A Touch of Cash by Annmuma
Christmas Story contest entry
Artwork by avmurray at FanArtReview.com
It was the Monday after Thanksgiving, November 28, 1955. We didn't have our Christmas Tree up yet as the tradition in our house required a live tree, cut, erected and decorated on the nearest Saturday to December 10. I have no idea why that day was chosen; it just was, and I continued the tradition in my home as an adult for over forty years.
But that tradition has nothing to do with this story; this story is all about another tradition, one seemingly born spur-of-the-moment, though it must have had some thought or Daddy could not have pulled it off. Thinking back, I am not sure why Daddy was home that day. He did often work six days a week, sometimes chose to work weekends and rarely took a Monday off. So, it was a bit out of character for him to be sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch when Johnny and I wandered out with no destination in mind.
"Where are ya'll going?" Daddy asked.
"Down to The Pines. Might see a good Christmas Tree." I called over my shoulder as we headed for the front gate.
I was twelve years old, my brother, ten, and we were on Christmas break from school. Living in the country meant we had no close friends or kids with whom to play and, most of the time we were satisfied just being us. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, John and I spent long hours talking ... talking about Christmas morning, talking about Christmas Eve, talking about what we hoped to get for Christmas, talking about what we got last year. This year, we had even more to discuss: our older sister was about to be married and move to Missouri with her Air Force husband, so this would be the last year five of us gathered around the Christmas tree. Mama was not feeling well, and though we didn't really believe this would be our last Christmas together, we wondered if she would cry due to Hannah's upcoming departure. We hoped the Currys would come up for eggnog. They lived just down the hill from us and a visit from Mrs. Curry always cheered Mama. The subjects were endless and it seemed John and I never tired of just talking.
"Hey. Hold up there, Olevia!"
"What's up, Daddy?"
"I want ya'll to take a little ride with me."
"A ride? Where?"
A ride with Daddy certainly came out of left field. Other than once when I was in the third grade and he took us on a surprise visit to a circus, I could not remember Daddy taking me and Johnny anywhere, you know, just us. We went places as a family, and Daddy might take Johnny with him on some errand, but Daddy was not one to take two kids on a joy ride.
"Never mind where. Just tell your mama ya'll be back in an hour or so."
I ran in, told Mama, who seemed as surprised as I, but said nothing. Within just minutes, Johnny and I were in the backseat of Daddy's 1953 Salmon-colored, Henry J, and Daddy was at the wheel. Mama cautioned us to ride in the backseat and to sit back anytime Daddy was driving. Driving a car was not at the top of Daddy's talents. Maybe he was too much the railroad engineer, maybe it was lack of attention. Whatever the reason, Daddy tended to drive at top speed and to turn in the direction he looked. A glance to the side of the road resulted in a sudden jerk of the steering wheel to return the car to the proper lane of traffic.
Johnny leaned over the front bench seat. "Daddy, where are we going?"
Daddy's brief look in his direction and re-focus on the road ahead provided the expected redeposit of Johnny against the backseat.
"You'll know when we get there."
There were no more questions for the next seven and one-half miles to downtown Alexandria. Daddy pulled into the Rapides Parish Bank parking lot, turned off the motor and stepped out of the car. Before we could attempt to get out, he leaned back into the opened window.
"Wait here, kids. I won't be long."
And he wasn't. We saw him come out of the bank, sliding what looked like two white envelopes into his overall's pocket.
"Did you get something, Daddy?"
Daddy did not say a word, just smiled that half-smile he did sometime when he knew something, and we didn't. As he drove, it was obvious we were headed home, at least until we came to the choice between the Kingsville Cutoff and the Shreveport Highway. Daddy took the Shreveport Highway. John and I looked at each other, but said nothing.
We weren't far down the highway before Daddy took a sharp right turn toward Tioga. By the time John and I recovered from the turn, he took another one, this time into the Merritt's General Store parking lot. We were still righting ourselves when Daddy opened the driver's side door, stepped out and leaned the seat forward.
"Get out over here."
John and I crawled out and stood expectantly as Daddy stared off into the space behind us. After what seemed forever, but I am sure was seconds or minutes, he spoke again.
"Do ya'll know what a Christmas Fund is?"
"I think I do, Daddy." I answered before John had a chance. "At the beginning of school every year, the teacher asks us if we want to sign up for a Christmas Savings Account. Anyone that signs up can either bring their money each week to the teacher for deposit or their parents can do it. You said you didn't want us being a part of that."
"And I don't, Olevia. We don't need no teachers telling you kids what to do with our money. But, your mama wanted something special for you this year, with your sister about to leave and everything."
With that, he reached into his lapel pocket and withdrew two envelopes. He handed one to each of us.
"This is your Christmas Cash. Take it in the store and Mr. Belgard will cash it for you. You can spend it on anything you want to. Take your time. I'm going on home. Ya'll can walk; it's a nice day."
He had gotten into the car and driven off before John and I even spoke.
We tore open our envelopes and pulled out $10 checks. For some seconds, we stared. Daddy gave us each one dollar every Sunday night or Monday morning. Fifty cents paid for a week of hot school lunches -- we lived in a Huey Long state where school lunches were free, the milk costs ten cents. The other fifty cents was our discretionary fund, typically spent at the school canteen. Mama gave us money for the occasional movie, school event or whatever might be needed, but Daddy did not. To have him hand us ten dollars to spend was the world turned upside down.
"What are you going to buy?" John asked.
"I don't know."
When we left the store some hours later, we each had a bag to carry on the one mile walk home. I can remember only one item that I purchased - a leaf-shaped candy dish, edged in gold. I bought it for my mother, and it turned out to be the last gift I gave her. It is the only gift I recall having ever given her. The feeling of an unexpected windfall of cash - my first Christmas Bonus, so to speak - never left me and life has blessed me with opportunities to share the experience.
My mother died the following year on October 26, 1956 and I am forever grateful for December, 1955.
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