The Last Christmas

Coleridge 1949

Christmas 1949 was a white christmas, not unusual in northeastern Nebraska. The house was decorated, with the tree full of bubble lights and tinsel (my sister Gladys was nearly OCD about tinsel, making sure only one at a time was applied.) Popcorn strings may have been put on the tree and rings of colored paper were linked together around it.
We went to Christmas Eve services at The Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ at the bottom of the hill. Presents would be opened upon our return, though I had shaken, pinched and poked each of the packages with my name on them. It was a nice service with lots of carols. And then we raced home to open presents.
Our house was a Christmas Eve house. We opened Christmas presents on Christmas Eve which had been under the tree for days, since they had been wrapped. I don’t remember taking turns and saying ‘oooh’ and ‘aaah’ and then letting that person pick the next one. I don’t remember us all going pell mell eirher, ripping packages, grabbing the next one, and ripping the wrapping off that package until the floor was covered in Christmas wrapping paper. I especially don’t remember my dad bringing in the large presents that hadn’t been there when we went to church. I don’t remember who got what or what my new flannel pajamas looked like that year. I don’t remember what my two older sisters or my one year younger twin brothers were doing, until we were through unwrapping.
I do remember the family configuration after gifts were opened. I remember my father and my older sister, Gladys, opening a new Constructor set. It was like an Erector set with many different lengths of metal strips with holes punched the entire length of each one. I remember the plethora of nuts and bolts, little ones, used to make the marvelous machines shown in the instructions. They began to assemble a Ferris Wheel.
OK, I don’t remember where any one else was. But I was at a large crate wondering what was inside. I was not a believer that big gifts came in small packages. This box was heavy. It was filled with books, The Book of Knowledge set.These books had everything in them any child (who read) could want. There were stories, pictures, riddles, and all aimed at a young reader. I couldn’t leave them alone, pestering everyone with riddles as I read them (How do you make time fly? Throw a clock out the window. How do you make butterfly? Throw butter out the window.) Looking for Aesop fables, using the index to find a topic of interest, new stories, and new games. Never had I seen such a gift, neither this or the Construction set. This was not the year of the tricycles or toys or games. This was a huge Christmas.
My father bought things. As I’ve told you elsewhere he had three automobiles, rifles, shop tools, a pool table, a Juke box and of course,The Radio. This was no ordinary radio. This radio was in a huge cabinet, but not only the radio (which flipped down at 45 degrees when you opened the right most door) it also had a record player. He had joined a record club that sent him red records in blue covers. Records like “Donkey Serenade” and “Blue Skies” which we played over and over, stacking several of our favorites on its spindle to watch them drop down when each previous record was done. They were 78 rpm, as big as 33 1/3 rpm records that would come to me in the 50’s. (I saw this same radio in Fort Collins later. A friend’s dad had bought it at the auction and used it on their enclosed front porch.) It had a little red light in the middle of the bottom that I used to drive my small rubber model car up to and pretend the lights were on. The cabinets below the record player and radio were storage for records and other ‘stuff.’ We would all sit in front of it in the living room and listen to The Hit Parade on Saturday nights.
This was the most wonderful Christmas ever.
The next month he was dead.
I remember planning super events for my own children, trying to be Super Dad, after my divorce. I think this was what he was doing that night. My sister told me 30 years later when we found out how he died that he hadn’t been living with us for a while. I don’t remember that. My sister said my mother had presented him with divorce papers because he was abusing her, drinking in excess, and chasing other women around the state.
He was a veterinarian. He had the drugs to do it. He was 37.
We moved to Fort Collins to set up new memories without him.

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