When I was growing up in South Central Nebraska, in whatever small town we lived in at the time, we spent Christmas with our grandparents in Norcatur on the High Plains of northwestern Kansas.
Those Christmases were special times with our Grandfather Ward in particular and those years are the ones I remember best. Family was all-important to him and having his children and grandchildren around him at Christmas meant everything to him.
Great-grandma Venrick, Grandma Ward’s mother, lived with them during those years, so she was a central part of the celebration. My special memory of her is that she was always waiting at the front door when we arrived – always.
As we pulled up and spilled out of the car (I say spilled out because with 5 kids one can only spill from a packed car) and raced toward the house, she would open the screen door to welcome us in. The house was warm and cozy with the big front room heated by a large gas, free-standing stove.
The Christmas tree was by the bay window at the front of a room large enough to be living/dining room combined. Grandma Venrick would return to the old rocking chair where she always sat. Grandma Ward would be in the kitchen cooking or in the back yard feeding the chickens. Grandpa would still be downtown working at the creamery.
“Auntie Pearl (actually no relation at all but we always called her Auntie) would pop over from next door to give us holiday greetings.
If we arrived on Christmas Eve, we would have an early supper around the big dining table, then go to services at the Methodist Church down the block and around the corner — walking distance (actually, all of Norcatur was walking distance).
Great-Aunt Alta would be at the pump organ, pounding out the Christmas music, including our favorite carols “Away in a Manger” and “The First Noel.” The service would be the telling of the Christmas story from the King’s James Version of the Bible.
After church we’d go back to the house, where Grandpa met us at the door to announce that, while we were gone, Santa Claus had arrived in his sleigh, bringing a special gift for each child. The one I especially remember was a Kewpie Doll, those molded toddler dolls with the blonde hair turning up in a curl at the top – all molded composition.
That night I would be tucked into my “bed” for the night – two of the over-stuffed armchairs pushed together front-to-front to create a child-sized bed! I loved sleeping in those chairs; it was my own special place.
Many Christmases have past since those early ones, made so special by loving grandparents who knew so well how to create the magic we children loved.