■ A Christmas of Yesteryear
By MARILYN KUEHL
The year was 1945. My father was feeling the pain and frustration of the Great Depression long after it was over. When the promise of a better life came from his brother in Montana he snatched at the opportunity to leave the struggle of the farm behind.
The long day of the auction was over. We had parted with most of our earthly possessions, sensing we would need the few extra dollars each item had brought in the uncertain days that stretched before us. In my grandfather’s old car, we traveled to our local town to stay in its only hotel, searching for a restful night with plans to board the train for the West the next morning. In spite of their weariness, my parents held an expectancy of good things to come. The lobby felt warm and cozy, like the bed I hoped would soon welcome my tired little body.
The lady at the desk seemed abrupt and yet I imagined behind those steel gray eyes danced a merriment that I wanted to know more about. And so we stood in that tiny, dimly-lit lobby, stripped of any worldliness, waiting to pass inspection. I reached for my father’s hand and it felt warm and secure. That night we slept peacefully, crowded together in two small rooms.
The telegram arrived the next morning, simply stating that Billings was quarantined with a polio epidemic and all traffic into the city had been restricted for a month. With no other options, we settled into the community, my parents finding jobs and my sister and I starting school. When the time restriction of the epidemic had passed, we realized perhaps we had, indeed, already found the “better life.”
Christmas was approaching and I thought about our old, spacious farm house with the huge tree in the corner of the dining room. In my 8-year-old mind, I couldn’t imagine where we could even put a tree in our two-room “home.” But one day close to Christmas, my Dad brought home a tiny tree and my mother placed it on a box in the corner of our bedroom/dining room. I visited the dime store after school, finally choosing five or six little ornaments with nickels I had managed to “squirrel” away from kind and generous uncles. We decorated our tree together, hanging tinsel brought from the farm and I fashioned a star from some leftover foil to adorn the top. That night, I knew Christmas would come as I snuggled into my bed, held tightly by the love of my family that surrounded me. As I opened my eyes one last time to gaze at the twinkling ornaments and shiny tinsel on the little tree on the box in the corner, I fell asleep dreaming of Christmas, never realizing this would be where we would spend the next 14 Christmases together.