By Eva M. Furbush, 1915
“Our beautiful Christmas tree is lighted with electric bulbs,” said Mrs. Evans to her little daughter, Elsie. “But when I was a girl like you, I lived way down in Aroostook County, Maine, and my Christmas tree was a great green cedar about six feet tall, set up in the parlor and lighted up only by candles placed here and there, on the mantel piece, or by a large lamp on the marble center table.”
“Tell me about it, mama,” pleaded Elsie, looking up earnestly into her eyes. Picture books were forgotten, blocks were uninteresting; and dolls took a back seat when mother started to tell about her girlhood. It had been a long and beautiful day for Elsie, and as her bedtime was creeping near, mother thought it was a good opportunity to tell her a story, no matter the subject, so that tired little eyes might gradually close, and tired little hands lay still in peaceful slumber.
“It was like this, Elsie,” mother began, “we were a large family of brothers and sisters; one big tree held all our family gifts, so there was not really much room left for the electric bulbs, even if we had owned any of such luxuries in those early days. Then, too, the shadows in our great parlor played all around our tree, the flickering candles throwing such waxy gleams over all our treasured gifts and homemade decorations that it was real mysterious and Christmasy to sit in the stiff-backed horsehair parlor chairs, and watch the little shiny ornaments flitter now and then and see the long strings of popcorn gleam all snowy-white against the dark green of the boughs. We had wonderful bags of candy showing through the meshes; we had candy canes, gingerbread dolls; fancy worked mottoes; rolls of print; books, new shoes, mufflers knit by mother’s busy hands; shawls, caps, skates, dolls—but the dolls were not much like yours, dearie.”
“How did the dolls look, mother?” asked Elsie
“Well, I remember one doll I had that was adorned with white lace-trimmed underwear and her dress was of dark blue wool goods, also her bonnet, and her face was charmingly hand painted by a clever dressmaker who had fashioned her clothes. I think my aunt Sophia paid exactly two dollars for the doll, and to my mind she was just about as fine as could be.”
“Would she say ‘mamma’ and ‘papa’ when you squeezed her?”
“No,” laughed mother, “she was not at all up-to-date like your dollies. Our Christmas day in Maine was not complete without a good snowball fight, a ride on our sleds, or a sleighride, if the snow was not too deep. Oh, how the old bells used to jingle! Automobiles are pretty fine, but they have not yet invented one that will produce a thrill like the good old sleigh of olden days. When they get one that will slide along over the crusty snow with a jingle of merry bells, why then they will have invented something worthwhile.”
“Did you like the snow, mamma?”
“Oh, yes, I loved it; we would make snow ice cream sometimes; put some clean white snow in a bowl, add several spoonfuls of sugar, a few drops of flavoring, and turn some sweet milk over the snow, then eat it with our spoons. “Sugaring off” was another delicious time for us youngsters in the spring. Making snowmen and forts out in the barnyard, shoveling wide paths to the barn and clothes yard, going to school after the Christmas holidays and telling of all the new gifts received was only part of the glorious days of my childhood. You little folks, nowadays, have no idea how much fun it was to play, and now have everything bought for you out of a model department store, with a “Made in Germany” stamped on the back of it.
A lot of us young folks would get a pung and ride to the grange hall for a singing social, and each would bring a box of goodies to be opened and feast. The boys and girls would dance for hours and the old folks would sit and watch and gossip harmless news.
Sometimes my sister would play the old melodeon on Christmas Eve and the whole family would gather ’round her and sing heartily those dear old tunes, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “There Is No Place Like Home,” “Bluebells of Scotland,” and others. There was a lullaby that my mother used to sing:
“As I wandered round the homestead
Every dear familiar spot,
Seemed to bring recollection,
Thing I’d seemingly forgot.
There the orchard meadow yonder,
Here the deep old-fashioned well,
With its old moss-covered bucket,
Sent a thrill no tongue can tell.”
Mrs. Evans bent and kissed the curly head lying on her shoulder, so deep in slumber that the last strains of the lullaby fell on silent ears.
This story by Eva M. Furbush, is included in Shannon Butler's Christmas anthology, All is Calm. All Is Calm is a look at the lives of Mainers during the holidays from the mid-1800s, to the Great Depression, to modern day. Spanning nearly 200 years, these stories show that while Christmas traditions and trends may be changing, the warmth, gratitude, and humility of the Maine spirit is evergreen. Shannon Butler is a graduate of the University of Maine at Farmington and now works at Islandport Press. All is Calm is her first book.