Three Christmas tales
Here are three Christmas tales from the annals of the Swarm family. I’ve written about each one separately before. For the sake of brevity, I’ll combine the three into one.
There was no money for Christmas. My mother, always the “make-do” type, and the recycle queen before the word “recycle” was born, was going to make underwear for us kids out of cotton feed sacks. But she needed thread.
At the dry-goods store, she studied the rack of thread, like a hawk scouring a field from high above for mice. She would buy the cheapest white, but it had to be strong to stand up under multiple hand washings. Her fingers moved along each dowel containing spools of thread, feeling the thread. The higher priced thread was at the top of the rack, in bright, beckoning colors. The lower-priced white was toward the bottom.
“Five cents a spool,” she noted. She had 13 cents.
Her fingers stopped. There was something tightly wrapped around one dowel, and it wasn’t thread. She began to unwind the greenish paper. It was money. There was $80—four twenties, wrapped around a thread dowel. She had her Christmas money!
I was beginning to doubt the existence of Santa Claus. And with that doubt, came the sickening feeling that it was really my parents who were buying all those gifts. I felt terribly guilty, because I knew how poor we were and what sacrifices my parents made for us kids. I spilled my guts to my mother. She put her arms around me and assured that there was a Santa Claus. It was laundry day and I could smell bleach on her hands.
Christmas morning came, and us kids rushed down the stairs to a wonderful scene of gifts, treats and stuffed stockings.
Later in the morning, my mother called me over to the window. We’d had our first snow. It was a white Christmas! The snow was wet and slushy.
Across the front yard, there were two unmistakable, parallel sleigh tracks, with deer-hoof prints. I was convinced. There was a Santa Claus! Years later, when I asked about the phenomenon, Mom confessed that the “sleigh tracks” were made from ice falling off overhead power lines, as were the “hoof tracks” from flecks of ice. It was Christmas magic!
Everything was complete, except there was no grand Christmas dinner. All the money had gone to gifts, which were mostly winter coats, mittens, and of course, feed-sack underwear. It was going to be the old standby, macaroni and tomatoes for our Christmas feast, a staple at our house.
Dad was standing at the front door looking out. It was a dreary Christmas day, with low-hanging clouds and our first snow. Suddenly, Dad moved to the coat closet and pulled out his single-shot .22. He stepped out on the front porch.
Us kids rushed to the window to see what was going on. A lone duck had landed in our front yard. Dad, steadying himself against a porch post, took careful aim, and put a bullet through the duck’s head. We had roast duck for Christmas dinner!
Years later, when I had kids of my own, I was able to bring my son to the window overlooking our backyard. There, in the freshly-fallen snow of Christmas, were two unmistakable sleigh tracks. My son was in awe. I didn’t point out to him the two overhead power lines.
Yes, Ginnie, there is a Santa Claus!
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find him on Facebook. Swarm’s stories are also read on 106.3 FM in Farmington.