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A Pennsylvania Christmas in the country

Even the chicks get a treat


Only as I relish the benefit of looking back through eight decades of learning and growing in my life do I really appreciate the knowledge, skill, ingenuity and perseverance that defined my parents, especially during the Great Depression and World War II years.

It was one very cold Christmas in 1937, when I was 5 years old. Money seemed to be very, very tight. That year Daddy bought our Christmas tree on Christmas Eve. By then the Pittsburgh street vendors had dropped their prices to rock-bottom so they could clear their lots, get out of the cold and go home.

Santa brought me a cutout book with a punch-out cardboard doll. I used blunt-end scissors to cut out all the doll dresses and coats. Then I could play dress-up for hours on end.

Daddy gave Mother a China tea pot and 365 tea bags, one for each day of the year to come.

But that also was the year when everything would seem much like an “I Love Lucy” episode ... except that it really wasn’t funny. Daddy had promised Mother that he would get new linoleum for our 10-foot-by-14-foot kitchen. He found someone who could deliver the roll on Saturday before Christmas. The kitchen table, chairs and stove were jammed into the hall and dining room to ready the kitchen floor. I watched them struggle as they juggled the cumbersome roll into position.

Meanwhile, the mailman knocked on the back porch door with a notice in hand. Apparently the shipment of a large cardboard carton of 100 baby chicks had arrived earlier than expected and was now waiting at the post office in town. Daddy dropped everything and rushed to pick up the peeps since snow as predicted for that night and there was no place for chicks to be kept warm at the post office.

The only place those 100 hatchlings could be kept was in our kitchen! The chicken coop Daddy had been building wasn’t finished yet. We raced around to find enough newspapers to protect the shiny new floor covering. Next we stretched extension cords for the extra light bulbs that would be needed to keep the chicks warm. The kitchen radiator would not be enough heat for them and my parents did not want run the gas oven overnight. Finally, fence boards were wedged in place to corral those darling, soft, golden balls of fuzz. I wanted to play with them but my parents said, “No, they aren’t toys. Just make sure they don’t get out of the pen.”

Christmas smelled pretty bad that year but none of the chicks died while they occupied our kitchen. It was decided not to do any baking for the holiday.

Thus was the beginning of our modest backyard menagerie: ducks to weed the vegetable garden, two dogs for an alarm system, cats to catch rodents, poultry for eggs and chicken on Sunday, two cocky bantam roosters for amusement and two hives of honeybees to sweeten life.

I was taught how to feed the chickens and collect eggs without cracking any of them.

Though times were tough as our family grew to six, we had plenty to eat.

Sylvia Malagamba is a member of the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center.




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