A Homemade Christmas - Gladys Sylvester Olds

This story is based on a true incident in the life of Gladys Sylvester Olds*, age ten, of Bellevue (now Pintura), Washington County, Utah in 1906. Retold by her grandson, Brenton Bauer.

A Homemade Christmas

With excitement in her voice and a bright sparkle in her eyes, Gladys ran from the front door of the two-room school building yelling, "It's Christmas! It's Christmas!" She ran around the side of the building and down the back field, across the two-shovel ditch and north along the old Lower Lane.

When she arrived at Nellie's house, she hurried up the old wooden steps and across the sagging wood porch. Opening the rickety screen door she yelled, "When do we go? What should I take? Nellie, where are you?"

Running as fast as her legs would carry her, she crossed the room to the old black trunk. Opening the heavy lid she pulled out her one and only dress, everyday clothes, a rag doll, and several other priceless possessions that she had accumulated during her short life.

Nellie and George I. would be here in a short while and she needed to be ready. She was going home.

"What should I take? I know!" she thought as she got out her Sunday dress. "Papa hasn't seen me in this dress since last summer. I'll wear this on Christmas day." She went to the family clothes basket to get a clean flour sack. Hurrying back to the trunk she quickly stuffed some clothes and her doll inside the white sack.

She heard Nellie calling from the back pasture where she had been driving the sheep back to the pen. "Gladys! Ah! Gladys! Are you ready to go. George I. is here and waiting. Hurry up! He's got to take the feed to Gregersons and back home before dark."

Nellie was her oldest sister and George I., her husband. Gladys had moved in with them after her mother died so she could attend second grade at the Toquerville Grade School. Bellevue was too small to support a school of it's own. Papa Joe had remarried and they had spent a year in Washington where she attended third grade. Papa Joe moved the family back to Bellevue late last summer. She was again living with Nellie and George I.

"Hurry up, Gladys. George I. has no time to waste," replied Nellie. Gladys hurried out the door and across the porch.

"I'm ready," she responded while climbing into the wooden buckboard box.

"It's about time. Give everyone my love and be sure to tell them we'll be over Christmas Day for dinner. I can't wait to see everyone," exclaimed Nellie as she threw Gladys' flour sack into the back of the wagon.

Gladys settled down on one of the large sacks of chicken feed and held on tightly to the side of the buckboard as the horses started to slowly move up the lower street. Waving good-by to her sister, Gladys settled down. She was finally on her way home. Up the street they went with the clickitty-clomp of the horses hooves. When they reached the main road out of town they turned north and headed past the Post Office and the old stone church. Some of the older kids were ringing the bell that hung in a large tree. Gladys remembered last Halloween when some of them went over to Leeds and took the bell from their new church. What pranksters she thought.

In the vacant lot next to the church a group of schoolmates were playing kick the can. Gladys spotted her best friend, Bell and yelled, "See you after Christmas, Bell."

As Bell turned, she saw Gladys waving and waved back replying, "Hey, Gladys! Have a good vacation."

Gladys would miss her friends during Christmas, but she was looking forward to seeing her own brother and sisters who also had also been away to school up north in Kanarraville.

The buckboard rolled along the dusty, rutted road, up across the swinging bridge by the Old Cradle and on around the black hills that pushed and shoved at Ash Creek. The road followed the creek north along the Black Ridge toward Cedar City. The trip seemed almost endless. Gladys was so excited to be going home. She was hoping Aunt Emiline, her stepmother, would have gingerbread cookies, Christmas cakes, and mincemeat pies baking in the old wood cook stove just like her mother had done. She could almost smell the aroma of hot vegetable soup bubbling on the stove. She could hardly wait until she reached home.

As they rounded the last bend and started down the Browse incline she saw the lane that led to the old homestead. George I. stopped the buckboard. Gladys grabbed her sack and jumped out of the wagon.

"Have a Merry Christmas, Gladys." shouted George I.

