Early Christmas memories in Chester

CHESTER, Vt. – In the past I have written one of my favorite first grade Christmas memories. That was when Hessie had pulled a sleigh through the snow-covered playground at Chester Elementary School. That was in 1957.

I remember Mrs. Hammond, our first grade teacher, telling us that Santa was known to make practice runs before Christmas Day, and we should go out to the playground and see if we could find any sleigh tracks.

Little Ronnie Patch in first grade. Photo provided by Ron Patch.

All of us kids followed Mrs. Hammond out to the playground. Then in the fresh snow Mrs. Hammond pointed out some sleigh tracks. Us kids followed the sleigh tracks all around the playground, some saying that they had seen Santa in the sky the night before.

Someone brought a Christmas tree into our classroom a week or so before Christmas vacation. Mrs. Hammond asked us kids to bring in one decoration from home to put on our tree. Well those decorations were not enough. We needed more decorations.

We made Christmas decorations out of construction paper of different colors in long strands of rings. Each ring was about two inches in diameter. We would insert a piece of colored paper into an existing ring and, with some glue, paste the ends together. We made sure we connected different colored rings together.

We had those short little scissors. I’m sure you remember those little scissors with the blunt ends so we wouldn’t get hurt. We kids would sit at the worktable cutting, pasting, and chattering all the while.

We also made little tree ornaments out of salt and flour mixed with a little water. We used cookie cutters to cut them out. We sprinkled sparkles on them to make them sparkle on the tree. We thought we had the best Christmas tree ever!

Mrs. Hammond had different pages from coloring books all with a Christmas theme. There was of course Santa but also Rudolph and the elves. We colored those pages and taped them to the walls all around the room.

Now the last day of school was exciting. All of us kids had put our name in a box so we could draw names. Even this box had been covered with Christmas paper. The name you drew is who you got a present for.

A 1957 Lionel Train advertisement. Photo provided by Ron Patch.

We were limited how much we could spend on a present. It might have been 25 cents or 50 cents at the most. Some of us got our present at Ardis Clark’s. She had a large selection of inexpensive novelty items in her store on School Street.

On the last day before Christmas vacation, we had our Christmas party. We all exchanged gifts and opened our presents. It could be anything from some crayons, pencils, a roll of caps, or a Roy Rogers pin. School was out, and we were all excited to be going home.

In my house, we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. My father always said that his family had always celebrated Christmas Eve. It was a tradition that went way back. Actually, it worked pretty well. On Christmas Day, we all went down to my sister, Norma’s house in Bellows Falls on Green Street.

Norma and others cooked and baked all day. There were huge amounts of turkey, ham, potatoes with gravy, and every other food you can imagine. One thing I remember well was fudge in the candy dish on the coffee table. I would sneak back to get more. In my house when my mother made fudge, it would be gone in no time with us kids around. To leave it out on a table was unheard of.

There was my side of family there as well as Norma’s husband, Louie’s side. Louie had lots of relatives. I remember Buster and Ida and Marion. Some of these people I only saw once a year so I never really knew them. I remember one elderly woman getting a little tipsy every year. As dinner was served, everyone was talking and laughing. The little kids like me sat at a card table and the adults sat at the dining table.

In 1957, Christmas wasn’t a big deal like it is today. Not many presents under the tree, and the trees were scrawny. Remember the needles dropping to the floor? Christmas was a time for family.

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