Drifting Memories of the Hitching Post. Christmas, 1884.
By Sally Bailey Brown
(reprinted from December, 1961 Bulletin)
Christmas began to come to the "Corners" the day Miss Abbie took down the neat bolts of calico, chalhs, gingham, Canton flannel and cashmere from the shelves in the lady's side of the Variety Store and in their place arranged her Christmas stock of toys, games, dous, manicure sets in plush boxes, note paper and what not.
In the grocery side, oranges and mixed nuts appeared, and joy, oh joy, a keg of white grapes all packed in saw-dust; a box with a top and front side off, full of gooey dates that Uncle Albie gouged out with a sharp pick, corn poppers and a box of beautiful shiny ears of pop corn, some red, with their little scratchy pointed kernels, such fun to feel of, smooth one way and scratchy the other. A row of sleds-flat for boys and high with turned up nose for girls - key, skates, gloves, toboggan caps and rubber boots.
As soon as school was out there was a row of little noses rubbing along the top of the counters and a row of shining eyes fixed on the glories displayed on the shelves and a row of little fingers pointing out some special treasure that Mother must be told about.
Just to look was almost too beautiful.
It was nice to live near the store for every pleasant afternoon now, there were horses and sleighs hitched to the rail in front, sometimes nine or ten at a time, while people shopped at Mercinabbie's.
After buying goodies, and toys and a camel bank, and a parchesi board and a yard of sheer white lawn to make the best apron for Aunt Maria, and a moustache cup for Grandfather, and some pink and green tissue paper to make a shaving ball for Uncle Thomas, they would go down to Father's store.
Father had beautiful things; gold watches with long chains for ladies and men and Waterburys for boys and small Waterburys for girls, and clocks and rings and cuff buttons and spectacles, and diamond collar buttons that would show over the tops of the men's neckties, and would ride up and down when they swallowed.
There were extra tables put in for books and booklets and cards and calendars. The cards weren't much like Christmas but very beautiful with pictures of Pink slippers full of pansies and silk fringe all the way around.
People would buy a silver thimble, and a gold ring and a watch and an autograph album, and a napkin ring and some scissors and then it would be almost dark.
All this time the horses would be gnawing the hitching-post almost down and pawing graves for themselves in the snow and making their sleigh bells jingle little tunes, and it would be time to be going home if they wanted to be home before dark, for it would take an hour sure, what with bare ground in some places and drifts in others, to get way down Egypt or over to Greenbush or up to Beech Woods, and just as likely as not, they would meet another sleigh and have to turn out into deep snow, and dear me Suz if that Aaron didn't forget to put in the lantern. Christmas Day itself couldn't be more fun.
Of the little White House Christmas, 1884. Two big boys sick with measles and whooping cough in the parlor. Not much room for the big four-poster brought down from the cold spare room up stairs for the occasion, with the little air tight stove and Father's desk and the big Town Safe, for Father was Town Clerk and kept all his things in the parlor.
Two younger boys sick in the little bedroom. Al, he had it bad. He had grown eight inches in the past year and Charlie called him a regular bean pole. They were afraid he would go into a decline and already- Scott's Emulsion of Cod Liver Oil had been prescribed. It was fun to see Mother get it down him.
Two little girls sick in the old spool bed in a corner of the sitting room and by the bay window a sick little baby, a baby that wasn't going to get well.
Father, Mother, and little Auntie, someone always there to get drinks of water in the long nights. Neighbors were kind and best of all was Aunt Arabella who drove down from South Scituate as often as she could have the horse, to help.
Freddie's girl sent a wonderful basket of fruit, oranges and red bananas, and figs and nuts. He and Henry were getting better and played checkers all the time with board and men that they had made.
The stockings were not very full that Christmas morning. Sarah woke early. The light was shining across the roof of the store next door - and someone was rattling the stove in the kitchen. There was an unfamiliar object in the dusk on the floor over by the window. It looked like a green cart with red wheels; it was. There was a walnut cradle with sisters beloved rag doll, Patsy, in it, and a bed-stead with Sarah's own Dinah in it. They had had their faces painted. Mother was afraid they might get the measles, the reason we couldn't have them in bed, and all this time they had been having their faces painted new. Blue eyes and pink cheeks - they looked beautiful. Henny, who was going to be an artist, had painted them with his real paints and you could scrub them hard and the paint wouldn't come off. Some relatives had handed down the cart but big brother had made the bed. Just like the four-poster in the bedroom with the posts turned on father's lathe and strings across to hold the feather mattress Mother had made. Real sheets and a piece of Great Grandmother's homespun blanket and a coverlet cut to at the corners like Mother's. It just fitted Dinah.
Christmas was mostly like Sunday so Father had family prayers after breakfast. He sat near the three doors so all could hear; "And there were in that same country shepherds abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night.” It was nice lying in bed and listening. The prayer was long for Father was a Deacon and there were a great many things to speak to the Lord about. The singing wasn't so good as usual for Allie was too sick to play the organ and all of our throats were sore and Mother couldn't carry a tune anyway, but Father's voice was beautiful, like hollering down the rain barren as he sang "Joy to the World."
There was big piece of the family's pig for dinner and apple sauce and the vegetables that the boys had fussed about hoeing all summer and so many pies. The pie closet at the head of the back stairs was full of them. Cranberry was the handsomest, with the red showing between the strips of crust, V shaped like the boy's suspenders where they buttoned on.
It was dark early. There was a great hurrah-boys for Henny was going out for the first time. He was going to take Josie to the church sociable. She had yellow hair and played the organ.
It was darkness now and quiet, only the light from the hanging lamp in the kitchen showed into the sitting room and the boys have aft quit arguing. The funny glass in the front of the stove showed pretty pictures of red and blue and green light. It was a nice Christmas, if only little sister wouldn't whoop so, it scared you when she got so black in the face; but everyone was getting better - everybody except the baby.