Pa then saw to it that the tree was standing perfectly straight in the green metal stand, all the while directing the kids to move it a little this way and now a little that way. When he decided that the tree was as straight as could be expected, the screws were tightened.
Ma’s high, reedy soprano floats from the kitchen throughout all the rooms, some strange ballad about poor young Caroline and her betrothed named Henry, all the while keeping time with her wooden spoon as she stirs up some concoction in her big brown crockery bowl. The sound of a cast iron pan scraping across the red hot cook stove lids and the ping of kernels as they explode against the sides of the pan heralds the delicious aroma of buttery popcorn. The delightful pop, pop, pop, of simmering cranberries as they split their skins rivals the sound of the popping corn.
One of the kids is sitting at the dining room table fashioning a blue basket and pink roses from crepe paper. Later the creation will be dipped in hot wax and when the wax hardens the basket and flowers will hold their shape. It is a Christmas present for Ma, which she will keep and cherish for years. In fact, it lasted until John became nervous about going to work on the Hyacinth, a lighthouse tender, and picked it all apart.
John is whittling one of his numerous little cork lighthouse boats, the shavings curling from his jack knife and falling into the kindling box behind the kitchen stove. Maybe he is making a present for his youngest brother. However, he teases and says he hasn’t quite decided who will get it.
Soon drowsiness induced by the penetrating heat from the stove overtakes us and heads unwillingly begin to nod. One of the kids wails peevishly as the red and green paper chain she is making falls apart. What had started out to be joyous undertaking has turned into a laborious chore.
“Time for bed,” Ma announces as she lights the wax candles on the tree, an annual Christmas Eve ritual. It is quite a treat to see the fluttering lights. The tree seems to come alive with a thousand winking eyes. But all too soon the candlelight is extinguished. We can’t take a chance of starting a fire. We beg Ma to play us a tune on the accordion so she plays a short rendition of “Red Wing.” Then we pick up the little brass lamps and the calico cat. Little brown dog trails reluctantly behind and the sleepy crew enters the chilly hall and staggers up the stairs. We quickly jump into bed and nestle beneath the covers, falling soundly asleep to a duet of a whirring top and the cry of a mama doll.
It seems as though we have hardly fallen asleep when someone yells “Merry Christmas!” We jump out of bed unmindful of the cold floor, race down the stairs and jam up at the bottom. The door flies open and we tumble over one another onto the living room floor. Amid laughter and shouts we tear open the packages and there among the ribbons and bows is a celluloid donkey who will walk by himself down an incline shaking his head from side to side as he walks. Also, there is a wooden penguin which waddles stiffly down a slanted plane but disdains to move his head. There are round cakes of paint glued to a cardboard strip with a brush attached which loses its bristles the first time you paint with it. A magic paint-with-water book makes beautiful red, green and blue pictures appear when painted with nothing more than water. There is a Jew’s-harp for our youngest brother, who has learned to play the instrument without knocking his teeth out. There is a harmonica for Doug who plays certain romantic “Big Band Tunes.” There are fancy bottles of ten-cent store perfume, one shaped like a violin, the other like a flower. This we girls will splash on the new lace hankies. There is a little rabbit fur monkey which climbs up a string and stinks so of strong glue that we can hardly stand the smell of him. We went along for years thinking that was the way all real monkeys stank. Then there are the usual necessities like sock, caps, scarves and mittens.