Christmas 1954

Christmas 1954



I was a high school student selling Christmas items door to door that senior year.  I was unprepared for what I saw when the door was opened. A one room house, filled with the smell of smoke from the open bucket of burning coals. Around the wall were six small children, dirty, poorly dressed and fed, eating bread dipped in syrup, using the tops of the syrup cans for plates?


I spoke to the lady, started to mention what I was selling, but paused long enough to catch a glimpse of the despair, poverty, and hopelessness of the moment.  I told her I was with Santa and wished to know what she needed for Christmas. She looked at my young white face in a tone of shock and uncertainty.  I said, “I really am, I would really like to know what you need for Christmas.” That was the start of one of the best Christ Seasons I shall ever know.


I entered the house with caution and some reservation. The children looked at me with wide eyes of wonder.  A small one came and hugged my leg.  I was surprised and a bit shaken. Remember this was West Tennessee in the fifties.  It was a different world, (wrong), but different. I am sometimes surprised that God did not remove all of us for our actions and attitudes. That is a message for another day. God is merciful even when we are not.


The mother said they did not have anything in the house to eat and very little coal left. Since I was 16, I was more interested in why there was not tree and no Christmas decorations. Time would answer that question. I said I knew where to get food and I thought I could get some coal.


I raided our home at 246 South Lindsey Street for food, got coal from the place where my father worked and headed back to the, smoke and children filled one room of a house. This was going to be a different Christmas!


I had worked hard that Christmas planning to make enough money to purchase a sport coat that I had seen Rock Hudson wear in a movie. It had leather patches on the elbows and I liked that coat. I got a small tree from back of my house, some lights from my brother in law, purchased some other items for the tree and made my way to the New York store where I knew I could get some great toys. My father’s 48 dodge was filled to overflow as I parked in front of my now familiar new friend’s home.


They popped through the door like a coke being shaken when they heard me close the car door. Never had so many hands clutched so many packaged. The mother stood and smiled in a wondering way at the then slim, tall, very white boy. Her name was Marilee. I asked what she wanted for Christmas and she said quietly, “I’ve got it.”


It was cold that December day in 1954, cloudy, dark, everywhere except over that small house with smoke coming out of the open top of a window and six bright, beautiful children all speaking at once in wonder at what was in the packages. There might even have been a small heavenly light over its roof.


Herman Lindsey, owner of the New York store had told me to come back if I needed anything else. I noticed that the total he charged for the toys was a lot less than I expected. I went back in the store and asked him if he had some things to cook in and also a stove that would stick out the window so the house would not be so full of smoke.  He said for me to come back the next day and he would see what he could gather.  That next day we loaded his truck with a bed, several mattresses, cooking items, and a brand new stove with a chimney for the window.  This time the entire street turned out to help us unload the truck. Mr. Lindsey and I walked from the house with a bit of spunk in our step. It had been a great Christmas and it was only December 23rd.


I thanked Mr. Lindsey, gave him what money was left then turned and hugged him around his neck. I learned later that Mr. Lindsey returned with his truck loaded with toys and gave them to children up and down the street on Christmas Eve. I also realized later that Herman Lindsey was Jewish. But Mr. Lindsey knew who his neighbor was. I never did get that patched coat, and I never missed it. I never talked with Mr. Lindsey again. The store closed some years later and I lost contact with the family.  But that Christmas of ’54 was wonderful.


Published in: on December 9, 2014 at 8:42 am  Leave a Comment  

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