This story was published in Celebrating Christmas with…Memories, Poetry, and Good Food, Editor, Donna Clark Goodrich, 2011
Three tow-headed little boys looked out the window. They were waiting for their dad, Bill, to come in to eat supper. Their mom, Thula, had beans and cornbread prepared, but nobody could eat until dad walked through the door. They were hungry. They watched mom dish up the beans and pour the fresh milk. She had milked the cow that morning, then chilled the milk so they would have a nice, cold treat at suppertime.
Most of the time, beans and cornbread were the fare at their house. They killed a beef once in a while but the meat had to be used sparingly. More often, they butchered a hog. Then they had bacon, sausage, and ham curing in the shed. Mom sometimes put some of the pork into the beans. The boys all hoped to get pieces of meat with their beans when that happened. But they ate what was on their plate, and if they got lucky and had some meat, they were glad.
Bill was foreman on a ranch just west of Fort Worth, and he was fortunate to have landed that job. Before they moved to that area, they were sharecroppers working farmland on the banks of the Brazos River, way down in south Texas. Times were better now, but still it was nothing special.
Christmas was just two days away. The three boys knew not to expect much at Christmas. They knew they would get an orange, maybe a banana, maybe a pair of socks and a small toy, probably something Bill carved out of wood for them to play with. But they didn’t expect anything else, because that was the way it had always been. There were hard times in the 1930’s in Texas during the Great Depression, and they were all used to it.
Ed was the first to see his dad. “Look, Thuriel, there he is!” he shouted. Ed was eight and the oldest of the boys. Thuriel was six and George was four.
All three boys clambered to get to the front door first, to grab daddy around the legs and give him a hug. Ed, being the oldest, always got there first, but Bill had a special hug for the other two, as well. He was a loving dad who didn’t leave any of the boys out. Ed hugged him around the waist while the other boys each grabbed a leg to give him a proper welcome home. It was the highlight of Bill’s day to look at his three boys and then to sit down and hold them on his lap for a few minutes before sitting down at the table. He was proud of his boys.
That night, Mom had baked a cake for dessert. She dished up three slices of cake and set them before the boys after their meal was finished. Thuriel looked at Ed’s piece and said, “He got more than me.” Ed grabbed his fork and began eating. Nobody was going to take his piece away, if he was quick at getting a bite of it.
“Just eat your cake, boys, and be glad you got it,” said Thula, as she gave Bill his and put hers on her plate. As she watched the boys she thought of a plan. Next time she baked a cake, she would let one boy cut it, and the other two would get first choice of the pieces they wanted. That will help them learn to be careful and it just might solve the problem of the rivalry, Thula thought.
They had filled up on the beans and cornbread, and before long it was bedtime for the boys. Then Bill and Thula sat quietly, cherishing their precious time together. They made plans about Christmas. Bill showed Thula the little cars he had carved for the boys to play with, and she told him she had three oranges, one for each boy’s stocking. Money was scarce, and there was nothing to be done about it. They would not go into debt, and they would do what they could, and it would be as it always had been.
Bill and Thula did not get to go to church very often, but everybody at church knew them. They were regulars when they could get there. It was a five-mile walk to the church, and with the little boys, they didn’t make it every week. Sometimes a neighbor with a car would piek them up and take them to church. They read their Bible at home and told the boys stories about Bible heroes. They didn’t want to neglect their boys’ Christian education, so they made a point of telling a Bible story most nights.
The next day, December 24, Bill took the boys out and cut a tree from the woods around their house. They proudly trekked back, pulling the tree. Excitedly, the boys waited until Bill nailed it to a couple of pieces of wood so it would stand up, then Thula pulled out the box of decorations. Happily, the children were chattering and decorating the tree when they heard the sound of a car close to their front door.
“Who could that be?” Thula wondered. When she opened the door, she saw three ladies from the church as they carried in a big box.
“We brought you this food,” one of the ladies said. She set the box on the table and began taking items out—there was a turkey, some home-canned vegetables, and some produce.
Bill and Thula were speechless as they considered the gift they were receiving. The boys knelt in chairs by the table as they pulled things out of the box, amazed at the bounty.
“Oh, we have more,” one of the ladies said. She opened the door and brought in some toys—a truck, a play lawnmower, and a little car big enough for a boy to sit in! The boys looked at the toys, and each of them figured out which one was his. The car was too little for Ed, it was too big for George, but Thuriel fit into the seat perfectly. It was made for him. He pushed the pedals and the car began to move around the room. He was in little boy heaven. He had never had a gift like this one! Ed grabbed the truck and George began pushing the toy lawnmower.
That Christmas was the most memorable one Thuriel ever had. People thought enough of their family to bring them toys, and he was the luckiest one because he was just the right size for the best of them. He rode that car until he was too big to get into it any more, then it became George’s. By that time, two more boys had been born to the family, and they got to ride the car when they were old enough, too.
On Christmas morning, the boys could hardly wait to get their toys and begin to play with them. They took their stockings from the mantle and exclaimed over the oranges. Ed stuck his thumb into the thick skin and began sucking the sweet juice out. An orange was a rare and wonderful treat for each of the boys.
Thula roasted the turkey and made cornbread dressing. She opened a jar of the home-canned green beans, peeled potatoes for mashing, and made a feast for her family. They counted themselves among the privileged on that Christmas in 1934, thankful for people who cared enough to think of them and bring them gifts.
6 cups cornbread and 4 cups biscuit or soft bread crumbs—soak in 4 cups milk, stock, or water.
Saute in hot fat until golden brown—1 large onion, celery (part leaves)
Add onions and celery to crumbs, add 4 well-beaten eggs, 2 teaspoons salt, ½ teaspoon pepper, 1 teaspoon sage or poultry seasoning.
Add 4 more cups milk, stock, or water. Taste and add more sage, if needed.
Stuff bird. Cook in medium oven about 25 minutes per pound.
Note from the author:
(This is a true story. My husband, Charlie, was called “Thuriel” by his mother (THUR rul), a name I never heard anyone else called.)