December 2011


Senior Slant:

A Hardscrabble Christmas

by Hilda Maston



It was December 24th, 1932, in the depths of the Depression.

I was 11 years old.

I was on the way to the bank with my overworked and over worried mother. She had a very small relief check for $45:  $30 for rent, and $15 for utilities, courtesy of Dane County, Wisconsin.

We entered the bank, and my mother signed the check and slid it over to the teller.

The teller was a callow youth who said, “I’m sorry, but I can’t cash this because it’s two minutes after three and we are closed.”

My mother pleaded with the young man but he wouldn’t budge.

How were we going to get the few little things for under the tree? For that matter, how were we going to get home? We didn’t even have bus fare.

To my 11-year-old nerves, it was too much. So I turned on the waterworks. I seldom cried but I could really put on a show if I had enough provocation.

The bank guard came over to see what all the noise was about. The teller told him, and then the guard looked at my mother and all of a sudden he said, “Are you Mrs. Risley?”

Mom said, “Yes.”

He turned to the teller and said, “Hold everything. I’ll be right back.” And off he went.

He soon returned with one of the bank vice presidents, who said to the teller, “Cash this lady’s check at once! Her husband stopped by the side of the road one day when my car quit and I was helpless. He fixed my car and I was soon on my way to a very important meeting. Of course, you will cash this lady’s check and apologize to her.”

The clerk grudgingly apologized. I then turned off the water works.

With cash in hand, Mom and I headed for the dime store to buy some little but important things for Christmas. (In a dime store almost everything cost only a dime.) We found some games for the boys and a little doll for my sister. We also purchased some hard candy and lollipops.

Then we headed home.

After we had been home for awhile the doorbell rang. It was the postman with a package addressed to the Risley Kids. It was from Uncle Carl.

On Christmas morning we opened it to discover a box of two dozen, 5¢ Hershey bars. Imagine that! A box just like the candy store had. And we had all that candy without needing to spend a nickel!

Uncle Carl was our bachelor uncle but seemed to know what kids liked. He was my Mom’s only brother. We were kind of short of everything, including uncles.

We had a wonderful Christmas morning with a breakfast of Mom’s tasty waffles and strawberry jam that we had canned in the fall (I picked the strawberries at my cousin’s farm).

Money or not, we managed to have a happy Christmas.

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