by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr.
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
A year ago this column was about a memorable, unusual Christmas that involved a serious illness my father experienced and the generous support our family received from neighbors and other friends.
Because Christmas is a gift that keeps on giving every year, I have additional memories, some of which I decided to share this year.
At the country one-classroom school I attended for the first six years of public education, we had yearly Christmas programs at a special evening time when relatives and friends were invited to be entertained by the pupils. My memory takes me back to a snowy winter’s night with big fluffy flakes falling but failing to keep the annual Christmas program from happening at the Hanaford School in New Hampton. The tree would have been decorated with ornaments made by the boys and girls. I recall particularly the scissors, colored construction paper, and glue that were made into paper chains to hang upon the classroom tree. Back in those days we sometimes even made our own glue with flour and water. The program itself included recitations, carols and perhaps a play. The one I remember being a version of
Dicken’s Christmas Carol featuring Tiny Tim and a make-believe goose. The session would end with the arrival of Santa Claus, who would pass out decorated candy boxes filled with hard candies. I have never forgotten an outside event, either before or after the inside festivities when David Caverhill, the big upper classman, decided to pick me up and hold me high from the ground in the falling snow. He was so tall he must have been in the eighth grade, and I so small I must have been in the first. I was happy and scared at the same time, pleased that the big guy was paying attention to me while thinking “surely he is just having fun and won’t do anything to hurt me” still there was some uncertainty in my mind as to what he was up to. I soon felt that he was a kind guy and meant me no harm, still, I felt somewhat safer when he finally set me down on my feet.
Our family had the practice of going out into the woods on our farm to find a Christmas tree, which was a challenge because, even though there were many trees, there were few that would meet the requirements for an acceptable Christmas tree, so the search went on until there was agreement that we had found the right one. A wooden stand had to be fashioned and the selected tree was set up in the sitting room the day before the one celebrating the birth of Jesus.
Christmas shopping was another of the anticipatory activities before the big day arrived. I usually had a little money to use for presents for my parents and five siblings. The nickel and dime stores offered the logical place to find the gifts and I don’t remember having much difficulty finding a little something for the brothers and sister, but it was a different story when it came to Daddy and Mother. (Mother was always called Mother, not a variation of the title.) When I was old enough to do my shopping by myself, I recall going back and forth between Woolworths and Newberry’s in Laconia, seeking an appropriate present for Mother and Father that my money could buy, always wondering if I could find something that would make them happy. I might wander a little to other stores and discover items that I would like to have, realizing that most of my wants involved items that would be too expensive for our family’s resources. I was impressed by the electric train set displayed in the window of the hardware store and wished to have more time to enjoy watching it run around the tracks, but knew better than to ask to receive that item as a Christmas gift.
A child’s anticipation of Christmas may have a greater impression on their lives as the day itself. My favorite spot on Christmas Eve, if I could claim it before a sibling did, was the chair in the corner beside the sitting (living) room wood stove – the warmest spot in the house. The tree was lighted with a string of colored lights with bulbs that were larger than most of those used today. Some of the presents were wrapped and under the tree and there were the thoughts of wondering which were mine and what was inside the wrappings, but, even with the anticipation of opening presents the next morning, I would become somewhat melancholy and meditative, thinking of people who would not have the same happy Christmas that I had. I was not thinking of anyone in particular; I just understood that there were people “out there” who were not having a Merry Christmas and wished I could do something to change that situation. Christmas morning was always one of great excitement with the first activity being that of discovering the contents of the stockings which were hung behind the kitchen stove on the clothesline usually used for drying purposes. The contents always included an orange, which was a treat for us, and hard candies, along with other items. Additional presents were under the tree, but before these could be opened breakfast had to be completed and the dishes washed and the morning chores of feeding the animals, milking the cow and filling the kitchen and sitting room wood boxes had to be completed. Then, not with a mad rush, but in a deliberate and orderly manner, the presents were removed from under the tree and given to the named recipients.
I could continue with many other Christmas memories including the traditional dinner with a rooster or two from our chicken house and the usual fixings and some special Christmases as an adult, but I will conclude this discourse by quoting from an editorial of a December 25, 1944 in Life magazine. I was six years old and the United States of America was fighting in World War II. Since early childhood I was made aware that Christmas was to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus, the Savior and Messiah.
The Life editorial began “Now when the birthday of Jesus Christ came to be celebrated in America in the days of President Roosevelt, there lived in that country a simple man named Arthur, who believed that Christmas should be a time of joy. For had not a Redeemer been sent to bring men peace and goodwill, and to save them from their sins?”