A Christmas Story

Priscilla Wiley Christmas Ornament

A Story from my Grandfather

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I come from a family of creative people. The farthest I can trace it back is my great grandmother. She was an amazing artist. As we were going through some of our old boxes to do some fall cleaning, I came across some beautiful dress designs she had done. The attention to detail is unreal.

She passed this gift on to my grandfather. Every year he designed a Christmas card that he would send to family and friends. We have copies of each of these that we bring out during the holiday season and put on display in our house. He designed stained glass for churches, he was an architect, and he could draw and paint the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen.

Most importantly he was an amazing man. He loved his family, and he was truly in love with his mother. There is no story that tells the story of his love for her better than the one of a simple Christmas ornament. He shared this story with us a couple of years before he passed away. He also typed this up for us and gave us each a copy. I came across that today, and it’s so beautiful I had to share it. Here is the story In his words:

“When your grandmother and I put up our Christmas tree, my job is to put up the tree and lights and then your grandmother puts on all the ornaments except for one and she lets me do that. It is a little paper Santa Claus that I had laminated to protect it, but not soon enough to keep it from getting somewhat worn.

I had just finished eighth grade when my mother decided to reunite with my father. The year was 1942 and they have been separated for eleven years. The country was at war and my father was a career soldier stationed in New Orleans. So mother and I left Chicago in June and moved to New Orleans and for the first time in my life I had my own bedroom; however, living with a man my mother and aunt had always talked about how he had abandoned my mother made it difficult for me to understand how they could love each other now. Their separation was not about love, it was about money. (It was during the depression years.)

Dad was a cook for the army, and a good one. It was now getting close to Christmas and one day dad came home all excited that the colonel’s wife was going to put on a Christmas dinner and wanted him to do the meal and cakes. Dad had gone to all the different cook and baker’s schools the service had to offer and was good at doing cake decorations. He would be helping with everything. The colonel’s wife talked to him about having some little favors or decorations at each place. Dad knew mother was an artist and volunteered her to design and make something. There would be about 50 pieces required.

I don’t remember mother’s reaction, but she liked pleasing people and so she set about to do just that. Money had always been a problem, I mean lack of it, so I believe she used what she had. On a stiff piece of artist’s paper she drew a cute little Santa Claus. To do fifty of them required her to trace the first one fifty times since copy machines had not been invented yet. Then she took pen and ink and inked each one. Next each one was painted in. Now the task that took additional patience, each one had to be cut out. Mother worked long and hard at this. I would go to bed at night and she would still be bent over the kitchen table working on them.

When they were all cut out mother was not satisfied with them. She thought they needed more. I can tell you emotions were hairy for all of us, but mother wanted to do something right. She decided to glue cotton for Santa’s beard and again on his coat and hat. I contributed. I had airplane glue that I used to make model airplanes and she liked that because it had a long nozzle that allowed the glue to be laid down within the tight spaces.

I remember Dad and Mother sitting at the table trimming each one with scissors. Then mother wanted to add one more thing. She tied a cellophane ribbon around the neck of each one. I remember it sure looked like a lot of them. Mother put them all in a box for Dad to take the next day.

I was in high school and had a paper route after school so Mother would be able to rest the next day, but I knew she was anxious to hear how everything went with the colonel’s wife since all was done in time for the dinner right on schedule.

I came home the next day after delivering my papers and Dad and Mother were hugging each other and crying. What happened? Dad said he took in the box of Santa Clauses and the colonel’s wife did not want them. I don’t remember the reason, but she just didn’t want them and Dad brought them back home.

We all cried. I felt so bad for Mother. I didn’t know what to say or do. No one did.

Sobbing, Mother asked what can we do with these? We thought and I said I would try to sell them door to door. I would just follow my paper route. I remember Mother was still crying when I left.

Nobody bought any. I was trying to sell them for fifty cents and maybe it was less but nobody bought any. It was then that I made up a lie. I didn’t know what else to do when I handed back the Santa Clauses. I told Mother that nobody bought any; however, there was one man who said that just the other day he needed some decorations like these and had I come to his house yesterday he would have bought them all. I felt a little guilty but I had to tell her something positive.

I don’t know what happened to them all but after I got married in 1949 in my suitcase of treasures I found one that somehow made it through. Your grandmother suggested we put a hook on it and hang it on our Christmas tree. And now it has been my privilege to place Mother’s Santa Claus on our Christmas tree every year for 60 years.

That was the last Christmas I had with Mother as she died the following summer of a heart attack. I am sure Mother is in Heaven looking down and is extremely happy to see her Santa hanging on our Christmas tree. This Christmas day we gave a copy to each family represented here and hope that next year her Santa will be placed on many more Christmas trees.

We have enclosed your copy. It doesn’t look quite like the originals looked 67 years ago, but it has been special to us for many years.”

Today we are proud to display this amazing gift on our tree. We have for the last 5 years, and will continue to do so until we pass it down to our children. Little did my great grandmother know when she was making these 67 years ago that even though the colonel’s wife didn’t care for them, her great-grandchildren would treasure them for a lifetime.

This Christmas, whether or not you have the ability to purchase extravagant gifts, remember that the simplest of things can have the biggest impact for generations to come. May your holiday season be filled with the love that only family can bring. Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

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