To the editor:
When our son and his family celebrated Thanksgiving with us, we asked the grandkids for suggestions for Christmas. Each quickly filled a page with a list of desired gifts. Although these lists seem ridiculously long, with gifts from Santa, parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins and siblings, each child ends up with quite a treasure trove. Opening gifts when both our son’s and daughter’s families, with the four grandkids, are present requires most of Christmas morning.
My family’s first Christmas in the United States in 1952 was quite different. Dad was a hired hand on a ranch in Haysprings, Neb. We (Dad, Mom, my sister Ursula and I) lived in a small laborer’s house that had electricity and running water, but the “facilities” were outside. Having no car, we relied on the rancher for transportation. For Christmas, Dad cut a small pine tree growing wild on a nearby hill. It was trimmed with a few candles (Yes, candles!) and some homemade decorations. Following German tradition, we opened our gifts on Christmas Eve.
I was quickly learning to speak and read English in school, a skill facilitated by Saturday morning radio programs and comic books from my school friends. Most of the radio programs and comic books were westerns—Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Lone Ranger, Red Ryder (of A Christmas Story fame), and my favorite, Hopalong Cassidy. I had the traditional Big Chief tablet for school, but I also had a smaller tablet with “Hoppy” on the cover. In my mind I was a cowboy, and I would have put Walter Mitty to shame with my daring daydream exploits of catching bank robbers, cattle rustlers and other desperados. And, like Ralphie with the Red Ryder BB gun, I constantly dreamed about what I wanted for Christmas—a double holster cap gun set with two shiny silver pistols as shown in the Sears catalog.
But my parents had little money and were practical in spending, so I received an easel blackboard with chalk and a basic Lincoln Log set. I was happy, but also disappointed. Christmas morning we were invited by the rancher to join in their family festivities. The gathering included the rancher and his family, the rancher’s brother and spouse, and the two brothers’ elderly parents. Festivities began with opening gifts, and gifts for all members of our family were thoughtfully and generously included. The rancher had two young sons, ages 4 and 5, who had many gifts under the tree. I did not mind watching them open gifts until, to my consternation, each unwrapped a gun and holster set. My gifts were a puzzle and a coloring book. My disappointment was too great! I could not understand why they had received the very gift I wanted and I did not. I broke out crying that I also wanted a gun and holster and could not be consoled. My parents must have been mortified by my ungrateful behavior! I don’t remember how it all ended, except that we had dinner before going home, and I probably received a few slaps to my rear.
I eventually did get that gun and holster set. The following summer, I was paid for helping shock bundles of wheat in a field. I used my earnings for the gun and holster set. Odd thing about those cap guns, the caps cost extra and were quickly used up, and the burning sulfur in the caps caused the metal in the guns to corrode and deteriorate. Long after the cap gun had stopped working, I continued to write and draw on the blackboard and build with the Lincoln Logs.
Fortunately, our children and grandchildren have never caused us to experience the embarrassment I forced on my parents that Christmas morning on the ranch. They only needed occasional encouragement to say “thank you.” We are happily able to be more generous with the grandkids than what was possible with our own kids. We tread the thin line of most grandparents between wanting to spoil the grandkids, but also wanting them to appreciate and be thankful for what they receive, not only at Christmas, but at all times.