December 15, 2012 6:36:17 PM
My father had only one brother, and my mother only one sister; but my uncle had no children of his own. Because of that, I think, my sister Margaret and I were special to our Uncle Noy. He was indulgent to us as children, at various times providing us with puppies or ponies. There was a Dalmation named Freckles and a Boston terrier with an extraordinary personality. At one time I had a Shetland pony that could do tricks. It is easy to see why Noy was even more special to his two nieces.
As we grew older and when we moved to Columbus, Noy and Elsie, his wife, would frequently drive here from Gulfport, where they lived, after work. They would arrive unannounced around 11:30 p.m. I don't know why they never called beforehand. In those days a long-distance call meant someone had died. I guess they were also expensive. There was no possibility that they would not find us at home; we never went anywhere.
Anyway, when Noy and Elsie appeared at our door late at night, I would have to move from my room so they could have it. I would sleep on the sofa.
I never resented them. They were too much fun. When they left on Sunday, Noy always managed to slip a $10 bill into my hand, as if the giving was a top state secret, something no one else knew, not even parents. During the Depression a $10 bill looked as big as a bed sheet.
The money went into a secret stash in my top dresser drawer. Noy's bills accounted for about 80 percent of my hoard. I did not get an allowance. My parents provided what little I needed for movies (11 cents) or treats (Cokes, 5 cents.) Chores were to be done simply because we were part of the family. The only other money I had access to came as little rewards if I made the honor roll. Maybe that was bribery; but, hey, you take what you can get.
My secret stash was used almost exclusively to buy Christmas presents. My other expenses were minor, maybe even nonexistent; but Christmas was always a big deal for me. It was when I really learned "it is more blessed to give than to receive." I would ponder for weeks over what I would buy for special people, principally my parents.
Most of the time the only thing I felt I could afford for my daddy was a box of chocolate covered cherries bought from the Mother Goose candy store, run by Mr. and Mrs. Bates. I would hide it in my closet until I could wrap it as a "surprise," although it was usually the same old thing. My father -- I called him Gossie -- always acted overwhelmed and delighted and passed the box around on Christmas Day. Of course, I ate some, too.
Searching for special
Mother was much more difficult. She never wanted to get anything she could not use, and she always had very definite ideas about what she would use, never anything tacky. It was often my Christmas ambition to find something that would please, or maybe even thrill, her. It was a challenge.
I yearned to find something spectacular and probably gravitated to the kind of thing she disdained. I walked to and from school four times daily, since we walked home for lunch. (I also remember getting mail both at noon and in the afternoon, precious letters from friends, mailed for 3 cents.)
As I walked home, I passed the windows of T.G. Owen, Florist. I thought that store was glorious. It had little manikins about 2 or 3 feet tall, always beautifully dressed. Also on display were lovely flowers and beautiful gifts. I recall one Christmas season when I went inside many times to look at a dining table centerpiece of an oval blue mirror topped with blue blown glass. I would not want it today, but then I thought it would be a magnificent gift for my mother. But no matter how often I priced it, it was always beyond my reach.
I had to settle for a hinged box, painted with "gold leaf," with the picture of a flower arrangement on the top. It would have to do, and it could hold things. Useful.
Glory be! It was a success. Mother used it for years on her dressing table that had three mirrors you could adjust to see your whole head.
It is strange, isn't it, that I can remember those gifts so vividly, yet I am not at all sure what I received that year? Or maybe the years just run together.
Anyway, my wish for you this Christmas is that you will receive your dearest wish, but that it will in no way be equal to the pleasure you derive from what you give.
Betty Boyls Stone is a freelance writer, who grew up in Columbus.