There's a lot of stuff that reaches our young ears that we never understand until many years later. It's amazing how some comments really stick with you. If you are fortunate enough to be able to ask your parents what was happening in their lives at the time, you have to be prepared for the answers. Sometimes it's not what you thought.
When looking at old photo albums, my mom always said, "You guys looked like tramps." I know that sometimes our situation in life was not always pleasant for her. But, we didn't know we looked any different than anyone else. We didn't care. Maybe everyone else dressed like we did. No designer outfits for us.
I remember receiving a hand-me-down shirt and pair of cut off jeans from one of my cousins, a boy cousin. I wore that outfit to death. It was perfect for climbing trees. It was probably a nice store-bought hand-me-down. All our dress up outfits for the holidays were sewed by my other. With no patterns.
When I look at this photo, I can see that we could have been mistaken for tramps.
In the summer of 2019, we celebrated my Aunt Alivina and Uncle Herman's wedding anniversary. I think it was their 60th. Prior to the big event, the family hunted for photos for the photo board at the party. My cousin Julie was kind enough to send me a shot of this photo she found in her mom's collection. I LOVE IT and I had never seen it before.
This old black and white photo of my mother holding my cousin, Robin, with me smiling by her side, was priceless. I do not know what the occasion or place was. It could have been a picnic. We are sitting on a bench probably manufactured just for the day from a 2x6 or 8-inch board and what looks like Standard Oil-branded buckets.
My face is very sober in most of the photos I've seen, but today I am smiling. It must have been a happy day. There were, not looking like tramps, but like every other little girl and her mom in the 1960s. If I had to guess, it would be about 1962-3ish. (I'm sure if one of my cousins reads this post, they will correct me if I am wrong.)
I love this photo. It's the only one I have from that decade with my mom and myself - no one else from my immediate family. And, she looks so beautiful with a slightly dreamy look on her face. Like she is thinking deeply about something. Check out her shoes. And, both of us in polka dots.
I interviewed my mom for one of my books. The answers to some of the questions I asked about those days were not the easiest to hear. As much as our memories weed out the worst of the days, life was sometimes complicated. Unbeknownst to us, we had to make do with what we had. It wasn't much for such a large family.
But we lived an adventure. We ran wild in our small community, my dad having moved off the farm before I was born. We butchered chickens, inspected bugs and animals, and played games with imagination only. It was a great life and one that my grandchildren will NEVER experience. As for this photo, it makes me happy and brings memories of my mom to closer to my heart.
The twins born in 1964. It was a very big deal.
Notice the number of packages under the tree? We were a family of five children, and that was the extent of gifting in the 60s. As the years increased in number, so did the packages. Today, a single grandchild receives about that many gifts when our small family gathers.
Things have changed so much from those days. So much of today's "things" come and go so fast, I cannot keep up with current trends as much as I try.
My goals in life have always been to live simply. That sentiment translates into buying a car for value, not color; hosting huge family gatherings with good food and not so many gifts; and celebrating not just on one single calendar day but every day.
Several of my earliest memories of Christmas include my mother purchasing a dozen checkerboard games for about $1 each. They were to be Sunday School gifts, and not for us. One year she wrapped up some little dolls that were branded and not Barbies. We wanted them so bad. She saved one of them until the day she died. It was tossed with many things we let go of while cleaning out her belongings. Case in point - why do we save stuff at all?
On a side note, I have never owned a Barbie Doll (brand name). We did have some knock-offs, my sister and I, but they were too "heavy" to fit those tiny-waisted doll dresses. Maybe that's why I'm such a low maintenance person. It takes too much time to do all that makeup and hair, so I left it the way God intended.
Christmas was more about anticipation and hope than anything. Do children still feel that? I hope so. Pouring over Sears wish books, helping with the baking and most of all Christmas Eve children's programs.
We do a lot of fun stuff at Christmas with the church, grandchildren's dance and watching the lighting of the houses competition. But I miss the dark.
The best part of Christmas was the slow-motion of parents setting aside time for family; walking to church in the twilight - mom's high heels making clicking noises on the sidewalk; time off from school to play for endless hours in the snow. It became a quiet time with darkness like a security blanket wrapped around the small town of Fredonia.
In a couple of years, 1966, the town would experience darkness in the spring when a blizzard of Biblical proportions dropped snow for a couple of days. It was a blessing we still heated that old two-story home with coal. Scary and exciting at the same time - that's a subject for another month.
Some years after I started a family of my own, I came looking for that silver tree in the photo above. It had a light shining on it from a distance. A lamp with a light bulb and a rotating plastic disc in four colors. It changed the tint of the silver "leaves" from yellow to green to blue to red. Everyone goes through that retro-stage, and it would have been cool to use that tree for my own Christmas. (I have always had real trees with old German glass ornaments for most of my Christmases). Alas, it was lent to the Gackle school shortly before it burned down, destroying not only the tree but my high school and its memories.
Oh well, in the end - it all goes back in the box. So, enjoy your 2020 to the fullest, and may all your Christmases be bright.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.