Favorite Gifts for Julia
When I was growing up, I was fairly typical of kids around the country. The Christmas season meant another day closer to finding those wonderful gifts under the traditional tree on Christmas morning. Like many families, we had good years and slim years, but even if we didn’t get bunches of toys and some needed clothing, we were taught to be grateful for what we had. My mom also took the time to explain that we gave gifts this time of year in response to God’s gift to us; the Christ child. I took the explanation literally, and accepted what was an over-simplification. I merged that data with the Santa Clause theory as one of life’s truths. Besides, if it meant I’d get even one package to unwrap, it was to my benefit to rest in that idea and enjoy this exciting event. The one thing I did learn was not to be selfish, but to be happy for others as they opened their gifts. Until corrected, I was jealous when comparing what I got when compared to others. Mom taught me that it was a time of sharing. I instinctively thought of this mindset as good and right. I would understand more as I grew in strength and statue and saw the grace afforded even to me, a poor kid from a little town, perhaps much like the village of Bethlehem.
I was blessed by living in the same household as my Great-Aunt, Shirley Chapman and her son, George, and daughter Julia. We had three years between us, Julia being the youngest. This little girl cousin was a delight to know and watch grow up. When she was a teen her friends became my friends. I always tried to find ways to include her in whatever mischief I was planning. One of those times it was simply the way to sneak downstairs early to survey any Christmas gifts left under the tree by Santa. The problem was that she slept with her mother. Both were sound sleepers, but what’s the fun of doing something without a witness, or partner in crime? It called for me to crawl and ever so gently nudge her awake, all the time showing the universal signal for remaining silent.
The stairs leading downstairs were notoriously noisy, letting out squeaks and groans whenever any weight was transferred onto each respective runner. We worked on a solution during the day when no one was alert to our motives, often figuring out which steps were most offensively loud. Finally, I discovered that sliding down the banisters allowed us to reach the bottom without ever touching the staircase its self. We would have to hold on to the edge of the second floor until we no longer could maintain a handhold. That happened sooner for Julia since she lacked the height of my skinny frame. Therefore, I had to go first and then reach up from the floor below to steady her and prevent her from falling. I’m sure such an occurrence would have awakened the whole household and betray our quest to discover tomorrow’s secrets. Having seen a couple of items we ascended the banister back to our rooms, even though we still had visions of things unseen running through our minds.
I remember some of the things that Julia got for Christmas back in the day. She got this big doll that you fed from a small plastic bottle filled with water. Low and behold, after feeding ‘her’ the water it wasn’t long before she wet her cloths and needed a change just like a real baby. Since I saw dirty or wet diapers as the worst drawback with having babies, I wondered if that was something I would want in a toy. On the other hand, it did train her on her mothering skills. It taught me to stay away lest the doll wet on my pants. It also seemed that she had another dolls that cried tears from its eyes.
She also got a stroller, or pram, to wheel her baby around the neighborhood and impress the other girls that would show appropriate admiration and take turns with the pram. My favorite gift of hers was the little oven that really baked small cookies and cake. When the product emerged, Julia, (sweet girl) allowed me to help with the creamy decorations since I excelled in art. (Well, maybe excelled is too strong a word.) What I was really doing was waiting for a bite of a cookie. Yum! Erector sets are nice but never as good as a cookie.
She once received a play kitchen complete with a set of dishes. She had already gotten a tea set, so now she was ready to pretend to make a big meal. When I wasn’t busy and no boys were around to catch me, I played with her. I wouldn’t have liked being made fun of, but it was fun to prepare an imaginary meal. She had a doll house, too, but I drew the line at that. Oh, I didn’t mind moving the furniture around, but I wasn’t much into being the ‘man of the house’ who came home from work to a pretend meal my wife had prepared. But, since no one was looking . . .
I remember Julia also playing with paper dolls. In many cases she had to take paper scissors and cut out the clothing from pages of potential wardrobe. When I first tried to help her, I learned the hard way that I needed to cut around the little tabs. I understood that for the sake of playing, changing the clothes from time to time was the purpose of the set of paper dolls. No tabs, the clothing wouldn’t stay on, and glue was a little too permanent. It was then that I escaped to play with some toy cars, army tanks and airplanes. There was safety in that.
It may have been a simple Christmas gift that led Julia into a career as a professional photographer. She once had a job at a major hospital taking medical pictures of tissues, etc. and did quite well. After that she took pictures of weddings, and artful pictures of scenes she encountered in life. I know that she still has an interest in photography and has a level of understanding well beyond mine.
A very favorite Christmas gift that she received was a majorette’s baton. While she wasn’t very adept at twirling in the beginning it wasn’t long before she could keep it going steadily like an airplane propeller. She would grow older over the next few years and wear the uniform of a LHS majorette! I’ve seen her toss and catch a spinning baton, and two in some cases. I believe she also later had a ‘fire baton’ that looked too dangerous for me. I think she was head majorette her senior year, but I was already in Uncle Sam’s service. I was sent pictures since she was good at writing during those years. Maybe she was sorry for me being so far away and alone. (I don’t have a picture of her, but here’s one of my classmates in 1960).
When she was still little she once got a cowgirl outfit. It had a vest, a cute skirt, cowgirl boots, and a hat with a string. Just like Dale Evans, she had a six-shooter, too. In just a few years she would get a ‘poodle skirt and sweater so she looked like the teens running around jitterbugging.
Julia got a fashionable girl’s bicycle for one Christmas. I remember it was a medium sized with a white woven basket on the front. I think it had a thumb bell and fringe on the handlebar grips. To me it looked like something more appropriate for Easter, but she did need a bike. She peddled around town as did nearly everyone else that I knew. In those days it was safe for kids to do that, but times have changed. Besides, bikes don’t connect to the internet and have no value for entertaining on their own. Kids played outside then, but today it is rare that younger kids or teens ever go outside. Gifts are technical marvels these days, each filled with games, aps, and access to the world. These products also have a hidden side, often exposing kids to those who would do them harm. Yes, we sneaked a peek of Santa’s gifts, but life’s secrets that are a bit darker. There are reasons to fear the electronic age, so use caution as we broaden children’s access to the world.
I hope to have my grandkids understand the simple ‘why’ and how sharing in celebration is a good thing. I know our nature, and therefore, theirs, is to think selfish thoughts, but looking back I can see I enjoyed the gifts my little cousin got, too. So this is a time for giving as well as receiving. How we deal with that makes the difference. While girls today may not get a set of paper dolls as that seems seriously out of fashion, but here’s hoping they get a play oven and make some really good cookies!