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Christmas Eve magic

Food for Thought

My parents were geniuses at making childhood magic for my sisters and me. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I wanted to have several children so I could have the fun of creating the wonderland for them, watching them learn and grow and thrive in a secure and rich environment similar to what I had known. The world changed a lot in the quarter century between my childhood and theirs, however. Iowa City was a very different place in 1959 than Knoxville had been in 1936 when my earliest memories begin.
My mother, being the second oldest of a family of six children, had grown up playing with and helping care for her younger siblings. She knew lots of simple games and pastimes that required little or no equipment or special toys and was good at improvising things to keep kids busy and learning. She was creative, adaptable and blessed with more than the normal amount of patience.
Dad was the youngest in his family, with an older brother and sister, a mother who had immigrated from Germany at age 14 and was hard-working and frugal, and a father who had come from Norway in his early 20s, was creative (he was a photographer and made violins and toys as a hobby). He enjoyed his children, and valued education and independence.
During my younger years in the 1930s, I believed that my dad was a rich man. We had a nice home (nothing extravagant, but comfortable and adequate.) My mother had a part-time hired girl to help with the laundry and heavy chores when she was pregnant with me and my two younger sisters. My parents raised a big garden every summer, but this was not unusual during the Depression and WWII, when almost everybody raised at least part of the food they required. Dad liked to experiment with such things as peanuts and other crops that were not common in Iowa. I think this was largely to satisfy his own curiosity as much as to show his daughters some of the more unusual things.
We had a good many books about just about everything, encyclopedias, several sets of books written especially for children at a variety of age levels, and of course, we were encouraged to visit the public library and no one ever questioned our choice of reading material.
And we had more than our share of toys. Toys for girls, toys for boys, scientific toys like microscopes and chemistry sets, and photo developing equipment. We had a generous quantity of dolls, dollhouses with miniature furniture. Toy farm animals with a barn and farm machinery. We had all the usual homemaking toys such as toy stoves, cupboards, tea party dishes, beds and dressers for our dolls and their clothes. And even a toy iron and sewing machine that actually sewed! There were toy guns, toy tanks, lead soldiers, Erector sets, an electronic quiz game with a buzzer that told you when you chose the wrong answer. I had an exploding battleship with a torpedo boat that fired a fairly lethal wooden “torpedo” that, when it hit the right spot, caused the battleship to fly apart and scatter a half dozen pieces about the room. I’m sure such a toy would be banned today, as the exploding mechanism was essentially an industrial strength mousetrap with enough snap to break any fingers that got in the way. And the flying parts of the battleship were capable of doing fairly serious injury. Many board games, coloring books, paper dolls, craft kits, and all sorts of art materials filled the shelves in our playroom. Yet Christmas morning always brought something new and different to delight us.
Does it sound to you as if we were more than a little spoiled and over-indulged? Probably we were, but Dad believed that play is a child’s work, and that children couldn’t do their work well without the proper tools to do it with— thus the toys (though I always secretly believed that he bought some of the toys because he wanted to play with them himself).
Christmas Eve was the magical part of Christmas for us. We decorated the tree on Christmas Eve and sat in the living room lit only by the lights of the tree until bedtime. Mother served us sweet, foamy hot cocoa and frosted Christmas cookies, Dad sat with us in his big chair, twinkling with delight at our excitement and enjoying his own anticipation of Christmas morning. There would be at least one very special present he had found for each of his daughters. My favorite was, and still is the full-size Pinocchio doll just like the one in the original Walt Disney movie—the first movie of my young life. Pinocchio sits under my Christmas tree every year and he always reminds me of my very special dad and the magic he knew how to make.