers, many loaded down with packages. I saw one bundled-up figure coming out of Stouts Hardware with a red wagon. He had whiskers and looked almost like Santa Claus without his red suit. Uncle Shelby said he was one of Santa's helpers, picking up a last-minute order for some good little boy. One of the windows at the big Westall store was completely filled with Teddy Bears and Uncle Shel said they were named after President Roosevelt.

The crossing watchman had come out of his little house, so we had to wait until a fast freight train rumbled noisily past. The team ahead of us became unruly and took off down east past the lumber yard. The train was a long one; I tried to count the cars, but they were going too fast for me and I had to quit at 54.

When the train had passed, we drove on down past the church where already there were some buggies tied up at the hitch racks. Some of them belonged to the mothers getting ready for the program, but there were others that just liked to be early and get a good parking space.