EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in December 1992.
You always hear people complain that merchants inch up the Christmas holiday a little bit earlier every year. This year it seemed that the frost hadn’t melted off the Halloween pumpkin before the stores were decorated for Christmas.
That sounds like I’m grousing like the rest of the too-early-for-me Christmas Scrooges. But I’m not. It can’t come too early for me.
Matter of fact, that little red button that pops out of the turkey to tell you when it’s done was still pink when I was already unpacking Christmas decorations.
After all, Thanksgiving came late this year and by the time it did come there were only 30 days before Christmas.
My own cherished Christmas memory as a child has little to do with this usual anticipation.
My memory is of a dark period when the nation was deep into a Depression, one of the worst this country has experienced. If anything, my brother Joe, and I, the youngest siblings who still believed in the magic of Christmas, could only expect one toy each from Santa Claus.
That, and a prized package that always came sometime in December from Lois Hall. Lois was a faithful old neighbor whose husband, Howard, had weathered the Depression in better financial state than my father, who bought and sold cow hides, tallow, bone meal, blood meal and cottonseed from farmers and furs from trappers in the Okefenoke Swamp.
The package came in the mail as we had moved miles away to another state. My mother would not open Mrs. Hall’s package when it first arrived, at least not in our presence, because I am sure she wanted to make the gifts under the tree seem more than what she could provide.
The gift I received from Mrs. Hall was more than likely a small dime-store toy, but in my mind’s eye it was bigger than Mrs. Hall probably ever imagined. Perhaps it was a toy truck, or a bag of marbles, even a whittled whistle — items which my own children would have received as a stocking stuffer rather than a major present.
Presents under the family tree were often a bag of nuts, an orange, a tangerine, or an apple and that one toy.
It was always a treat when one of my sisters had a boyfriend who would give her a box of candy at Christmas, even though only one piece would be shared. If you were lucky, the piece you picked among the candies sitting in those brown paper cups would be a nut hidden under a layer of chocolate.
I hated it when I picked one of those soft centers.
I remember one Christmas my sister Marjorie’s boyfriend, H. Savely McQuagge, who later became her husband, gave me a Scout knife — a K-Bar Scout knife, to be exact. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was the first knife I ever owned and one that I only took out for special occasions from its stored place, a wooden King Edward cigar box my father had given me.
One Christmas, my brother Joe and I each got a Superman sweatshirt. I ruined his, as I remember, when I threw a lighted firecracker at him and discovered that Superman sweatshirts were made of cloth, with no super powers. The firecracker exploded and burned a hole in his sweatshirt.
I remember being sad about what I had done, but there was no way to mend the damage. Joe was a tall, lean, stringbean and I was stocky and much shorter. Trading sweatshirts wouldn’t resolve the issue, although I would have gladly given him the sweatshirt off my back to patch up the damage I caused.
Maybe he has forgiven me now that Superman has been killed.