A CHRISTMAS MEMORY
by Mary Louise Hillyard
It was Christmastime, and I was four years old. My brother, Bud, was two years old. This is actually the first Christmas I can remember, and the only reason I can remember it is because of what happened.
We were living in Moorhead, Minnesota, which is just across the Red River of the North from Fargo, North Dakota. The first thing that happened as I remember is Mother taking me with her to Fargo to do some shopping. To be honest, most of the shopping experience is a blank except for two things that happened that afternoon. My brother wasn’t with us, but in looking back, I am almost positive that my mother had left him with a neighbor, a Mrs. Erickson, who was a very nice Swedish woman.
The thing I remember the most is that my mother took me into a store, and we were suddenly in the toy department. We went to where the dolls were displayed and she showed them to me. Oh they were all so beautiful and I stood mesmerized by the sight of so many. The saleslady who was helping my mother asked me if I thought any one of those dolls was more special than the rest. I told her "Yes" and she wanted to know which one was my favorite. When I pointed to the only one who wore a green dress, she nodded and said that was her favorite too. Then she asked me if I would like to hold that doll for a minute. Oh yes, I did. Of course I did. So she very carefully took her down from the shelf and placed her in my arms.
I could hardly talk; I was so entranced by the doll and the fact that I was really and truly holding her. Then my mother said we had better give her back, so I handed her back and soon she was on the shelf again.
After we looked around some more, my mother took me some place, probably an ice cream parlor or coffee shop. I remember sitting at a round table and we both had hot chocolate. Then we went and got on the streetcar (which ran over to Moorhead) and went home. On the way home we talked about that doll and I told my mother I thought she was the most wonderful doll I had ever seen.
The next memory comes when it is Christmas Eve. We have had dinner, all of us, and the dishes have been done, my father helping my mother. Then we all went into the living room where we had a big Christmas tree that was all decorated beautifully and lit up. My father sat down and drew my brother and me to him. He wanted to read us a story-poem, he called it. But first, he had to explain some things about Christmas. So he told us about Santa Claus. I was very puzzled by this man who went around giving gifts to children who had been good. I just didn’t understand it at all.
I can’t remember what my father said, but I do remember he was beginning to read "The Night Before Christmas" to us. I kept asking questions such as when will he come, and how does he get in and so on and on. My father told me that sometimes he came when all the children were asleep, but sometimes, and no one ever knew how or why, he came when they were still up. He couldn’t really explain the flying reindeer to me, but we sort of dropped that for a while, and then suddenly, there was the sound of sleigh bells out in our backyard. My father stopped reading, and his eyes opened wide. I asked what that was, and he said, "I’m not sure, but…….it could be Santa Claus." We were all motionless as we sat there and heard the bells again. My mother jumped up and said, "Well, why don’t we go and see who it is?" So my father got up and my brother and I got up and we followed him through the living room, through the dining room, through the kitchen and to our back door.
When the back door was open, we could see our back yard. It had been a very cold winter, and the snow was piled up almost as high as the picket fence that went around the yard. The sidewalk to the garage was shoveled, as was the driveway, and there were no footprints or any kind of impressions on the snow to show that someone had been there. I remember how the moon shone on that yard…..it looked so beautiful, for moonlight on snow glitters and shines and it almost looks like diamonds strewn around there in the moonlight. As we all stood in the doorway, looking puzzled, suddenly there was a loud noise from the front of the house. Daddy said then. "Oh, he fooled us. He’s out in front. Everybody, run quick to the front door!"
Mama took my hand and we ran back through the house. As we got to the door, she flipped on the porch light. In the center of the porch was a sled. And on the sled was a stack of boxes all wrapped up in pretty paper. My father hurried to the railing on the side, and called to me very excitedly, "Mary Louise, come quickly, I can see his sleigh in the sky. Hurry!" I ran over to where he was and asked, "Where is he?" He pointed and said, "Oh he is so fast, can you see him?" Almost in tears I said I couldn’t. Then he told me, "Oh I’m so sorry. He’s gone. He’s out of sight." Then he looked at me and said, "But you mustn’t cry. Look at that sled. That is for you and Buddy. He left all those packages for you two. Shall Mama and I bring it in so you can open them?" I guess I agreed, for the next thing I know they are carrying the present-laden sled into our living room.
They put the sled on the floor, and then my father picked up a package that was on the top and said, "I think this one is for you" and then he gave my brother one. My mother was helping him open his package, and so I turned to mine. It was all so bewildering to me. I just couldn’t understand anything at all. But, with a bit of help from Daddy, I got the paper off, and then he told me I had to lift the lid off the box. When I opened the box, and the tissue that was inside, do you know what? Santa Claus had given me that very same doll that I had held when we were shopping. I simply cannot put into words how I felt. All I do know is that that is all I can remember.
I have never forgotten that night, and there have been so many times that I thanked my parents for doing that. I don’t know how they accomplished it all.
And somehow, I never really wanted to know for it made such a wonderful, wonderful and loving memory of them and the very first Christmas that I can remember.