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T'was the fortnight before Christmas...

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When I was growing up we were poor but we didn't know it.  At the time we had no car and money was tight.  Dad owned a print shop and most of the money went back into the business.  In those days moms stayed home and took care of the kids and cooked and performed wifely duties like cleaning the house and cooking dinner.

The following story is the time my brother Leon and I thought we were going to lose Christmas.  This is one of a series of twenty or more of my boyhood stories I wrote for my grandkids.


It was the first day of Christmas vacation. We were sitting at the kitchen table where Mom was addressing the last of the Christmas Cards while Lee and I pasted Christmas Seals on the backs of the envelopes.

The family opened a Christmas Club account at the bank in January, and we had been putting a dollar a week into it.  The account had a fifty dollars in it.  This money would be spent on  gifts, a tree, decorations, and the rest of the Christmas trappings.

 Lee and I saved about a dollar apiece from our allowances, and Mom was going to give us each five dollars so we could buy gifts for all the relatives.  This was going to be a great Christmas!

Later that morning Mom took us to the bank and withdrew the Christmas Club money.  She gave Lee and I each a crisp new five dollar bill.

We walked to the post office a few blocks away where Mom was going to buy stamps for the Christmas Cards.  We stood next to her line anticipating the rest of the day, and dreaming of decorating the tree, shaking the gifts beneath it, and trying to guess what each one held.

We were almost up to the window.  The man ahead of Mom asked the clerk for a roll of stamps.  Mom looked up.

A roll of stamps?  She had always bought stamps by the sheet.  Twenty five stamps for seventy five cents.  She had never seen or heard of a roll of stamps.  This was something new. 
Mom was a sucker for every new product or gadget that made it's way to the market.  Our kitchen was full of them.  Every drawer in the house held some sort of gadget that was designed to make our lives easier, or at least more interesting.  Coin holders that organized pennies, nickels, dimes, quarters, and half dollars.  Several types of mechanical pencils.  A new kind of pen that held it's own ink and had a ball at the point instead of nib.  Special clips to hold down the pages of a book while you were reading it.  Interesting toys like the glass bird that periodically dips it's beak into a glass of water and the windmill in a glass ball that spins when you put in the sun.  Mom couldn't resist buying something new.

"A roll of threes," she told the postal clerk.  "That will be thirty dollars," he replied.

Dazed like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car, Mom reached into her purse and handed the clerk a brand new ten and twenty dollar bill.  She took the rather small roll of stamps and put them in her purse.

We went straight home.  Mom opened the front door and sat down on the couch without even taking off her coat.  She opened her purse and took out the remaining ten dollar bill.  She rummaged around, but could find no more money.  "My God," she said, "What have I done?  That was all of our Christmas money!"

A tear welled up in her eye.  We knew something was terribly wrong.  She took out the roll of stamps and stared at them.  "Who would buy a thousand stamps?" she asked.  She twisted the little roll stamps around in her fingers and put them back in her purse.  "Can't you take them back?" I asked.

Mom was the kind of woman who hated to be wrong.  Bringing the stamps back to the post office would have been an embarrassment too difficult for her to endure.
"I want you and Lee to take them back for me," she said.

Lee and I dutifully took that roll of stamps back to the Post Office and presented them to the clerk at the window for a refund.  But he refused.  He didn't know where we had gotten them, he didn't believe our story about Mom having purchased them by mistake, and he wasn't about to place thirty dollars in the hands of a couple of runt towheads.

Our Christmas Spirit was slowly ebbing away.  As Lee and I trudged back home with saddened faces and slumped shoulders, we wondered aloud what kind of presents we would be getting from the church or the fire department.  We were thinking about what it felt like to be poor.

Dad was already home from work when we got back. He was sitting on the couch reading the paper.   Mom pointed to the back porch, so Lee and I followed her there.  When we told what  happened and gave her back the roll of stamps, tears came to her eyes.

We followed her back to the living room.  She looked at Dad and started to cry.  Between sobs she blurted out the story.  The family had one thousand three cent stamps, but no Christmas money.  What were we going to do?

Then Dad did what dads do.  He told her to give him the stamps and he would take care of it.  He would take the stamps to the office in the morning and the shop would buy them.   There was nothing to worry about.

The towhead runts and their Mom had been sitting on the couch in the living room when Dad came home from work the next evening.  They had been sitting there for almost an hour in worried anticipation.  Time passes slowly when you're not having fun.

Dad looked at us and smiled.  He held out three ten dollar bills.  Mom leapt from the couch and embraced him.  The room suddenly filled with happiness.  Christmas was on again!



  • Upvote 3

I'm first generation Norwegian American.  You know what they say about Norwegians.  You can always tell a Norwegian, but you can't tell him much.

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Thank you for sharing that Noel."We were poor but we didn't know it". Kids can be shielded from some of life's realities and that's a good thing. :cool:

Mark Robinson

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That is a wonderful story, Noel. Thanks.

Fr. Bill    

AOPA Member: 07141481 AARP Member: 3209010556

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Thank you kindly for your tale which evoked so many of memories from my own childhood.  Whilst watching some TV during the day, I am long retired now, I give thanks that we are not parents "today", if you follow.  It must bring a shedload of grief to many, trying to satisfy today's requirements for their children at Christmas. Regards.


Very Best Wishes,

Dr T. Maurice Murphy

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Really a wonderful Christmas story.  We were bound together by family love.  I can relate somewhat, and sometimes it brings tears to my eyes, but I wouldn't trade a minute of those days for anything!



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I thought about that story I wrote a few years ago when picked an envelope from some disadvantaged child from the Christmas tree in the mall.  I thought I could afford five bucks to buy some kid a present.

I  opened the envelope.  It had a number on it and it was a from six year old little girl.  She said, "I want something I can hug."  Man!  That choked me up.  I went and bought her the biggest stuffed animal I could find...a bear.  And it cost considerably more than five bucks.


  • Upvote 1

I'm first generation Norwegian American.  You know what they say about Norwegians.  You can always tell a Norwegian, but you can't tell him much.

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