[Ellis Krogsgaard is a retired school teacher, a lover of language, and a treasure of a man.]
The year was 1931.
The great depression with pervasive misery had been demoralizing the globe since 1929. During those two years, I was hospitalized at Fort San TB Sanatorium, abed 24/7. I do not recall feeling abandoned, for I had no idea just how long I would be away from home. As for Christmas, I can’t remember anything that related to the festive season, but I do recall receiving a parcel from home, containing, among other things, a match-box full of marbles. Those marbles were very special, for I had collected them, played with them and enjoyed their swirling display of vivid colours. Well, that one joy was immediately quashed–marbles were confiscated, never to be seen again! (Visualize the rocking and rolling that would ensue, should dozens of marbles escape to challenge the feet of nurses and others in that already raucous children’s ward.)
Discharged at age six, and home again, I encountered a whole new world of freedom, but I had no concept of the poverty that the “depression” and the “dust bowl” had wreaked on farm and home life on the southern prairies. One thing that soon became evident, however, was that our Model T Ford – later to become a “Bennett Buggy”–had, months before, been exiled into retirement.
Busy summer, with its many new adventures passed, and the Christmas season was soon upon us – another new experience. On reflection, I have no idea how, with their meagre resources, our parents were able to offer their children such a joyous and memorable Christmas, but they did. To this day, I recall rooms beautifully decorated; a Christmas tree, trimmed and festooned with candles; a special gift for each of three brothers and a sister; delicious mandarins, nuts and candies. Hand in hand, on Christmas Eve, we danced in a circle around the tree – candles glowing – as we sang carols, before eagerly removing the wrappings from our waiting presents. Then, on Christmas day, with more singing, and “time out” from our gifts, and a prayer of thanks, we gratefully “dug” into the best-of-all feasts, our farm-nurtured turkey, the honoured guest.
Two, not-to-be-forgotten, events coloured that festive season. Shortly before Christmas, our older brother met with misfortune, a broken leg, when the horse that he was riding to school, slipped on a patch of ice and fell on him. Summoned from town, the doctor eventually arrived at the farm, while painful hours passed. Our living room served as “centre of operations”, as the doctor set the break and applied a plaster cast. Eventually pain, discomfort and concern dissipated, and, all together, we shared that special Christmas. A second event occurred two days after Christmas, when appropriate to the season, a sister unheralded by hillside shepherds, added a new and delightful dimension to our family. “Silent night, holy night”, but she did miss the party!
In contrast, as the years came and went, frugality, an ever-present guest, settled in and dwelt among us. Festive times now assumed a much more humble role. Nevertheless the Christmas spirit did not appear to be dampened by circumstances, especially, I would guess, among younger hearts. We continued to share the joy of each “season” with family and relatives; there were always carols and songs, along with a variety of games and drama, as we created our own entertainment. Of course, mother’s kitchen skills always promised a heart-warming meal. On occasion, a scavenged poplar branch, trimmed with baubles
and trinkets–a fine tree–delighted our eyes and imaginations. The many colourful enticements that cried out from Mr. Eaton’s catalogue were ignored for items of priority–warm boots, mitts, coats, according to need – and we were grateful.
I would not choose to relive the days of the “thirties”, but I do not regret the experience and its lessons. We learned that life does not consist of the abundance of things that we possess, but that where love, joy and peace dwell, regardless of time or circumstance, there we may be cradled in warmth, comfort and harmony. The ever-present Lord cares for us.
Now, may our recollection of the Babe of Bethlehem, and the blessings that fill our lives, enrich our Christmas experience.