My Forty Years Scribblin's
Personal Memories
Christmas is for Always

This was written in 1995 and published in the January-February issue of The Montana Journal. In 1913, when she was five years old, Mildred formed her first Christmas memory.

Drawn by A.S. Morkert.From the first Christmas that I can remember, the holiday has been rooted in our family, not to be neglected, not to be forgotten or held in disregard. The supply of money was never ample at our house so Christmas came from the heart. It was a one day celebration, no commercialism, and none of today's bright baubles. My uncle said, "Now you kids carry in the wood and help Mom with the housework and tonight Old Santy Claus'll come and bring some presents." Then he hitched his one driving horse to the homemade sleigh and departed on an all-day trip to Missoula. You can bet the wood box ran over, and we made pests of ourselves trying to "help Mom" with the housework. At bedtime that Christmas Eve, he helped us drive the nails in the log walls of our homestead cabin on Lavalle Creek to hang our stockings so "Old Santy Claus" wouldn't miss any of us. Then, for our entertainment, he drove a nail and hung up one of his wool socks while my aunt looked on smiling. I will never know a greater thrill than waking up to see a fifty-cent doll sticking out of the tops of those stockings.

"Dig deeper," he said. "There might be something else down there." There was a length of pink ribbon for our pigtails and the toes bulged with an orange and some nuts. A bowl of hard candy sat in the middle of the oil cloth-covered table, and his wool sock held a handful of nuts and two kindling sticks! On a bench at the foot of our bed lay a box with a dozen ABC building blocks. And beside them, a brightly colored picture book.

We girls literally loved those dolls to death. The first ones we'd ever owned, they remained our treasure, even after the hair stood up in peaks, the paint was worn off their faces, and the sawdust had run out of their cheap cambric legs and bodies. My aunt read us the story from the book, and it was soon "looked to pieces." The blocks had the corners worn off from over-use because we'd never had such pretty things to play with.

Then we were in school and we left the homestead, but the wonders of Christmas did not cease. We put on our best clothes to take part in the school programs, and our parents would come to hear us sing and "speak pieces" at the little one-room Evaro schoolhouse. The school board would furnish treats for everyone. What an event!

We must have lost Christmas in the turbulence of World War I and the 1918 Flu. I cannot remember an observance at that time, but it came back strong as my own household increased. With the Depression in full swing, we were luckier than some people. We had a few milk cows, some chickens and geese and a cellar full of garden produce. With butter fat at fourteen cents a pound and eggs ten cents a dozen, we could hoard enough wherewithal to buy the really necessary things. The rest we did without. A small charge account at Montgomery Ward's in Missoula was limited to such things as shoes and stockings that I couldn't sew and one "boughten" gift for each one of the now seven youngsters. How we scrounged and saved to get the five dollars to make those payments. There was little or no money to buy materials, so I ripped and snipped and dyed and made over garments, keeping the old treadle sewing machine humming far into the night after the kids were (supposedly) asleep, being careful to pick up every scrap so they wouldn't know what I'd been making. I still don't know whether I fooled any of them, but the bulk of their Christmas was ever and always wearing apparel for the older ones and rag dolls and stuffed toys for the little tykes.

The onset of World War II brought a different kind of problem. Instead of no money to buy with, there was nothing in the stores to buy. I seemed to cover miles walking in and out of Missoula's shops looking for something to sew, and when there was nothing available, I went on ripping and snipping and making over clothes, only it was harder now since the kids were older.

We were living in Arlee, and the school was bigger and more sophisticated. Along with my own remodeling projects, I had to manufacture costumes, and just when I felt that I had gone the limit, my son said, "Mom, can you make a costume for a boy my size? His mother doesn't know how to sew. So I added one more midnight run to my schedule and was duly proud of the black-eyed elf standing beside my blue eyed one at the Arlee Christmas program.

The highlight of the holiday season in the Jocko Valley at that time was "Open House" at the Ed Schall ranch. Everyone in the vicinity laid aside their labors for the evening's festivities. There was no generation gap. Young folks, old folks, Indian people and white people fraternized, drank Mrs. Schall's chokecherry punch, laughed and danced the night away, so much the better for sharing in the celebration of the birth of Christ.

From past experiences, I can see that the rich or the poor, the strong or the weak, the scrooges or unbelievers will never take the spirit out of the Christmas season.