Best gifts are long rememberedDecember 24, 2012
BY MARTHA RASCHE
Herald City Editor
One of the best Christmas presents Leona (Heldman) Kluemper ever gave was the three-piece living room suite she bought for her parents in 1938.
“I paid $45 for a big couch and two chairs, in blue,” says Leona, who grew up on a farm near Celestine and now lives at Northwood Retirement Community in Jasper.
Now 93, Leona started doing domestic work at age 14 for $12 a week and saved her money for the special purchase. She cooked and cleaned for families in Louisville, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Indianapolis until she got married, and was in Louisville in 1938. She had the furniture shipped to her parents’ home.
“I was pretty proud of myself,” she says.
One of the best gifts she ever received was one she got year after year as a youngster.
No, not a doll.
“In all my childhood days, I only got one doll — because there was always a baby in the house anyway,” says Leona, the fifth of 10 children.
The prized gift was a harmonica. Or, rather, several of them.
“I asked every year for a French harp and I got my French harp. Otherwise it didn’t really matter” what she got, she says.
She started asking for the annual harmonica at age 5, as did several of her sisters. From one year to the next, the current instruments would wear out and new ones were needed.
All of the girls taught themselves to play by ear, and as retirees, three of them gave harmonica concerts at local nursing homes. One of the sisters, Lucille (Heldman) Blume of Jasper, still does.
“We loved to play the Christmas songs,” says Lucille, 88, who takes Communion to residents of The Timbers of Jasper each week and plays the harmonica for those that she knows enjoy hearing it. “When we heard ‘Jingle Bells,’ we could play that.”
Mention “Christmas gifts” to Marilyn (Fithian) Hunt, and 1950 comes to mind.
Now a 68-year-old widow and working as a medical records clerk at Memorial Hospital in Jasper, she was 6 that year and living in Princeton with her parents and six siblings.
“Christmas was never a big deal at our house. Santa brought us each an apple, an orange and some hard candy into my dad’s sock that we hung up,” she says, describing the family as “po,” which she defines as a step beyond poor.
So the children could hardly contain themselves when they attended an “enormous” Christmas party sponsored by Salvation Army Church. They got to choose what they wanted from toys piled on a stage.
“We could only take one item (at a time), but we got to make several trips,” Marilyn recalls.
None of the toys was wrapped, so the children knew exactly what they were getting. Marilyn doubts any of the toys were new, but no one cared.
Because her mom took in washing and ironing for other people, Marilyn knew immediately which toys she wanted so that she could imitate her mother: an iron and ironing board.
But she could take only one item at a time.
“I chose the iron and prayed while all the other kids chose things from the toys. I was terrified someone might choose the ironing board before I got to go again. ... My tiny stomach was twisted into a big ball of anxiety while waiting my turn in line to return to the bounty-filled stage for a second gift,” she says. “A rush of gratitude seeped through me as I quickly scooped up the little ironing board when it was my turn to choose.”
Today, she adds, “I love the Salvation Army and all it does for people like” that 6-year-old child.
By his best recollection, Kenny Keller was 5 when he received a handmade Christmas gift from his dad, Oscar.
That means the gift of a wheelbarrow just his size, assembled from scrap lumber Oscar salvaged from his job at Jasper Seating Co., came to him in 1940. Painted red, it had “Kenny” skillfully applied on it in green script lettering.
“When you’re a little feller, 4 or 5 years old, when you get something like that, brand new, (you feel) on top of the world,” says Kenny, now 77 and a resident of Northwood Retirement Community.
When spring’s warmer weather moved in, Oscar asked the youngest of his six children to help him dig a root cellar into a section of the basement of the family’s Jasper home. The room would store potatoes, turnips, sausage and other foods.
Kenny, able to maneuver in the small, dark space better than his father could, removed soil from the cellar, loaded it into his new wheelbarrow and deposited it outside into the family’s vegetable garden.
Jeannine (Parker) Summers also received a handmade gift from her factory-worker father.
The year was 1941. Jeannine, 9, and her 6-year-old sister each received a heart-shaped wooden jewelry box from their dad, Florian “Boom” Parker. He worked at Jasper Cabinet Co., where employees recycled scraps for hobby projects.
“We didn’t have a lot of money,” says Jeannine, 80, and the boxes with a few oranges inside were the extent of the girls’ presents on Christmas morning.
“I wasn’t really thrilled about that,” she says of the box with an inscription burned into the inside of the lid that reads “To Jeannine From Daddy.”
Jeannine has moved several times over the years and now is back in Jasper. She still has that box.
A gift she resented all those years ago, the box has become more cherished as she has gotten older. She realizes how much time and skill went into getting just the right curves in the wood and seamlessly piecing the box together. As an adult she knows that it contained more than oranges when her father gave it to her.
“I really do appreciate it now,” she says.
Contact Martha Rasche at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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