Christmas at Pa's Store
Shortly after the first of December, when I was a child many years ago, Pa would say as he finished supper,
"I'll be late at the store tonight. Got to get the place ready for Christmas."
Ma would nod and I began to glow inside with the certainty that Christmas was really coming.
I was ten when I
first had a part in decorating Pa's store. It
happened this way. Pa had made his annual
pronouncement and gone back to work. After Ma
and I finished the dishes, she stood looking out
the window into the clear winter night. Suddenly
she turned to me saying,
"Come, get your wraps on, Childie, I think your Pa needs some help at the store this evening."
We walked hand-in-hand along the board sidewalk, Ma singing softly and the tight bud of excitement growing in me as I joined her. At the store we were met by a mellow warmth awash with miriad blended smells: ground coffee, burning wood, rubber boots, pickles, well ripened cheese, and corncob pipe smoke from the checker players sitting around the stove.
Just inside the door, in front of the glass-topped candy counter, stood tubs of hard Christmas candies. There were rippling ribbons of red, green and white with sharp shards ready to pierce an unwary tongue. Crusty, quilted, golden wafers were filled with creamy chocolate. Other hard candies had flowers or stars held captive in their sugary hearts and were flavored with cherry, peppermint, cinnamon or bitter lemon. There were gaily painted tin boxes of fancy chocolates, very expensive and highly prized for the box as much as the candy.
Open boxes of decorations stood on the counters and we began unpacking them. Soon Pa was weaving a web of twisted red and green paper streamers over the ceiling. Red honeycomb paper bells were hung wherever the network crossed.
While Pa and I finished looping tinsel on the high shelf tops, Ma began the window. The step-shelves, now bare of their usual display, were covered with green velvet, a bit faded from several years use, but none the less elegant. Glittering tinsel edged the window pane and was pinned in loops along the steps.
From the heavy wooden express boxes arrived only the day before, Pa unpacked the toys. There were singing tops, wild looking jumping jacks, tea sets of china and painted tinware, paint sets with stiffly pointed brushes, rubber balls, wooly sheep for baby, drums and bugles, even a rocking horse.
And there were dolls. All sizes of china heads with solemn, placid features; a box of "Frozen Charlottes" which were unjointed little china dolls, blatently naked with black hair and blank eyes; beautiful kid bodied lady dolls dressed in silk and lace wearing lovely hats, all tied by the waist into their boxes. Enough dolls to capture the hearts of every little girl in town.
It was late when we finished. The fire had died down, the checker game long since suspended for the night, and a chill crept ever closer to the stove. Pa put out the lamps as Ma and I bundled up for the walk home.
Pa saw to the horses in the barn while Ma made hot chocolate for us. Soon I was creeping into bed with the happy certainty that Christmas was on its way and I had had a hand in its coming.