Christmas in the Parlor


This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News
on December 25, 2004

CHRISTMAS IN THE PARLOR

The players were unprepared, but the show went on

By Roz Young

 

            Dayton Daily News Reporter Ben Kline recently wrote to ask me how Christmas was celebrated in past times. Said he, "My mother said oranges were rare and prized." Ben, your mother was right. We always had an orange in the toe of our Christmas stocking.
            Our tree was lighted by candles fastened to the branches. Once our tree caught on fire from the candles. My father rushed to the kitchen, filled a bucket with water, rushed back to the living room where the tree stood and threw the bucket of water on my mother. She was drenched and the tree kept right on burning.
            Even if the tree burned, we had another one every year afterwards, but no more fires.
            In thinking about Christmas, I also thought readers might enjoy a column I wrote some years ago. What follows originally appeared on these pages Dec. 21, 1991:
            One afternoon in early December my mother summoned me into her room and gave me two notes to deliver to the other members of our household.
            One member of the household at the time was red-haired Mrs. Fick. She must have had a first name, but we never knew what it was. Mrs. Fick was the housekeeper; she cleaned and did the laundry and prepared the meals and looked after my mother's needs during the daytime while I taught school.
            The other member was Miss Garver, whose first name we also never learned. My mother had rented an empty upstairs bedroom with kitchen privileges to Miss Garver, a gentle person in her early 90s. She passed her time upstairs and three times a day after our meals were finished and the kitchen cleared, she came down and prepared herself little meals from a storehouse of foods she kept on a shelf Mother had cleared for her in the pie cupboard and on one in the refrigerator.
            The notes, she told me, were the assignments for a Christmas program she had decided to hold in our living room on Christmas Eve.
            The program began with a special dinner prepared by Mrs. Fick to which Miss Garver was invited.
            The menu was relish tray, roast chicken, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and coffee. Mrs. Fick, Miss Garver and I ate at the dining room table; Mother, who had a chronic illness which limited her mobility, had her dinner on a tray in the living room.
            After the dinner Mother invited Miss Garver to stay downstairs. Mrs. Fick cleaned up the kitchen and promptly at 7 o'clock, as she had been instructed, came into the candle-lit living room and sat down on the edge of the sofa cushion.
            "First," said my mother, "Rosamond will play three Christmas carols on the piano, and we will all sing."
            So I played O, Come All Ye Faithful, God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen, and O, Little Town of Bethlehem. The singing was unspectacular; Mother sang alto, I sang soprano, Miss Garver moved her lips and Mrs. Fick interpolated trills now and then.
            Then Mother said, "And now Miss Garver will speak on her assigned topic, "Christmas of Long Ago."
            Miss Garver's ancient fingers plucked at the folds of her skirt. "I'm afraid I'm not prepared," she said in a small voice.
            "Very well," said my mother. "Mrs. Fick will now speak on "Christmas with the Children."
            Ordinarily most of Mrs. Fick's conversation was about her children and grandchildren. She rose to her feet. "I am not prepared to speak on the topic assigned to me either, but I will recite a poem I learned as a child."
            She squared away and began in a kind of rocking lilt, "Father calls me William, Sister calls me Will, Mother calls me Willie, but the fellers call me Bill." It was Eugene Fields' Jest 'Fore Christmas and it goes on for five stanzas of 10 lines each, ending "Most all the time, the whole year round, there ain't no flies on me, But jest 'fore Christmas I'm as good as I can be."
            At the close we all applauded her prodigious memory if not her delivery. Then Mother opened her Bible and read the Christmas Scripture from Luke and spoke for about 10 minutes on the true spirit of Christmas. Then she said, "We will all sing Silent Night, after which each one may take a candy cane from the tree, and that will be the end of the program."
            I sat at the piano, and we sang. After the last "Sleep in heavenly peace" wavered into silence, I rose from the piano bench and handed a candy cane to Miss Garver and Mrs. Fick and blew out the candles.
            Miss Garver climbed the steps to her room, Mrs. Fick left to spend Christmas with her grandchildren and Mother began working a crossword puzzle.
            It was the first and last Christmas program in our living room on Norman Avenue.
            Merry Christmas.