“One Christmas when I was very small we got Indian suits and a striped tent. Tiny got a great big doll with a bisque head and long curls. Mary and I got several dolls, and Mary got a little car to ride in. Daddy took pictures with us and Mama and Bama and our cousins came over to play.
“Mama liked to cook, especially desserts, and while tasting them soon lost her once small figure, gaining a lot of weight which stayed with her until she died. The fact that she was fat never bothered me because she had such a wonderful soft lap to sit on, and she wiped away many a tear and soothed many a hurt while holding us on that lap which was nearly always covered with a big starched coverall type apron which she had made on her sewing machine. That old treadle sewing machine (there were no electric machines then) provided her many hours of enjoyment, especially making dresses and bloomers for us to start school in each year. She would go to Fountain’s and pick out eighteen pieces of fabric in solids and prints so that she could sew up six little sets of dresses with matching bloomers for us to wear to school. She made doll clothes too and had saved all of her own doll clothes which she had carefully designed and sewed by hand. We still have these as well as part of the broken head of her favorite doll.”
The picture above is one of many that must have been made on or soon after that special Christmas morning. All three little girls are decked out like Apaches, peeking out of a tiny striped teepee at the camera, which I assume was in the hands of my grandfather, Howard. We all know how Jessie and Sara felt about Christmas and how they wove it into an enchanted season for all of us as children, but I’ve often wondered how Howard felt about this explosion of gifts and gaiety. I like to think his attitude was much like that of my own father, Sara’s “Criss.” Daddy would grumble out of bed in the predawn hours of Christmas, throw on his ratty old striped robe and follow us into the Toyland that our living room had become overnight. He would sit on the couch with a cigarette and a cup of coffee, only rarely commenting on the chaos of dolls and forts and books and playhouses, smiling contentedly and then disappearing back to the bedroom. A dad’s primary duty, in this family, was always to be sure that the ladies, young and old, were insanely happy. When Sara married Criss, I’m certain he knew from her tales of “Christmas on Strong Avenue” that the last week of December was her time and not to be messed with or limited.
He was doomed from the start, and always a good sport, but he had no idea just how far this woman could go to celebrate the season. And that’s a tale for another day.