Column: Christmas gift of books was most cherished, even as a young child

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 16, 2004

There used to be a Christmas song sung by someone with a Scandinavian accent and entitled something like, &uot;I yust go mad at Christmas.&uot;

My mother was so intrigued by it that she bought a number of recordings and sent them off to friends and relatives back home.

The first Christmas I remember must have taken place when I was three years old, though it seems to me that I was only two.

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There had been a number of boy babies born in the family, but on my mother’s side I was the only girl. So I did exceptionally well.

Several little tea sets, dolls, doll beds and doll high chairs, appeared and three books. A set of two little books from my grandfather Cruikshank, one all about butterflies and one about circuses.

The third book was the big Mother Goose book with all the brightly colored pictures. I don’t know whether I actually remember the gifts, or whether my mother told me about them. She said that I quickly pushed everything aside, but the three books, which I gathered in my arms and spent the rest of the day imploring my long-suffering uncles and aunts to read to me.

There was also a Christmas record played every Christmas. It was a big record and played on both sides told about a visit from Santa.

On the second side you could hear music and church bells and the voice of Santa telling you all about the people he saw in the streets. The first side was my favorite. I liked the bit where in his haste to deliver the toys, he knocked down the chimney.

Before Christmas, children were always taken to the main street of town (Central Avenue) to watch the parade. Santa Claus was the star, of course, riding in a horse-drawn sleigh and throwing brown sacks of candy to children along the way.

Merchants in the town usually drove their cars in the parade, too. Mose Goldberg, our next door neighbor and my father’s good friend, always took his son, Wesley, and me with him to ride in the parade. We both wore red coats and white knitted caps. Mine tied under the chin.

Wesley didn’t celebrate Christmas, but he collected a number of presents anyway. He even had a big beautifully decorated Christmas tree, which his mother referred to as &uot;Love’s Christmas tree.&uot;

She explained to Wesley that it was only polite to have a Christmas tree for his friend. My mother returned the favor by having me throw away my cone when Wesley and I had ice-cream cones and he could eat the ice-cream but not the cone.

On Christmas afternoon, the children in town were welcomed to a free movie at the ancient opera house where movies were shown every night. My father always took the family there every Sunday night because a group of men, most of them having been born in Germany, played classical chamber music.

Most of the &uot;respectable&uot; people in my hometown didn’t go to movies &045; or even read a newspaper &045; on Sunday. Dad thought not to listen to good music when you had a chance bordered on the barbaric. He did have a few qualms about the wiring at the opera house.

Before I departed with my friends for the Christmas movie he always subjected me to a quiz.

Q. &uot;On which floor of the theater will you be sitting?&uot; A. &uot;Downstairs.&uot;

Q. &uot;Where downstairs.&uot; A. &uot;Next to one of the doors with red lights over it that spell ‘EXIT.’&uot;

Q. &uot;What if you smell smoke or someone yells ‘fire?’&uot; A. &uot;I get up right away and walk as fast as I can through the door that reads ‘EXIT.’ I don’t wait for anybody, I don’t fall down. I just get out.&uot;

If I hadn’t given the right answers I probably wouldn’t have seen as many Christmas movies as I did. It’s interesting to note that to this day I never attend a play or a movie without immediately locating the exit signs before the entertainment starts.

Because the season brings back so many Christmas memories, nostalgia is as much a part of my holiday as are the candles, music and gift giving. There’s always something to remember, a reminder that what we do today is to store up memories to brighten tomorrow.

(Love Cruikshank is an Albert Lea resident. Her column runs Thursday.)