A Christmas memoir: Recollections of a special present

There were numerous dolls, small cedar chests, a red wagon, books and games delivered to my home by Santa Claus when I was a child in Grand Junction, but the Christmas Eve I will never forget was the night he left the miniature furniture.

About six weeks before Christmas, my mother and father began making nightly trips to the basement, while my bachelor Uncle Teddy, who lived with us, babysat. I don’t remember exactly how old we were, but my sister, Marguerite, was probably eight, so I would have been six years old. I don’t remember the year either, but I think it was in the late 1920s.

Somehow, I never doubted my uncle, who patiently explained night after night that our parents were “working on the furnace.” I’m not sure about Marguerite, but I always believed that all that hammering noise came from trying to put the furnace in order.

We were never allowed in the basement without an adult. It was the home of the fire-belching, coal-burning furnace from which rose wintertime warmth via a large ornamental metal floor register. We could stand atop the register to get warm, as I frequently did, even as I worried that it might collapse and I would be hurled into the hidden flames below.

My mother’s father had been a carpenter, and she had inherited a talent for nailing boards together and designing something useful. My father’s talents tended more toward music and accounting, but he was apparently a quick learner.

When Christmas Eve came, we began preparations to go to midnight mass at the old St. Joseph’s Church, where my father was choir director. It was a family affair, as my mother and uncle both sang in the choir. St. Joseph’s was the only church that had a midnight service then, and it was always so crowded that people filled the aisles and spilled out the doorways.

Normally when we headed for church, we all piled in the family car together. But at 11:15 p.m. that Christmas Eve, my uncle was inexplicably detained at home and decided to join us later, driving the family truck.

After the service, we drove home — through the snow, if I remember right — to find that Santa had been there and had left a miniature bed, a bureau, a dresser, a table and two chairs. While the bed was sized for a large doll, the bureau had three drawers and stood about three feet high. The dresser was of corresponding size, and the chairs were big enough to contain our small bodies as we sat at the table.

On the table was a note from Santa asking that we not touch the furniture until the next day, as he had just finished painting it that evening.

We didn’t question the request and carefully refrained from touching any of the furniture, as much as we wanted to. The next morning we stroked its smooth, cream-colored surfaces and tried out the chairs and the table to see that they fit us well.

I don’t remember if we had ordered the furniture directly from Santa or whether my mother had coached us by subtly suggesting that it might be a good gift that year. I know that we were delighted and awed with it and couldn’t contain our glee at the unusual gift.

We played “house” with that furniture inside and outdoors for several years. It originally stood in our bedroom in the back of the house, but when my parents added a second floor and my sister and I moved upstairs, we placed it in the extra bedroom there.

As vividly as I remember the Christmas we got the furniture, I cannot recall when or how we did away with it. In a dozen more years, when we both were grown, my family moved to a new home, and I know that the furniture didn’t make the transition.

My mother and father were good builders, and the furniture was sturdy, so I can only hope that somewhere along the way they gave it away to a family whose own little girls loved it and played with it as much as we did.

Mary Louise Giblin Henderson was a longtime political reporter for The Daily Sentinel. She now lives in California.


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