The thing I dreaded most was having to sleep at the foot of the bed. That meant spending the entire night getting kicked with hard feet and stabbed with thick nails and getting no sympathy from anyone. We often slept four or five to a bed when relatives gathered for special occasions, but nobody wanted to be the last one in who had to go to the foot. And usually that was me. I was too little to complain. Of course, sometimes, when all the second and third cousins were there, we ended up crowded head to foot, like sardines. Once I was relegated to the bathtub. That was completely unsatisfactory. Luckily there wasn’t much water in it at the time. I was glad it wasn’t my grandmother’s house. She didn’t have a bathtub.
It was 1941 and I was 7 when we moved from Warland, Montana, to the big city of Spokane. We found an ugly apartment in the upstairs half of our landlady’s house. There was no dividing door to close out the world or Mrs. Nichols. We got used to the world, but we never came close to getting used to Mrs. Nichols. There was no room in the apartment for relatives. That meant we’d be the visitors. That meant the foot of the bed for me.
On my first Christmas in the big city, I watched the stores breathlessly for some sign that the holiday was truly coming. All of a sudden there he was. Santa Claus! Big posters of the real Santa holding up a bottle of Coke. I knew he was real because I had seen the same posters in the General Store in Montana. He’d been on the posters since 1931. Of course, we didn’t know that Santa and Coke were on their way to war and Christmas would never be the same again. Neither would we.
It was midafternoon of Dec. 7 when the newsboys made their way to our neighborhood on Mallon Avenue. We could hear them crying “Extra, Extra! Pearl Harbor Attacked!” We didn’t know where Pearl Harbor was. We didn’t know where Hawaii was.
Our holiday that year was spent huddled by the radio, which had a wire aerial strung around the door frame for better reception. We still decorated the tree, dragged in from the corner lot the week before Christmas. It was nothing like the grand tree we cut for ourselves in Montana. But we draped the icicles one at a time with traditional exactness. My Christmas stocking was not like the red ones in the ads. I hung mine over the bed. Santa put an orange, an apple, and some nuts in the hideous brown stockinette thing that all girls wore in winter. The stockings were suspended by a halter from our skinny shoulders. All the time we kept one ear to the radio and wondered about Hawaii.
Now it’s Christmas time again.
There’s big excitement this year. Number Two Son and his family have gone to live on the island of Oahu. They’ve settled in a neighborhood that’s competing in The Great American Christmas Light Fight. That’s a TV show that battles to see which neighborhood has the most inventive and unbelievable Christmas lights. My son reports that the neighbors all turned out in matching T-shirts when the cameras rolled. Along with the dazzling lights, there were brigades of hula dancers, a Hawaiian Santa and continual playing of “Mele Kalikimaka” from loudspeakers.
We won’t know who won the great light battle until the middle of December. Long before that, the memorial observances will be over and the aged veterans who saluted their fallen comrades will have gone home.
We all know where Pearl Harbor is now.
Meanwhile, back in Waipahu, my son reports that after the TV folks went away, the lights went off until the day after Thanksgiving. Then they were officially turned back on for the season. Everyone turned out to watch. “No hula dancers, no Santa, no Christmas carols,” Number Two mourned, “just lights. It was sort of dull.”
It could be worse. At least everyone has their own beds, and Santa makes a cameo appearance in this year’s Coke ads. And we can still reach out to those we love. Somehow or other, Christmas will manage to come again. Mele Kalikimaka.
Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and writer. Follow Dorothy’s blog at itsnevertoolate.com. Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont WA, 98327. Phone 800-548-9264, email Dorothy@itsnevertoolate. com.
Friday: 5-7 p.m., Lakewood Barnes & Noble.
Saturday: 1-2:30 p.m., Sumner Public Library; 6-8 p.m. at A Cowboy Christmas, Western Heritage Center in Monroe.
Dec. 15: 7-8:30 p.m., University Place Library.