Written by Betty Rehberg
Every year Mama would let us go through the Sears and Roebuck catalog and mark our favorite toys. Then she would either let Santa know what we wanted or she and Daddy would get it on lay-away at Sears. Chatty Cathy was the big toy that most girls my age wanted for Christmas that year. A doll that would actually talk, I was amazed and fascinated with her. I had gotten my first Barbie a year or two before so I was hooked on Barbie from then on also. I was torn between which of the dolls I wanted the most.
It simply was not Christmas until we got to my grandmother’s house. We would usually get up early Christmas Eve morning and stuff our car to overflowing with unwrapped gifts, hoping there was a bit room left in the car for us. The trip up to my grandmother’s house was easier than the trip back home, after all of the bicycles and doll houses and whatnots had been assembled. Thank goodness for a huge 1959 Ford, there would be no way to load it all in a more modern car of today. We usually went in two cars, Mom, Dad and the three youngest kids, and our dog Muggs in one car, my three older brothers followed us up later in another car.
The 150 mile trip always seemed like it took an eternity. Sometime after my sister’s usual bout of carsickness or my little brother needing to use the restroom or the hundredth “are we there yet?” I would doze off on the back seat. The sound that woke me up was when the car slowed down and crossed the old railroad tie that marked the entrance to the driveway at my grandmother’s house. The driveway swooped down and curved around a huge ancient live oak. I loved the sound of the gravel crunching under the wheels; it meant we were finally there at my grandmother and Dat’s house. Dat was my favorite aunt, forever named “Dat” because some of the younger kids could not say Kat. It was a huge old two storied white house, with a large porch complete with a porch swing. I loved every single inch of that old house.
We would scramble out of the car and into the arms of my aunt, my grandmother and the other relatives that had arrived before we did. My uncle would be taking pictures as usual; his wife would be inside making dinner. I had lost some of my front teeth a few days before Christmas so I was teased by everyone that saw me by their rendition of, “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth.” After a nice dinner the younger kids would have to go to bed or Santa would not stop and visit. I would make sure my aunt left the screen door unlatched. I knew Santa could not come down the old chimneys as they all had gas heaters in them!
We would have a hard time getting to sleep. The grown-ups, including my older brothers would be downstairs assembling toys and wrapping presents almost all night long. They would be laughing, the later it got, the sillier and louder they got. It sounded like so much fun; we would sneak into the hall and try to peak through the banisters.
Christmas morning finally arrived. Santa had indeed been there, our stockings were all filled. We had real stockings, Mom’s old “nylons” she explained they were better than store bought stockings; Santa could put more goodies in them. They would be so stretched and weighed down by oranges, apples, and tangerines that they would almost touch the floor. Santa always left me too much fruit, I only wanted the candy.
We would rush through breakfast then down the big chilly hall to the closed double doors of the living room. I can remember putting my eye to the crack between the doors, trying in vain to see what was in there. The anticipation was so great, I could barely stand it. No one was allowed to open the doors until everyone was there and ready. Another aunt and uncle and most of my cousins had arrived. My oldest brother, the night owl was still asleep. We would run upstairs and pester him until he would get up and slowly comb his “James Dean-like” hair and come downstairs.
Someone would fling open the doors. It was like magic, the gifts; most of them beautifully wrapped surrounded the Christmas tree. The tall tree with the old vintage ornaments of a kind I had never seen anywhere before or since. We may have noticed how pretty the shiny wrapped packages were with their carefully curled ribbons, but it was utter mayhem when we ripped into them with eagerness only children can understand.
Santa did not wrap the dolls and larger toys. That is why my eyes were drawn straight to them. They were sitting out in front, waiting for me; Chatty Cathy and Barbie! What could possibly be better? I got both; I did not have to choose between my two favorite dolls. Everything else paled in comparison. If they had been the only two gifts that I received that Christmas, they would have been more than enough.
Before I knew it the morning had passed and it was time for Christmas dinner. The grownups were at the big table and the kids at the little table in the corner by a door. I was always careful not to sit with my back to the door to “Mrs. Green’s room”. I was convinced that she must haunt the room, as I had never seen her nor inside that room. Later I realized it was just an unused room where Grandmother had stored some furniture for a friend years before.
Kisses, more hugs and still more pictures were taken as we tried to re-stuff the cars with all of our loot to make the trip back home. We would ride with toys piled all over us, listening to Christmas songs on the car radio coming in and out filled with static, as we headed home. The stars were huge; I liked to imagine that the really bright one was the star that led to a manger where Baby Jesus was, in my mind, he was still a baby out there somewhere.
This had to have been my best Christmas ever. If you had asked me then I would have said it was the best because I had gotten both my beloved Chatty Cathy and a Barbie doll. Now, I would say it was the best Christmas ever because most of the people that I loved more than anything in the world, were all there together with me in that big old house filled with love, laughter and maybe the happiest and best memories of my entire life.
Merry Christmas, may everyone experience Christmas through the eyes of a child and make great memories to last a lifetime.
Betty Rehberg is a life-long resident of Albany and is the office manager at the Albany Journal. She enjoys local history, photo restoration and genealogy and is the chief instigator at Vintage Albany.