Last Wednesday I wrote about a time when Dad hocked his watch and Mom was able to give it back to him at Christmas. I mistakenly said this happened in 1946 when I was in fifth grade. However, upon reflection, I think it was 1945 and I was in fourth grade.
On the other hand, today’s Christmas story did take place in 1946, when I was in fifth grade and beginning to develop a bosom, as we said then. Once again, money was scarce. So Mom explained to my brother and me that we’d be receiving only one gift for Christmas. She asked for a list of five things from which she could select one. The first and only item on my list was a medallion pin. All my girl friends at Saint Mary’s Grade School had them. It was truly all I wanted that Christmas.
We fifth graders wore uniforms—pleated blue skirts and short-sleeved white cotton blouses with a pocket on the left side of our chest. To dress up the uniform, we carefully arranged a lace-edged handkerchief in the pocket. We’d then fold down one of the handkerchief’s corners over the pocket and use an attractive pin to center it. That year, most of the other girls had medallion pins to do this. I wanted to be like my friends in every way.
Here's a simple crocheted-edged handkerchief.
Many girls in my 1946 classroom wore ones with elaborate lace trimming.
My brother, who was seven, asked for traps. He wanted to set up a trap line on the backfields of the twenty-acres on which we lived. He planned to check the traps each morning before school and bring home whatever he’d caught—mostly rabbits.
This Conibear body-gripping trap was named after its Canadian inventor.
The ones my brother used were much simpler.
From the time he was seven in 1945,
until he left home in 1960,
he trapped and provided food for our table.
I found myself a little peeved that my brother asked for something that would help out the family while I asked for something really selfish—a medallion to make myself more like the other fifth-grade girls. Mom assured me this was okay. But I was certain that she was secretly proud of my brother.
On Christmas morning, both he and I were elated when we found two gifts each under the tree. I opened the smaller one first, hoping that it would contain a medallion pin. It did.
This is the medallion Mom and Dad gave me in 1946.
It is 66 years old.
When I pulled off the ribbon and paper on the second gift, I found a grown-up slip. I was ecstatic. Mom was telling me, I was sure, that I was growing up and she recognized that. A short time later, I washed in the kitchen sink, went into my bedroom, and donned the slip as I dressed for Christmas Mass at Saint Mary’s Church.
The rayon slip felt so luxurious. It had slim, slippery straps, unlike the wide cotton ones on the slips I’d always worn beneath my uniform. Those cotton slips now seemed so childish. So gauche.
This slip boasts much more lace than the one I received in fifth grade.
I wore that slip beneath my uniform and felt sophisticated and stylish. I’d already reached the height I’ve remained since: five feet, four inches. So I wore that slip until it wore out, the lace and the straps frayed, the seams coming apart. Always, it gave me confidence and I needed that in the fifth grade. In January I’ll explain why.
The photographs of the handkerchief, trap, and slip are from Wikipedia.