From a story told to R.C. Green by Madge Carter Green
Christmas Eve 1934 arrived at the Carter farm bright, clear, and cold. Seven year old Madge awoke with the sun full on her face and sister Kate's knees pressed in the small of her back. As uncomfortable as this was she still debated giving up the warmth of the plush quilt to begin the day.
Kathleen, or Toots as she was known by everyone, was one year older and that seniority allowed her to claim the warmer wall side of the bed. Madge peeked over the edge of the bed and realized she had taken her shoes and socks off across the room. She sighed and rolled from the warm comfortable nest and danced across the floor to sit and put her socks and shoes on. Standing, she avoided a biting rebuke from Toots by tip toeing across the room.
As she passed the old rocker in the living room she grabbed the woolen throw from it's back and wrapped it around herself. She could hear the breakfast bustle from the kitchen as she opened the door and headed for the out house.
As she hurried along the path she shivered both from the cold and anger at the poem her older brother Damon had written about her and Toots. It was their jobs to clean the little building and in the poem he had called them back house rats. As with many siblings she believed she had a righteous and eternal hatred for him little realizing his selfless courage on Guadalcanal in just a few years would make her see how much she really loved him.
Returning to the house she entered the kitchen where her mother was busy with her oldest sister preparing breakfast.
“Wash up and then go wake your sister up. There's hot water here on the stove.” Said her mom as she moved around the kitchen.
Madge took a dipper from a hook by the back door and ladled hot water into a blue spackled metal bowl taking it to the shelf against the wall that served as a counter. She ladled in a portion of cold water from a bucket there and washed her face and hands.
Madge slipped into the room she shared with her sisters and approached the sleeping Toots. She momentarily debated the best way to wake her spoiled rotten sister and really her best friend. Grabbing the bottom of the quilt in both hands she gave a quick jerk, exposing her sister to the morning cold.
“Aaagh!” Toots squawked, trying to roll into a ball while reaching blindly for the missing cover. “I'm up, I'm up” She mumbled plaintively.
“It's Christmas Eve Toots!” Madge cried as she slipped out of her night gown and began to dress.
“You're crazy! Don't you know there's a 'pression on.” Toots growled. “No Christmas this year.”
When Madge had finished dressing she dashed from the bedroom and back to the kitchen.
Daddy could be heard stomping the mud from his boots on the back porch. Carrying a milk pail he entered the kitchen and went to the counter. He screened the milk into a large jug and put the container on the back porch to chill.
Madge rushed to him and threw her arms around his long leg and hugged him to her. Mom was wonderful, she kept the house warm and all those who lived within well fed, no matter what. But daddy was music and laughter. He was a shiny penny when you were good and a world freezing hard stare when you weren't. There just wasn't anything he couldn't do or make. He could make a plow handle from a fence post, he could fashion a fish hook from a horseshoe nail, and he could make a doll from corn husks. He was . . . well he was daddy!
“It's Christmas Eve daddy!” She squealed releasing him and dancing back.
“It is?” He said in surprise, sitting at the table to remove his boots. “I guess I forgot all about it.”
As they both laughed brother Foster could be heard on the porch returning from the barn for breakfast. As if on cue brothers Buddy and David tumbled into the kitchen like two cub bears. The parade continued as Toots entered with baby Lydia in her arms.
“When you all get washed breakfast will be ready.” Mother said not slowing her pace. Placing clean towels on the counter Lenore began to set the table. After the plates and flatware were in place she set a platter of mom's soda biscuits in the center. A dish of crisp fried bacon was next, followed by a bowl of milk gravy seasoned with the bacon drippings. There had only been two eggs from the chickens this morning so they would go to daddy and Foster.
When everyone was seated daddy lowered his head and hands were joined around the table. Madge's daddy had found his faith at a young age and never wavered. His giving of thanks before every meal was brief but heartfelt. After the “Amen” the consumption of the meal was equally heartfelt!
Conversation at meals was not encouraged, except that between mother and father.
It was a surprise then when Foster spoke in a somewhat subdued tone.
“Charlie Hamrick said we could all come over tonight and listen to the Christmas music on the radio.” The Hamricks lived about a mile up the road and possessed a radio which ran off of a car battery. Although reception was iffy at best most places around the mountains the Hamricks lived high enough to get the station from Charleston on most nights.
“Well it is Christmas so if you and the girls want to go I reckon it's okay with me if your mother doesn't need you for anything.” Daddy said smiling.
“All I will need is for all the dinner dishes to be done and this house clean.” Mother said sternly. Then looking around the table she smiled. Life in these mountains was so very hard, but when Zannie Carter smiled the edges of life smoothed and the world was that much brighter.
Madge's excitement was almost more than she could bear. The day seemed to drag on forever. Chores were done ever so carefully, there must be no reason for mother to find fault. Finally everything was done and it was time to go.
“Now I want you to have a good time but if any one is drinking you're to come right home.” Daddy solemnly admonished Foster.
“We will Dad.” Foster replied with equal gravity.
Darkness comes early in December but in the mountains it comes very early and sets in deep and especially dark. Foster carried a coal oil lantern which gave a cheery circle of light and Toots and Madge clung together staying as close to Lenore as they were able.
Foster looked at Lenore and Damon, then down at the youngsters.
“Stay close now. There's been a painter prowlin' around here for a week or so.” Foster said in a low ominous voice hiding a smile.
Fear gripped Madge's heart momentarily. Then she remembered she was with Toots and together they were invincible.
The visit with the Hamrick's was great fun. The night was clear so reception was very good. The program was all Christmas music and included songs by Madge's favorite, Gene Autry.
The walk home was filled with chatter and laughter. And even Damon was in a companionable mood.
At home they all gathered in the living room and sang songs accompanied by daddy and his mandolin. As they all sat feeling warm and cozy the front door suddenly opened and there stood the man of the hour himself Santa Claus. He was somewhat thinner than the stories had him, and tall. His red top was tight to his body and somewhat faded and his beard looked like nothing so much as a bundle of cotton. Over his shoulder he carried a somewhat ragged burlap bag.
“Ho, ho, ho!” He called as he entered. Drawing back his arm he tossed a football he was also carrying. The football spiraled nicely across the room and hit Madge right under her left eye. The next few minutes were a confusion of shocked cries and tears.
When things settled down Santa began to pull various items from his sack and present them to the family. When Madge's turn came she was handed a small bundle wrapped in red paper. Opening it with some trepidation she found a lovely little doll. It had a sweet porcelain face, arms, and legs. Her dress looked very much like a blouse that Lenore had out grown some time ago. Madge loved her immediately.
When all the presents were given out Santa wished everyone a Merry Christmas and left as suddenly as he had appeared. There were more songs and each child was given a small bundle containing an orange, some walnuts, and hard candy.
As Madge lay in bed that night she thought of what she would tell the other girls at church on Christmas day. She would tell them of all the fun she had had, of all the music, of her beautiful new doll, and of the shiner given to her by Santa personally!