Grandpa’s Christmas Gift

When I was eight, my grandparents gave me a Christmas gift that I've never forgotten.

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Thank you, Grandpa, for the wonderful gift you gave me the year I was eight. Christmas was always happy, even though times were “hard”.

Let me give you a little background: The old-timers called it the Depression. I was fortunate because we (my mother, dad, and little brother, Buddy) lived next door to my grandparents and their general store. On the south side of the state highway was a cornfield, a farmhouse, barn, and animals. On the north side was a series of about 20 houses with a grocer halfway between them. You see, in the olden days, the farmers had day laborers. Small houses were built in a cluster within walking distance of the farms and the general store. Most of the day laborers didn’t have cars. The men could walk to work, so they could get along pretty well without them.

The general store had a telephone in case of emergency and the store kept “book.” That meant customers could buy supplies and charge them, the transactions were kept in their book, and they paid the store when they got paid.

Since the farmers and the storekeeper were honest, everyone survived. At least, that was my child’s vision.

Now for the good part. Christmas Eve was a time of celebration at E.T. McDonald’s General Store. That’s what Grandpa had printed on the calendars that he passed out on that special night. The “hired hands” got paid, so they came to the store to pay their book; if they were lucky, there was some leftover money to buy supplies for the next week.

Grandpa and Grandma were generous, and this was their time for sharing. Weeks ahead they had put in orders for candy and tangerines. The task then was to fill brown paper bags with “treats” — candy topped with a citrus. A bag for everyone who came to the store that night.

Grandmother made a red suit; cousin Bill dressed up as Santa, and at 8:00 he came ho-ho-ho-ing in with a sack across his back. It was a fun time; the children were to say a ‘piece’ or sing a song, but they hardly ever did.

Everyone went home happy. Grandma and Grandpa were already home; they lived in the back of the store. A doorway with a curtain separated the two parts. Customers became friends and often overflowed into the kitchen for card playing at the big table, but there was no card playing Christmas Eve. The store was crowded; everyone was glad to get some free candy, and the calendar had a pretty picture that decorated the kitchen wall for a whole year.

There was always snow at Christmas, lots of snow, and it was so cold that the snow crunched beneath our boots as Buddy and I ran home from the store. The moonlight brought sparkles to the snow.

But to get back to my present …

The gift I received that year was the gift of giving. Grandpa prepared the “treats,” and he asked me to help. The dining room table was covered with boxes of candy and paper bags waiting to be filled. Chocolate creams, gumdrops, peanut brittle, hardtack, peanut clusters, and chewy coconut clusters. It was heaven. The fruit went on last, and the bag was tied with string. There must have been 100 bags of candy waiting to be shared by Santa.

I still remember those good times some 80 years later. In fact, I’m preparing bags of treats. My dining room table is covered with sacks of goodies. Some will have apples on the top and some will have the biggest Navel oranges I can find. Even the grandchildren are fruit conscious!

What fun it is getting these treats ready! All thanks to Grandpa!