By Arvid Huisman
The 1950s and 1960s were an especially good time to grow up in rural Iowa. In most little farm towns like the ones I lived in many families were living from paycheck-to-paycheck as my family was.
Some of our friends received bigger, more expensive Christmas gifts than my siblings and I, but no one that I can recall won the holiday lottery.
We all shared common Christmas traditions — Christmas trees with lights, school Christmas parties, Sunday School Christmas programs and more.
At a very young age, we became accustomed to Christmas practices that continue to tug at our hearts and memories.
So it was in the home in which I was raised. Though our Christmases were meager materially, they were rich in love, warmth and tradition.
The early ’60s were not particularly good years for my parents. Medical bills, job changes and six hungry kids strained Dad’s hard earned paycheck. Though Mom worked miracles in stretching a dollar, there was little left over for things beyond the necessities.
Things were particularly tough in 1965, so I was not shocked when Mom took me, the oldest, aside in December and explained that we would not have a Christmas tree that year. Money was tight, she said, and she wanted to be sure each child received a gift. A tree really wasn’t necessary.
Though our gifts were not extravagant, the six Huisman children always waited for Christmas gift opening time with great anticipation. I assured my mother that we would all be okay without a Christmas tree.
The idea that we would celebrate Christmas without a tree didn’t bother me at first, but I soon began to feel otherwise. It just wouldn’t be Christmas without a decorated tree in the living room.
My own finances weren’t of much help. During the winter there were no jobs for teenagers in our little farm town and I had all I could do to keep my old Chevy’s gas tank full. As the days went by I futilely considered ways to acquire a Christmas tree for the family.