My wife, Darlene (Rice) Lister, and I are both great-grandchildren of pioneer families settling in Franklin County during the 1850s. Our families have a lot of great Christmas memories. The ones that stand out the most for me include Christmas celebrations at church, cutting down a Christmas tree, and, of course, presents opened on Christmas morning.
The Christmas pageant at the First Methodist Church in Ottawa in 1957 was one to remember, since it included my baby sister, Janie, as baby Jesus. I was dressed as a shepherd, and remember my gown getting hung up in the doorway beside the manger scene. That got quite a laugh from the audience. The bags of candy from the church were always a big hit, especially for kids like us who were off the farm.
Our family’s Christmas tree tradition involved a brief stop along the roadside on the way home from town, and a lookout by us kids and Mother in the car while Dad stepped over fences to saw down the perfect tree. One year in particular stands out where Dad apparently forgot to wear his belt, and had to hold up his pants with one hand and saw the tree with the other — quite a sight from the car!
The greatest memory of all, however, was the “second” present I received Christmas morning in 1952. That year I was the sole first-grader in a one-room school house with my older brother and sister. Money always was very tight on the farm, particularly that year. I remember overhearing the folks talking about how there might not be enough money to keep the farm going, let alone for buying Christmas presents. (Kids hear a lot more than parents realize, you know.) Dad’s notepad on the corner of the kitchen table was filled with numbers, which no doubt were to determine how we could pay the bills, but probably not how to buy Christmas presents.
My present ended up being a tiny toy tin car, with friction wheels. I remember rolling it on the floor and watching it fall apart. Mother and Dad noticed how disappointed I looked. Dad walked over to me, looked over toward Mother and said, “Mabel, I think we forgot to give Billy his ‘other’ Christmas present.”
A few minutes later, they came back with another small package, wrapped with bright red paper. I hurriedly opened it and was absolutely thrilled to find a shiny metal screwdriver — one with smaller screwdrivers in the handles, a set of four screwdrivers in all! It was a few years later that I finally figured out Dad had actually gone to his tool box to find this last-minute Christmas present. I believe this might have originally been a gift from his father (E. Edelmann & Co., dated 1917).
The folks always enjoyed me re-telling this story in later years. My “second” gift was 60 years ago this year. To this day, it remains my most wonderful Christmas memory. I still have this screwdriver, and consider it my greatest possession.
Bill Lister is a Pomona resident.