At the age of 81, Jessie Lee Brown-Foveaux, born in 1899, wrote her memoirs. It was originally intended just for her family, but happily they realized what they had and published it so we could all enjoy it.
Below is an excerpt from Any Given Day, ©1979, in which she recounts her favorite Christmas memory. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did:
That winter was very cold. The Johnson family got the scarlet fever. Neighbors went to help care for the children. One of the little boys died.
Mama always worked too hard for the strength she had. She and I both had malaria fever every few months. Mama went night after night to help the sick neighbors.
Then Lynn got the scarlet fever and was very sick. Tressie and I had already had it in Washington. We were quarantined.
After Lynn got well and we were fumigated, and back in school, Mama got sick again. What a winter…
It was near Christmastime. We always had a pretty tree, which we decorated. We strung popcorn and cranberries on chains, took strips of bright colored paper and pasted them together to form chains and draped them over the tree. We had a pretty angel for the top branch.
To us it was wonderful. We would hang up our stockings of netting, made for the occasion. They would be filled with small surprises, oranges, hard candy, and nuts.
This year Mama called to us to come and listen carefully to what she said. She told us that because she was sick, and the snow was so deep, she didn’t think we would have our usual Christmas, that Santa Claus might not get to all the homes because of the bad weather. Maybe Daddy would find a nice tree and we could decorate it. Daddy said we could count on that for sure.
We were going to have a program at the school, and Santa was supposed to be there. I wondered how he could get to the schoolhouse but not to ours. I kept still for once.
The days passed quickly. The school program was to be Friday afternoon, and the parents would be there. Mama was still sick, so Daddy had to stay with her.
The snow was still there. Some of the neighbors came and helped us with our Christmas tree, which Daddy had managed to find and bring home.
I was worried for sure now. Who would cook Christmas dinner? Mama always made English plum pudding, a lot of pies, cakes, and cookies. This year she had to stay in bed.
Friday morning came bright and clear. Again Mama told Tressie and me not to be too disappointed if Santa didn’t have anything for us. Maybe he hadn’t received our letters. We were to be brave and not cry.
One of the neighbors came by and took Tressie and me to the school on a big bobsled. Each child recited a little poem or sang a song. Then everyone sang Christmas carols. The parents seemed to enjoy that very much.
At last our teacher said, “Well, children, it is time for us to see what Santa Claus has for you.”
She opened the door and in came Santa Claus. He was a fat man with white whiskers and a bright red suit, and he was carrying a very large sack over his shoulder.
He had a happy voice, calling greetings to us as he took his place beside the Christmas tree. He said, “I hope you have all been good boys and girls this year.”
I thought, If we don’t get anything, everyone will think we have been real bad.
Santa started calling names. The child would go to the tree and Santa would say a few words to them and hand them a gift.
At last the big surprise came. He called out, “Jessie Lee and Teresa Brown, here is something for you.”
I don’t know how I ever walked up there, thanked him, and got back to my seat. I know I was trembling like a leaf, trying not to cry.
I was all thumbs opening that package. At last there it was, a beautiful little signet ring with a “J” on it. Teresa’s was the same, only with a “T” on hers.
I don’t ever remember being so happy at a school Christmas party as we were that day. We thanked old Santa over and over again.
Each child received a long net stocking filled to the top with oranges, nuts, and candy. What a happy ending to a day we had dreaded so much.
When we got home, Mama was as surprised as we were.
Long after that we learned that Leo Evans had managed to get to Kansas City and bought the rings for us. She was a dear woman who loved children. She had none of her own.
Christmas Eve we went to be early. I had faith now that there would be something nice under that tree.
Later we heard people coming in and a lot of talking, but we were used to neighbors coming to visit. This year they had all brought something nice for our Christmas dinner.
Next morning when we got up there were packages under that tree. Daddy had managed to get to Blairtown, ten miles away, and get something for all.
We had a rule: No presents until after breakfast. How we hurried to get dressed and eat! Then the excitement.
When I think of you, my grandchildren, and the lovely things you get each year, I guess you would be plenty disappointed with this Christmas of ours. Tressie and I had high-top shoes with little red tassels at the top, some pretty colored beads, and material for a new dress. Tressie got a ball, too. She always wanted to play ball. Lynn got a spinning top, bright red, and a little iron train. It was my best Christmas.