"Same to you, George I. See you Christmas Day," replied Gladys as she hurried up the lane.

"Papa! Auntie Em! Papa Joe! Where are you?" She called as she hurried toward the house. She ran through the house looking for them, but no one was to be found. The house was empty. As she looked around the house, she noticed no Christmas preparations. No tree. No Christmas cookies. She put her sack down and ran outside calling, "Papa Joe." Still no answer. No one could be seen.

Well! Then and there Gladys decided that she would have to do something about Christmas before the rest of the family arrived. She quickly changed into her overalls and went to the corral. Seeing Pal in the corral she thought, "I guess they took the buggy." Putting the bridle on her father's horse, she mounted him. She rode past the woodpile where she grabbed an ax and a old rope. Then she rode west into the hills where she would look for a pinion pine that would make a perfect Christmas tree.

Traveling up and over several hills she found a few good trees that would do nicely. After considering each of them, she decided on the one she thought would be just right. Taking the ax she started hitting at a good size tree. Chop! Chop! Chop! The echo reverberated across the valley below. She stopped for a while. "That's a pretty big tree," she said out loud. "I hope I can chop it down." Lifting the ax Gladys started chopping at the tree once again. She was determined that the family was going to have a Christmas tree and this was the tree. Finally, after considerable effort the tree fell.

Tying the rope around the trunk and the other end around the horses neck. They slowly started dragging the tree back down the hill towards home.

Upon arriving back at the homestead, she took the old wooden water bucket and placed it in the corner of the room. Putting the tree into the bucket she filled it with rocks and dirt she had gathered from out in the yard.

When finished she exclaimed with excitement, "There! That will do nicely." The tree was in place. Now to decorate it. She went out behind the house, past the chicken coop and the coral, and collected a tin of the purple pinion berries. Finding a needle and thread Gladys strung the berries into long strands. She next cut some red and green paper into long strips. Mixing some flour and water into a gooey paste she fashioned the paper into chains, like the ones her class had made at school. She hung the chains on the tree with the strands of berries..

It looked beautiful, but she felt something was missing. "It needs a Christmas Star on top," she thought to herself. Taking some heavy paper, she carefully fashioned a five pointed star. Getting the button tin from the kitchen shelf, she picked out the shiniest and brightest buttons and pasted them onto the star. "There! That's beautiful." she said out loud holding the star high above her head. She carefully placed it on the top of the tree.

She had finished decorating the tree just in time. She heard voices and the sound of a wagon stopping outside. It was Papa Joe.

"Papa Joe! Papa Joe!" she shouted as she rushed out the door and into the arms of her father. "Papa Joe, I have a surprise for you in the house. For the whole family."

Papa Joe and Aunt Em hurried into the house. Their eyes began to sparkle as they gazed at the tree with the shinning star.

"That's beautiful, Gladys," exclaimed Auntie Em. "What a wonderful present for us all!"

Papa Joe responded, "My child, that was a big job for you to do all by yourself."

They all felt Gladys' Christmas spirit. Aunt Em gathered her children around the kitchen table and started making gingerbread cookies to hang on the tree. Papa Joe hurried out and got a load of wood for a big Christmas Eve fire.

Soon Frank, Vinnie, and Maude arrived from school. Seeing the festive Christmas setting, they started making ornaments for the tree also.

When decorating the tree was finished, everyone gathered around. Taking Gladys into his arms, Papa Joe gave her a big hug and kiss.

Gladys thought to herself, "This is what Christmas is all about!"

Gladys never forgot that special Christmas feeling. Every Christmas throughout her life, she would bring a special holiday feeling to her family and her friends by her kind deeds and loving spirit.

*Gladys Sylvester, daughter of Joseph Sylvester and Jane Allie Hanks of Bellevue (now Pintura), Washington County, Utah.


This history is copyrighted and is offered for personal use and research only.
It is not to be reprinted or used for commercial purposes without written permission.

Copyright 2000 by Brenton Bauer

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