When my mom was about four, she contracted German measles and scarlet fever a week before Christmas. In those days, the rule was close the curtains and keep the patient in the dark. Mamie and Bumpa’s house didn’t have central heating, but they had what was called a round oak stove in the “winter living room”. It was about 5 feet tall and round. It had a place at the bottom for the ashes and in the middle was the wood section. It looked like one of these.
Thin strips of mica set above the wood section acted as a window to let you see the flames. Mom was kept on a couch in that room because it was the warmest in the house.
Part of the treatment of the disease was breathing treatments. Mamie would pour boiling water into a metal bowl along with either a glob of Vick’s or a bit tincture of benzoin. A blanket was put over a chair, over the bowl and then over mom’s head. Her doctor made house calls to see how mom was doing. All of the household kept their voices down. Everyone was really worried about her.
It came time for the annual Christmas Eve party up at Gram and Bunk’s house. It was the family social event of the year. All of the aunts and uncles gave all of the cousins gifts, so it was a night of great excitement for all of the children in the family. Mamie stayed home with mom because she didn’t drive, while Bumpa took mom’s sister to the party. Mom felt so disappointed. When they came home, they showed her her gifts from the family. She remembers that she received a new coloring book and a box of crayons.
The family Christmas tree was in the same room as mom’s sick bed. After all of the family had gone to bed and the house was quiet and dark, mom heard a noise. It scared her a little bit because all of the rest of the family were upstairs. As her eyes adjusted to the dark, she could see someone rustling over by the tree. She saw something big and round and thought maybe it was the top to Mamie’s old fashioned agitator washing machine. She was sure that she had seen Santa Claus putting something behind the tree.
In the morning, before she was allowed to see the tree (remember the room was dark), she told the family that Santa had come in the night. Her much older sister asked her about what time it had been. Mom told her and Marilyn said that she had heard reindeer hooves on the roof at about the same time. Bumpa went behind the tree and brought out a two wheeler bike for mom.
It was a simpler time, when children didn’t have big expectations. There was no television or magazines full of toy advertisements. There was only the Sears catalog for wishing. Most likely, Bumpa had found the bike on one of his bakery routes and had paid fifty cents for it second hand. He and Mamie had painted it to make it look better, but it certainly wasn’t brand new. Mom, however, couldn’t have cared less. She was thrilled with the bike. She wasn’t allowed out into the cold weather after she recovered, so her parents let her learn to ride the bike in the kitchen.