I felt the urge to share a Christmas story this year and I truly hope you enjoy it. My family was poor. Not the kind of poor that we think we are today, but the kind of poor that, for many years during the great depression, had no home in which to live, and very little food to eat. Sometimes they had a tent, sometimes a shack and sometimes only the side of the road, but they survived. This story is loosely based on tales handed down from my mom and oldest sister. Some of this actually happened to them, but not all in Roswell and not all in the same sequence. I am taking literary license here to create a fiction tale from their recollections.
Roswell, New Mexico in 1940 was just starting to grow and develop. After all, the air base located there brought people and people brought prosperity, but not for everyone.
“Christmas is right around the corner, Walter, and we have nothing for the children.” Ella Spencer put her hands on her hips and faced him.
Walter ran a hand through thin brown hair. “I know, Ella. Can’t you see I’m doin’ my best?”
Cold wind whistled through the cracks between the rough wood boards that made up the fifty-dollar house built into the side of a hill.
Walter checked the kerosene level on the single stove in the back corner.
Ella sighed. “I know. So am I. The washings I take in help, but it’s just never enough. If we had electricity, I could do more.”
“Dammit! I can’t work more than three jobs in a day’s time. So, I don’t know what else you expect me to do.”
“If I knew how to drive, maybe I could get a job in town.”
Walter waved a hand around the small square room. “And do what with these younguns?”
Ella’s small shoulders drooped. Walter was right. She had to take care of the children with what few resources they had.
But, at least they now had a house. It was a sight better than the tent they’d lived in before Walter built this house out of used lumber and bent nails.
“Times have got to get better,” she said. “They just have to.”
“Damned government don’t care one lick about us poor people. We ain’t the only ones, Ella. There’s a whole slew of us that ain’t got a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of.”
Again, she knew he was right, but it didn’t lessen the sting of not having a single present to give the children on Christmas morning.
They were doing good to put shoes on their feet, and food in their mouths, much less anything that wasn’t a pure necessity.
She let her mind drift back ten years. Maybe if she’d married Tommy Turnbow instead of Walter they’d be better off. But, she hadn’t. Walter had promised a good life.
She’d learned that promises were only made to be broken.
“Walter, if I could just buy a few yards of material, I could sew coats for the girls. They need something to help keep them warm through the winter.”
“I’ll take you into town Saturday and see what we can find. But, we can’t spend more than two dollars. That’s all we’ve got to spare.”
“Two dollars is better than zero. We’ve seen many a day where that was the case.”
Walter rolled a cigarette and blew a smoke ring. “All I know is I’m doin’ my best and I’ve got to get going or I’ll be late to the gas station.”
Ella handed him a tin box that held two biscuits and a thermos of soup. “I’ll see you tonight.”
The door slammed behind Walter, and Ella turned her attention to the wash tub and pile of clothes. She carried water from a single faucet outside the door and set it to boiling on the stove. The baby, Charles, crawled on the wood floor and banged a spoon against the boards. The two older girls played in a corner with rag dolls a kind lady had given them a couple of years back.
She sighed. “Girls, watch after your brother while I get this washin’ done and hung out on the line.”
The oldest looked up. “Okay, Mama.”
Ella worried about the scorpions they shared their house with. So far, no one had been bitten, but she remained vigilant.
Her hands red and chapped from the lye soap stung when the cold air hit them. By the time she had the clothes pinned to the line, she could no longer feel her fingers. Just as the hung the last sheet, her oldest daughter ran outside.
“Mama, Mama, come quick! Charles is bleeding.”
Ella dropped the clothespin bag and ran.
TO BE CONTINUED…….