Yesterday's Magazette

4 – A Special Gift

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By Carrillee Collins Burke

During the Great Depression my dad moved our family to a big dairy farm where he worked. It was a time of exciting new experiences for me. In September, I started school for the first time and rode a big yellow bus to school in town with my brother, Jim.

That fall I saw my first movie. It was a western and the only thing I recall clearly about that movie was Fuzzy Knight jumping backward onto his horse. I laughed with everyone, but didn’t understand why.

I also remember it was an extra cold winter and my fingers were always cold. I stuffed my hands deep into my coat pockets when outside. None of us owned gloves, except Dad. He had a pair of heavy work gloves he wore only on the farm. I do remember wearing mittens when I was younger pinned to my coat sleeves so I wouldn’t lose them, but I never owned a pair of real gloves.

Our house was never very warm in winter. The fireplace in the living room and the kitchen stove were our only sources of heat. Both burned small chunks of coal that Jim and I found on the railroad track near our house. We’d drag the coal home in big, brown burlap sacks.

Then the greatest experience of my young life happened. It happened because I awoke one morning with an upset stomach. Dad said he would drive me to school later, if I felt better.

Mom made me her remedy for an upset stomach. It was a cup of very weak coffee, half filled with milk, and a lot of sugar. In this, she put pieces of bread made dry and crusty on the stove. It seemed to work because around ten o’clock I was up and about. Dad filled the radiator on the Model A with water, cranked it up, and let it hum for a few minutes while I got my Peter and Peggy Reader, paper and crayons, and climbed upon the seat next to him.

Town was only two miles away, but it seemed farther. We had to stop several times for Dad to fill the leaky radiator when it overheated and bubbled over. He carried an old lard bucket full of water for just such an occasion, but before we’d gone half a mile the water was gone. He then kept the radiator filled by using the melted ice and snow from the drainage ditch alongside the road.

By the time we got to town, it was nearing lunch hour at school. Instead of driving me straight there, he drove to the business district and parked in front of the Newberry Five and Dime Store. I’d never been in a variety store before.

Dad led me inside and said, “Now, Carrie, you find something you like and I’ll buy it for you.” This was something new. I’d never in my short life ever been told I could have anything I desired. We were poor and gifts were rare.

I walked up one aisle and down the other while my dad followed and the salesclerk watched and smiled. If I stood on my toes, I could see above the counters.

There were beautiful dolls and a tiny sewing machine that really worked by turning a wheel. I was just learning how to stitch by hand. That would be nice, I thought, but it probably cost a lot. I knew Dad couldn’t afford anything that expensive. Next to the sewing machine was a display of doll clothes and I drooled over a certain pink dress with tiny roses around the neck that would fit Emily, my rag doll. There were also books galore. And I loved books! I looked, but didn’t touch any of them.

“How about a coloring book or a box of crayons with 16 colors?” Dad asked.
I shook my head, no.

Next, we walked past the counter with paints, watercolors, crayons, and stacks of coloring books, scissors, pencils and erasers. I loved erasers, especially the big pink ones that looked like a chunk of chewing gum. I’d never seen so many wonderful things in my life. That Newberry store was like being inside the pages of a Sears, Roebuck and Co. catalog. There was shiny necklaces, pins, earrings, and a counter of perfumes and powders, too.

I looked up at Dad and asked if I could get a tiny bottle of perfume for Mom. “I bet she’d like that blue bottle with the tassel,” I said.

“I’ll get Mom something another time. This is for you and only you. Pick something you want. Now hurry. I need to get you to school before lunch hour is over. Okay?”

“Okay,” I said, and continued to look.

Then I saw them!

There they were on the counter with woolen scarfs, socks, and other small pieces of clothing. They were bright red with decorative crosses of yellow yarn on the backside. I pointed them out to Dad. He picked them up, turned them over, then looked down at me and frowned.

“Gloves? Out of all the pretty toys and things in this store, you pick a pair of wool gloves? How about that sewing kit? You could make a dress for Emily.”

Oh, dear, I thought. Dad doesn’t have enough money for the gloves.

“Do they cost too much?” I asked him.

“No, Carrie, if this is what you want, this is what you’ll have. I just thought you’d like something better.”

I wondered what could be better than beautiful gloves to keep my hands warm? The saleslady asked if I’d like to wear them or should she put them in a bag.

“I’ll wear them,” I answered proudly.

Later, in the school yard, I fell in line with the other students and walked into the classroom. I hung my coat in the cloakroom, gave Miss Dye my teacher, the tardy note Mom wrote and took my seat, still wearing the gloves.

“Would you like to remove your gloves, Carrie?” Miss Dye, asked.

Maybe it was the expression on my face or the pride in my voice when I stated that this was a special day for me. I held my gloved hands in the air for everyone to see, then clasped them tightly together. “My dad bought these for me today. They are my first and only gloves ever.”

Miss Dye smiled and gave me permission to wear them the rest of the day.

I kept those gloves for years. Even after they were worn out and I was grown, they still had a place in the cigar box where I kept all my important mementoes of my childhood. I finally had to discard them when intruding moths ate them into a patch of faded red wool with no fingers.

But that day was the start of many between my dad and me. Whenever I was ill, he’d always bring me something special to make me feel better.

And you know what? It always did.

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*From the author’s book, Country Girl.

1 Comment »

  1. It warmed my heart, reading about that darling little girl and her new red gloves. You’re a good girl, Carrilee, and it shows in your stories.

    Best,
    Nadja

    Comment by Nadja Bernitt — January 16, 2008 @ 3:19 pm | Reply


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