It was 1964. Life hadn’t been great for the girl, but this particular year had been mostly a nightmare. Her Mother and Step-Father had separated. Finances were next to non existent. School for the girl became a burden on the mother. At only 15 she was resigned to possibly never finishing high school.
She was the oldest of, soon to be, eight children. The Step-Father had soon, after marrying her Mother, started nearly daily abuse against the child. The reasons were unclear and didn’t matter anyway, except it did matter to the girl. She had already lost a Father and was very ready for this man be his replacement. To never be able to find a way to be accepted and loved was the greatest abuse. Doomed perpetually to be the Scapegoat.
The previous year, found the family home being sold and the family was moved into a run down shack, former hay barn and mouse abode, in the middle of a huge corn field in the middle of absolutely nowhere. For those who were concerned, the explanation was to raise the children in the country away from undue influences that come with city life. To teach them country ways and survival practices. The real reason was for a man to isolate and control his wife and children.
The girl loved the chickens, raised from chicks. All the children loved catching grasshoppers to feed the little creatures. The family was able to have two dogs for a spell, raised from pups. That was until they started tag teaming the chickens. A family court determined which one would stay and which one would go. That felt good, except she wanted the one that had to go, but was somehow strangely comforted in the knowledge that her Step-Father also wanted that particular dog to stay.
The girl and her Sister, explored the countryside and found many wonderful places and things. A nest of baby mice or rats in the middle of the corn field. The dog named Mutt scratched them up. They were beautiful! Unlike the gray or brown mice she had seen in the city, these were multi colored and some were spotted. Her desire was to have one or more as pets. However, knowing her Mother would never go for that, they covered them back up to sleep till their Mother’s return. So, on they went with their adventure. That day they found a lovely little stream with tadpoles, minnows and crayfish to catch. Along side the stream, on a high bank, was an evergreen tree. It looked like a Christmas tree, they both thought. Soon their attentions were directed elsewhere and the Sun indicated they needed to be headed back to the house as supper would be imminent.
Country life soon became a harsh reality when Winter came to the North Missouri prairie country they were living in. Nothing stops the wind and it blows and blows. Add snow to that and it becomes a howling monster. The Step-Father hadn’t planned well for the Winter. There wasn’t enough wood or coal to burn and the drafty old shack didn’t keep out the wind or snow. The Mother instinct kicked in when the girl developed pneumonia and Mother discovered once again she was with child. She left her husband and the old shack, to move back to the city.
Winter had it’s grip, though. Even in the city. Blizzard conditions prevented the Mother from moving into the house she had rented for her family. This was early December 1963. She and the seven children were invited to stay with her Brother and his wife and seven children. They waited out Winter’s worst for a week in a four room shotgun double-tenement. Fourteen children and three adults. There were several miracles, the most miraculous perhaps, there was no arguing or scrapping going on among the children. Not even a little one for the entire week.
Soon, the weather broke and the Mother and her children were finally able to move into their, new to them, home. It was an older, large two story. The furniture did not fill it up, but it was warm. It was quickly apparent that the Social Security the Mother received for the two oldest girls, as their own Father was deceased, was not enough to bring food into the house or do Christmas. Neighbors provided a Christmas tree, they had one too many and Santa made a Christmas Eve visit with toys and food. The Mother had gotten government commodities of which flour was a big part. She bought yeast and nearly every day made homemade bread. This took the family into 1964.
1964 the worst year, to date, the girl had ever experienced. She and the Step-Father just could not get along. He was spending more time with his family as the birth of the new child was imminent. The Mother decided to send the girl to live in with the woman the girl had been baby sitting for. While living away from the rest of the family in what was supposed to be a haven from her Step-Father, the girl came to know and experience the worst of humanity. Worse even than her Step-Father. The problem, she couldn’t just go back to her Mother. Mother had rejoined her husband after the birth of another daughter. They were back in the country, only in a better house.
The girl was able to get away and stayed with the same Uncle and Aunt who had given her family shelter before. Just long enough to contact and have the Step-Father pick her up and bring her back to her Mother. This not a grand reunion. Tensions were high. It was obvious the Step-Father had no desire to have the girl back under his roof.
It was 1964 and Christmas time again. The girl was told there would not be a tree or the regular celebrations. Remembering the venture she and her Sister had the previous Summer, the girl gathered up her Sister once again and found a roofing tool, the nearest thing to an axe she could find. The two struck out on a cold December day in the Northwest of Missouri. Off to re-find the evergreen on the stream bank, that looked like a Christmas tree. The finding seemed to take forever. Once found again, it was discovered that the tree was now precariously standing over the stream on a much washed out bank. Undaunted, the girl began chopping with her make shift hatchet. The trunk of the tree was perhaps no more than six to eight inches diameter. Yet, the chopping was not to be a quick job. Chopping, chopping, chopping, forever it seemed. Eventually, the tree did topple. Right into the stream. A route down into the stream and back out again, with the tree, was needed. Once discovered, the tree could not be pulled out without getting feet wet. The girl was on a mission and nothing was going to prevent her from getting this Christmas tree back to the house and the little ones. Not blisters, frozen feet, barbed wire fences, bulls, cold wind or treacherous terrain.
It was late, nearly dark when the girls returned. The Mother, not for the first time, had worried about them for hours. They neither one had said where they were going or what they were doing. The tree made it without much damage and was a big surprise to everyone. Mother got the decorations out and the setting of the tree began and was finished by the time the Step-Father made it home. The look of amazement on his face when the Mother told him the girls had gone out, chopped it down and brought it home, that look of not just amazement, but respect, was the best gift the girl could have ever received.
This was first Christmas the new sister would know and the last Christmas the Step-Father would ever spend with the girls or his wife and own children. The tree was only a Cedar, not a Scotch Pine, but it was a good Christmas.