In the spring of this year my mother passed away. As my first Christmas without her approaches, I remember a Christmas story that she once told me. In 1934, my mother was eight years old, and she wanted only one thing for Christmas – a Shirley Temple doll.
Shirley Temple was the most popular movie star in America. For the price of a 25-cent movie ticket, she helped the suffering population forget about the Great Depression as she twirled, sang, and lit up the screen with her brilliant smile. At that time, 25 cents could buy two pounds of hamburger meat. Going to the movies was luxury, but my mother’s parents bought her a ticket to “Bright Eyes,” cementing her love of Shirley Temple.
That long, cold Milwaukee winter my mother’s family wore their coats and hats indoors to save on utilities. They were luckier than most. My mom’s parents owned a grocery store, which meant that the family always had food. However, my grandparents often extended credit to poor families, which made it difficult to keep up with their own bills.
My mother spent hours at the big Sears Roebuck department store just a block away staring at the Shirley Temple doll in the window. The doll cost $4.95, almost a week’s worth of rent in those hard times.
My mother’s parents saw how much she wanted the doll, and they promised they would buy it for her…if a local family, the Geskes, paid their overdue grocery bill.
On Christmas Eve, when the family returned from church services, my mother spied a gift under the Christmas tree wrapped in recycled paper. Her heart leapt with anticipation as she tore off the paper…and she tried to hide her disappointment as she found a used doll that her grandmother had lovingly refurbished.
The story doesn’t end there. The next day her family was invited to the Geskes’ house to view the tree, and there was the Shirley Temple doll – proudly flaunted by Charlotte, the Geske’s seven-year old daughter!
The Geskes didn’t paid their bill, my mother didn’t get her Christmas wish, and only a few months later the bank foreclosed on the grocery store. Her parents had extended too much credit to customers who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay them back.
The depression tribulations of our parents and grandparents are a good reminder of all the things we have to be thankful for today. Even though we face our own challenging economic times, the news gets better each day.
Whether or not you receive everything on your Christmas list, I hope this holiday season allows you to reflect on the things in your life that are truly important. I am thankful that my mother was a part of my life for so long, and I’ll always remember the many lessons she taught me.