by Catherine C. Brooks
I hear and read much about “last minute Christmas shopping” these days. And as I look back, such has been the case in some previous years. A few years back, I had a brief conversation with a relative, to whom I felt close. I knew his wife did the larger part wife of their shopping. But he said shopping on Christmas Eve was an important part of his Christmas—maybe that’s when he bought her a special gift. But I have never experienced such shopping, and I had other things to keep me busy on December 24th.
After I married, Christmas Day became longer than in earlier years. My family had always gathered with my maternal grandparents, aunt and her family with two cousins, and sometimes the younger aunt, on Christmas Eve for supper and again on Christmas Day for a large dinner. We went to Grandpa Callis’s place for a short visit after dinner to take and receive our gifts, eating with them later in the week or on New Years Day. Since Kirby and I lived with my parents the first two years of our marriage, we celebrated as usual with my family. Then, we left for Kirby’s parents’ home where we exchanged gifts and visited before time to leave for Granddaddy Diggs’ house. Ever since we began dating as teenagers, Kirby had talked about the Christmas evening gatherings at his maternal grandparents’ house as a larger part of the day’s celebration. He couldn’t miss it if he was home, and he’d been in the Pacific arena in both 1944 and 1945 during Christmas.
He only had one brother, but there were nine first cousins, all in his mother’s family—some folk called them “the Diggs clan.” Before Christmas Day 1946, I had wondered what was so urgent about the gathering of which I’d now be a part. To begin the evening with all 22 of us in the house, we ate a delicious meal at Little Mama and Granddaddy Diggs’ table. I’ll always remember the tender roast beef with rich dark brown gravy. They still considered us bride and groom, so Kirby and I ate at the “first table” with his grandparents, parents and most of the aunts and uncles. We visited while others ate, most telling about earlier events of the day. Kirby was the oldest grandchild and the first to marry.
After dinner had been completed, all the clan gathered in the two rooms, with an archway between, to fellowship and exchange gifts. That year, Kirby and I hadn’t been expected to have gifts for the family members, but each family remembered us. As I remember we took a gift for his grandparents. Before the evening ended, I knew what was so special about Christmas evening at Granddaddy Diggs’ house. The healthy laughing, caring and love had enveloped me, as the new family member. The bond would last until another celebration with the same folk.
I began to listen to Kirby’s relatives at these gatherings, learning the things they liked. It helped in making decisions for coming years.
Kirby was apprenticing to be a cabinetmaker and refurbishing furniture. So we had little money to spend for Christmas gifts in those first years of marriage. Therefore early in the year, I began sewing and embroidering items for gifts for the following Christmas. After more of his nine cousins and brother married, we began drawing names among ourselves, and we parents drew the Diggs’ great-grandchildren’s children’s names separately. So Kirby and I only had one gift to buy for the home and one for Wade to give until Susan Kay became part of our family in 1956. Then her name was added.
Kirby and I enjoyed the fellowship with family members at Granddaddy Diggs’ home for many years. I remember few gifts we received and fewer that we gave, but the loving fellowship will never be forgotten. I still feel close to each of those cousins. They became my family as well as his. Jean Diggs Smith, the second to marry, knitted each great-grandchild a large red stocking with a white cuff and their first name as an extra gift one Christmas in the 1950s. Then as we had more children, she had a stocking ready by Christmas of the same year. My two children still have and use theirs.
After we settled in our own home, we began shopping in Richmond on December 26th. Everything had been reduced to half price or below. I sometimes found items in Thalhimers and Miller & Rhodes basements that I’d seen on the upper floors in the fall so they had been reduced at least twice. We shopped carefully, purchasing part of the immediate family members’ gifts for the following year, Christmas cards and gift-wrap. We charged anything above the cash in hand on our store charge cards. Interest was low, and we paid the bills within a few months. Finding storage became a bit of a problem those first years in our small house. So I packed the gifts in boxes and stored them under our bed with one side against the wall, keeping record of what we had purchased and for whom. I also continued sewing and embroidering tea towels, pillowcases and other items.
When our son Wade became the third member of our household, we were reluctant to buy too far ahead for him. Parenthood was new to us so we had much to learn. Once out of baby dresses (boys in their infancy didn’t wear suits until a few years later), I made his clothes and continued making my dresses, giving less time for gifts. One year we received a large bag of slightly worn sun suits and shirts for Wade from a friend. Since I canned over 400 quarts of vegetables and fruits during the particle summer, it was a blessing. When Christmas arrived that year, I’d made approximately 500 cookies for gifts and our use. I hadn’t had time to sew so many relatives received homemade cookies. I could keep an eye on our rambunctious son better while baking under his watchful eye than sewing, which demanded my concentration and bored him.
We ordered Wade’s toys from Sears & Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs about mid-November. When Wade was three years old, we had added a bedroom, making the living room larger by removing the temporary partition. Beyond the new bedroom, Kirby’s new workshop stood with an office at the far end. With his apprenticeship completed, he’d been working to build his own business. We had more living and storage space for whatever. And then gift storage became easier.
The year Susan Kay had reached two years, Kirby and I made our usual trip to Richmond on December 26, leaving the children in care of Grandma and Granddaddy Brooks. When we went to the toy department in Miller & Rhodes, I found Madame Alexandria dolls had been marked half price. Kelly was much like the doll I’d longed for in 1933, but finances hadn’t allowed my parents to buy one that expensive with the Great Depression at its height. I just had to buy Kelly for our daughter. Before the next Christmas, Susan Kay began to ask for a baby doll, but I had spent what we could afford for a doll a year earlier. By that time, we had an upstairs with two bedrooms and one on first floor. The children weren’t allowed to go to the living room and tree with gifts under it until Kirby had turned the oil burner up and the house had somewhat warmed. (We didn’t have the furnace installation completed until after another two years.) Since nothing had been mentioned about the baby doll for weeks, I was hoping Kelly would serve the purpose. When Susan Kay walked to the tree, looking for the coveted doll, tears ran down her cheeks. Then she grabbed Kelly, hugging her like her life depended on her love for the doll. She said, “That’s all right.” A year later, she received Tiny Tears and played with her more than she ever did Kelly. She loved her dolls and has all we ever gave her. Today Kelly is one of her favorites.
As years came and went, I began to assist my husband in the business. Finally we moved the part of the business that I managed to a store in Mathews Court House, adding a retail fabric shop. I no longer made the gifts that we gave, but I kept an eye open for good buys. Some things I have purchased without anyone particular in mind, using it when the suitable occasion came. I try to keep gifts on hand still.
Now a retired great-grandmother, I’m unable to shop except in the Mathews and Gloucester, but I shop from catalogs and online. I watch for specials whether on labels, in catalogs or wherever and special buys for magazines. I enjoy hearing from relatives and friends far and near whether by card, letter, telephone or e-mail. The fellowship has become more important than gifts though I appreciate each and every one. In recent years, my children have given me a TV to replace my partially disabled unit and an apartment size freezer that allows me to buy ahead.
All my gifts are usually wrapped and I’ve mailed my sister’s family’s gifts by mid December. My single grandson like many others did his shopping on December 23rd this year. Since we open gifts at my son’s on Christmas Eve after supper, he was up into the wee morning hours wrapping gifts. Unless you enjoy a rush, consider shopping before the last month and especially Christmas Eve. In other words, begin now
©2005Catherine C. Brooks
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