Story based on depression era family
| Clara was clutching tightly to the one dollar bill Henderson, her husband, had given her. The ride into town found her wishing just once Henderson, would give her more than one dollar to spend for anything she wanted.
Clara knew times were hard, but she couldn't spend that dollar on herself when they had fifteen children at home who never received the nicer things like some of the children in the community. She never came to town without bringing each one something even if it was just a piece of penny candy.
Henderson dropped her off at the corner for her to do her shopping while he headed to the feed store. As she hurried down the sidewalk, she saw a man walking ahead of her. Something seemed to float out of his pocket onto the concrete. Clara's eyes widened as she saw it was a twenty dollar bill. "Mister! Mister!' she called out to the man.
"You dropped this, sir."
"Ma'am, you are the first person to attempt to give back the money I dropped. I have done this four times and you are the first." He gave Clara a one hundred dollar bill and said, "God bless you."
"My goodness," she thought now I have one hundred one dollars to decide what to do with ......"My goodness!"
"If I buy more than usual, Henderson will wonder where the money came from and take what's left away," she thought. "If I put it in the bank, Christmas won't be so hard this year and the children can have more than an apple, an orange, and a handful of nuts.
She struggled with herself wanting desperately to ease their needs of today, yet knowing this would be the hardest year they had endured since they married financially.
Suddenly it came to her what she should do. As fast as she could walk, Clara headed toward the bank. By the time she arrived at the bank she was utterly breathless.
Clara deposited the hundred dollars in an account and spent her usual dollar. Henderson kept asking her why she was so happy today as they made their way down the winding dirt road toward home. She couldn't share this secret with him and she felt bad about that. The guilt was not as overwhelming as the joy she felt inside at the thought of little Rachel waking Christmas morning with a doll of her own to hold.There would be a tea-set for Carolyn who loved pretty dishes, a slingshot made of metal instead of carved out of wood for Genie Boy and Bennie. A new scarf with bright colors for Peggy would be a thrill. A toy gun would be under the tree for Sonny who used his finger as a weapon pointed at every bird that landed near the house. Guy and Luke are old enough for a real rifle to help put meat on the table(won't their eyes shine!). Joaquin, away at nursing school, will have a nice new tablet and pen. Nell will have a shiny new comb of her own and Dot who primped with nothing will have a lipstick. Lota and Faye could have sweaters not handed down. Lanie was too little to care or remember, but Joe, "Taterbug," would be tickled with a new ball. The smile would not leave her face.
Clara knew in this time of depression she would still have enough left from one hundred dollars even after buying Christmas gifts for the children to give Henderson money to spend on seeds for the spring crop. Now a tear of happiness slid down her face.
"What is wrong, Clara?" Henderson gruffly asked misunderstanding her tears. His tone softened, " I know a dollar ain't much to spend for all the kids, but it is all and then some we can afford."
"I know," Clara whispered. She couldn't tell him now, but Christmas, yes, at Christmas, she could give him the best present he'd ever had!
Time seemed to stand still. Early mornings were brisk with the cooler temperatures bringing the barking squirrels with their bushy tails switching down oak trees scavenging for every available acorn before the winter set in. Clara only smiled a silent smile when she thought about Guy and Luke not having to argue about who would use Henderson's rifle to hunt each day for meat to put on the table.
Guy would argue he was the oldest so he should have the first turn. Luke would shoot back, "But I am the best shot so if you want squirrel with that biscuit and gravy tonight, you'll let me have the rifle first!"
The days went by and it was a clear, cold Christmas morning. Clara feigned sleep as the youngest were the first up looking for what Santa had left in the wee hours of the morning. It was barely sunrise. There was more dark than light as Rachel slipped to the side of the bed and gently tugged on Clara's gown to wake mama without disturbing daddy's sleep. Tears of joy filled Clara's eyes as she saw how excited Rachel was.
All the children had been designated a special spot under the tree for Santa to leave gifts if they had been good enough this year. Rachel was clutching an orange, a bright shinny red apple, some nuts and some treasured candy. Wrapped around the orange was wrapping paper tied with a bow. Clara helped the toddler to untie the bow and get the orange.
"Look Rachel, Santa left you a note. Why don't you go get Carolyn up and let her read it to you." The three year old raced off to her big sister's bed excited to have a note from Santa.
Carolyn was sleepy. She rubbed her eyes as Rachel whispered, "Cat Santa left me a note."
Carolyn thought she must still be dreaming. Rachel's cold little hands changed her mind. "Let me see."
Rachel held out the note. "If you look close under the milk bucket, you will find a friend."
What in the world could it mean? Carolyn thought. She quickly threw on some clothes and dressed Rachel. She took Rachel's hand and led her to the barn where the milk bucket had been washed and stored upside down to dry for this morning's milking.
Clara was almost squealing with glee when she heard the door close behind Carolyn and Rachel.
In what seemed only a second, Rachel raced through the back door calling, "Mama! Mama!" Her eyes were glistening with joy overflowing. In her hand she held a new doll no one else had ever played with. The smell was the best she had ever smelled. "Patsy Ann! That's her name! Cat told me so. She is my best-est friend now."
