Seems to me in most families one set or the other of the grandparents become the favorite. It was very likely that because we lived within a stone’s throw of them by the time I was born, I always favored my paternal grandparents as we saw them more frequently in the early years as I was growing up.
They were members of the Philippi Baptist Church for which their ancestors had bequeathed some of their vast acreage. Members of my grandmother’s family were massacred by Indians during the uprisings in early Florida history, so their remains were moved from small graves on private land to be among the first buried in the church cemetery.
That church is front and center in memories of my first five or six Christmases, as that was where we learned first about the birth of the baby Jesus, and it was also where I met Santa Claus for the very first time. At some point I began to associate Christmas with Santa because I looked forward to his being there every year at the Christmas program to distribute presents under the tree to all the kids.
They were always small things like coloring books and crayons, or other dime store purchases. My fine hair was a constant problem for me and Bobbie pins slipped out after minutes and got scattered and lost and figured, I’m certain, in the selection of little plastic hair barrettes I remember getting one year. There was a blue one with a pair of fat birds on it that quickly became my favorite and managed to stay in awhile. Only years later I would learn that those little gifts had been put under the church tree by my grandmother. Then, as we left the church each year to go home and hope for a visit from him later on, Santa passed out mesh bags shaped like a stockings filled with fruit, nuts and hard candies.
There weren’t many presents from Santa that my siblings nor I could remember from those early years. I remember only vaguely that my sister had a doll that I wanted badly, and I think she was forced to share it with me which frustrated her unmercifully and tainted our relationship throughout our sibling years. My father and mother ran away from home and married in 1931 when they were 17 and 18 years old and the Great Depression was in full swing. My oldest brother was born a year later, followed by another brother and my sister over the following three years. Nine years later I would show up. I think that says it all for our economic situation.
There were a few years after more grandchildren came along (we were the first) that there were too many people for my grandparents to buy for, so one of the daughters-in-law organized family wide gift exchanges where everyone drew a name from a hat with an imposed spending limit per gift. If you were very lucky, Aunt Lenora, Uncle Willard, or one of their children drew your name–lucky because they owned a general store in Ellisville and were privy to wholesale purchasing. They greatly exceeded the limit the year they drew mine by presenting me with a silky pajama set. It was the most luxurious thing I’d ever owned and sometimes I’d wear the top as a shirt. I was so proud of it. But most of the time Christmas gifts disappointed me. I never seemed to get exactly what I wanted, which was usually some kind of doll or stuffed monkey that I could pretend was real.
None of the grandparents on either side were demonstrative with their affections so we children had no way of knowing how they felt about us, or even expect that children could be shown affection. The first time I finally figured out that grownups probably did indeed love us even if they didn’t say it, was the day when–out of the blue–Grandma and Grandpa called me into the small bedroom across the hall from the kitchen one day. There were no other kids around that day, and Grandma proceeded to open the big trunk with the leather straps and slowly pulled out two tiny dolls, about eight inches long. They had on a tiny blue and pink top that tied at the neck and wore tiny little diapers, and were wrapped together in a little flannel blanket. They weren’t quite so soft and cuddly as those in the illustration, and wouldn’t bend so they could sit in the doll stroller I’d get from Santa the following Christmas, but they were beautiful to me.
At Grandpa’s suggestion I named them Pete and Repeat, and to this day I have no idea why they thought I deserved them, or if other grandchildren were treated separately to a similar gifting. What I do know and remember so well was how special it felt to have been singled out for such a surprise.