Editor’s Note: Lorna Field Quimby has been a contributor to the North Star Monthly since 1995. Please enjoy her final column below as she shifts focus to finishing her book project. We are sure past owners of The North Star Monthly, the Lakeys, Tanners and Hoffers, will join us in thanking Lorna for the countless memories and anecdotes she shared over the past 25 years. We have no doubt her book will be something special.
How Maw enjoyed Christmas! She often told us that she wanted her family to have a better Christmas than the ones she’d had when she was a girl.
As the only daughter, only niece, only grandchild, she thought her Christmases should have been something to remember. She had no idea of the hardships her mother, her aunt, and her grandmother endured at the time. All our great-grandmother had was her Civil War widow’s pension, and she was lucky to have that. Gar did housework and had to live where she worked. There was no commuting in those days. And Aunt Jenny, with her work as a nurse, also had to live away while she was earning her small wages. So Maw could only dream of the Christmases she’d have when she had her own family.
By the middle of November, Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward sent out their Christmas catalogs. Deedee and I pored over them. By the first of December, we chose the items that appealed to us and wrote our letters to Santa Claus. We each compiled a long list, for we wanted to be sure we didn’t miss anything. We used pencils, wet with spit to make sure Santa could read our writing. We changed our minds, erased some entries, signed our names and placed the letters in an envelope. We always got one thing on our list, usually a doll.
We’d be at school when mysterious packages came to our mailbox. Maw hid them away in her room. (Maw was a bit of a hoarder. I can’t figure out where she put all the cartons of gifts the relatives sent. There was one from the Swaseys in Montpelier, one from Harriet, Elisabeth, and Aunt Martha in Hartford, Connecticut, and one from Aunt Bee and Uncle Charlie in Barre. And they weren’t small boxes, either.)
As well as our list of things we wanted, we also had to think of presents for Dad and Maw, Gar and Alvin, June and Mimi and each other. After Patty was born, we added her name and, still later, the names of June and Mimi’s husbands.
At school, we also prepared for Christmas. I remember my first one at the South Part school. We drew names, so we only had to get one gift a student. Mabel Watson was our teacher, and she was easy to find a gift for. She wore Irresistible perfume, so we always chose a small bottle for her. How many she must have received over the years! We sang carols. “Sang” is a kind way of describing our untutored young voices. For the morning Bible reading, Miss Watson read us the Christmas story from Luke. And the older kids dramatized “We Three Kings.”
Aunt Jenny sent a welcome gift from Florida. Bert Wilson would call from South Peacham to let us know a basket for us had come on the stage. This was one present we opened immediately. Aunt Jenny filled a bushel basket with, first, a layer of grapefruit, one for each of us. Next, she put in oranges, filled every available space with pecans, and topped off with a spray of fragrant orange blossoms. When Dad lifted off the cover, we leaned over the basket to inhale the sweet aroma. They’d been freshly picked from Aunt Jenny’s own trees, as had the fruit. The oranges and grapefruit were seedy, and the grapefruit were sour. We didn’t mind. We’d sprinkle on enough sugar to compensate. In those halcyon days, Aunt Jenny and we could depend on excellent train service from Florida to Vermont.
Christmas time was a good time for Dad to indulge his taste for sweets. Dad usually bought a package of dates and a bunch of grapes, which also had seeds. At school, we got small cardboard cartons filled with popcorn and a few hard candies. (Candy didn’t come wrapped back then!) One year, Aunt Bee gave us younger girls each a card of six lollipops. I especially liked the grape one. They didn’t last long, and they made our mouths sore.
Harriet and Elizabeth didn’t give us candy. Their gifts lasted much longer. At the time, I probably appreciated the candy more, but I read the books over and over.
A Christmas remembrance is a good way to say farewell to my readers. Thank you all for your support and encouragement. Thanks also to the North Star for publishing my articles.