If only a doll in a red gingham dress could make everyone as happy as this doll did little Rachel. How was Clara to know this would be her most treasured memory of sweet Rachel. Who could have known she would take the dreaded whooping cough and never see another Christmas.
Carolyn slipped to the Christmas tree they had all had so much fun decorating the past few days. Luke and Bennie had cut down the perfect cedar from the pasture behind the pond and brought it home. It was a perfect size with only one or two holes that were easily filled with paper stars they all cut out and hung. The best part was the popcorn mama had to keep making because the boys ate more than they strung. And on top was a shiny star daddy in a soft moment had brought home to make the tree extra special. Daddy wasn't one to buy frivolous knick knacks, but sometimes he surprised them with a tender display of love.
In each child's own spot she saw an apple, nuts, candy and something round wrapped up with a bow. She went to pick up her gifts and unwrapped what turned out to be an orange. A small note floated to the floor. It looked like the one Rachel had given her to read. Her note said if she looked in the cabinet she would find a surprise Santa had left just for her." Off she raced to the kitchen. There in the cabinet next to the dishes they ate off of daily was the most beautiful tea set anyone could ever wish for. The plates and cups had delicate lavender and pink flowers intertwined with blue ribbons. It even had a tea pot, creamer and sugar bowl.
Carolyn completely bypassed Clara as she went room to room waking all the others. "Santa came! He left more than fruit and nuts. Come see! Come see!"
The house was instantly alive. The sun was up and shining throught the streakless windows causing shadows to dance on the floor. "What's all the fuss, Cat?" Sonnyman said.
"Look in the wrapped one! Me and Rachel had a note and Santa had hidden a gift for us. The note said where to find it. Do you have one? You were pretty mean all year." A giggle escaped her lips as she teased her brother.
Henderson was puzzled as each child went racing off in a different direction like the devil was on their tail. There was excitement exploding in the air as squeals and laughter erupted everywhere. "What in thunder?! Where did you boys get that Rifle?" he snapped at Luke and Guy.
"Daddy, we ain't kids anymore and know where Santa really lives, but he ain't never brought more than fruit and nuts to us older kids," Luke said in a low voice the younger kids couldn't hear.
"What in tarnation? Clara!" Henderson bellowed.
Joaquin may have been grown and in college, but no one was laughing louder or having more fun looking for what that jolly old man in a red suit had hidden.
Dotty couldn't believe she had a lipstick of her very own. It was the most beautiful shade of rose she had ever seen. She was singing, " Won't have to eat chicken gizzards behind the door anymore. Won't have to eat chicken gizzards behind the door anymore!"
Clara's brother, Uncle T.W., had told Dot she would get prettier if she ate chicken gizzards behind a door. Dotty, not realizing she was already one of the most beautiful girls in Mississippi, religiously ate the gizzard behind the door when they had chicken.
Henderson's loud yelping overrode all the noisy merriment. Clara slipped in the door to the living room. "There's a little something tied on the tree for you too, I think."
Henderson's brow wrinkled as he eased toward the tree. Sure enough, there was a red envelope with his name on it tied to the tree just below the shinny star. He reached tentatively to retrieve the envelope.
The children at first dumbfounded began singing, "Santa brought you something too daddy!"
Peggy shrieked, " I didn't know Santa left stuff for grownups!"
"Maybe daddy has been extra good this year," Clara said.
The children raised eyebrows peering at Clara with doubt.
Henderson felt every eye on him as he opened the mystery gift. "Clara!"
Clara sent the children scurrying with their gifts. She knew Henderson was about to explode wondering where the money had come from. She told him about the man and the money. She told him about the bank account and the secret that had been so hard to hold all these months. "We can pay for the seeds this spring and not have to put it on account. God has seen our need and answered our prayers."
Henderson didn't know what to say. Gruffness was the only way he could hide the tenderness underneath and a usual response would have been to scold Clara for keeping such a secret. His only response was silence. He couldn't say a word. It might not come out right and he would never be able to forgive himself if he hurt this strong, compassionate woman at this moment.
Clara, as always, understood the silence.
Years passed. Guy, Luke, and Bennie went off to war. Only two returned. Guy swore if he ever made it home, he would never leave mama again and was true to his word.He never married and lived with Henderson and Clara all his life. Bennie made a career of the military, married a German girl and had three children. Sonny married, moved to Detroit and had two boys. Lota, Faye, Dot, and Nell went to business school in Birmingham, married, got jobs, and had children. Two lived in Alabama and two went to Florida. Carolyn eloped at 16 marrying a good man and had four children. They lived close by. Joaquin finished college, had two children and lived close by too. Peggy married, moved to Missouri and had six children. Joe and Lane grew up married lived in other states and each had two children.
Some of this story is fiction based on the way actual individuals would have reacted in this situation. The people are my maternal grandparents, Henderson and Clara Rosamond and their children. All the children were never in the home at one time due to some being grown when others were just babies. Luke died in the second world war, Genie died with a relapse of the measles as a teenager and little Rachel died with whooping cough at age three. Henderson and Clara either entirely or partially reared six of their grandchildren due to divorce or hardship experienced by their children. However, at Clara's funeral all the surviving children and Henderson were at home and in attendance to see a great lady off to heaven.