Small Christmas Surprise

Growing up as the daughter of a minister, life was not always easy. My parents, Barbara and Earle, had seven children, I the third, and money was not a regular available commodity while growing up. My father liked ministering to small churches so we often found ourselves moving around the country as our family grew in order to find a church or churches which could actually afford to pay us a living wage. My mother was always so proud that she could feed our entire family on $100/month. She was good with budgeting and managing her checkbook. Dad worked the churches and mom worked the home.

My father was the type of dad who withdrew more and more as the family grew. He loved his study where he could hide away after dinner each night to work on his ministerial duties. He was an only child and did not know until he had more than one what sibling rivalry really was. My mother was the disciplinarian In the family. I learned quickly that whatever Mom said was the law. If and only when the law was broken, did Dad ever get involved in discipline. I remember getting the brush when Mom was upset with me, and that one experience made me fall in line the rest of my life. I became a dutiful daughter and a partner to my older sister, Barb, in our daily work of cleaning, changing the diapers and feeding my younger siblings and helping my mom cook the meals. My dad never raised a hand to me, but I know my brothers had a much more difficult time dealing with my father’s discipline.

We lived all over the Midwest. When I joined the family in Minnesota, my parents had already lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where they were both reared into adulthood by their very different parents, and they had already brought my older brother and sister into the world. I was the baby in the family for five years until we moved to Montana where the water must have been very good. Mom and Dad brought four more siblings into the family while we were there! All in three years’ time! Believe me, my sister and I changed a lot of diapers for several years! We then moved to Missouri where my Dad had four little country churches to minister.

The years in Missouri were the best for me! I remember living on a tobacco farm in a huge farm house which a congregant had rented to us. The town was Roanoke, Missouri. It truly was a one-horse town. The population of Roanoke was 36 at the time. I remember when I saw the population sign as we entered Roanoke and thinking, “They are going to have a population boom when we move in!” The town had just one general store with a single gas pump in the front. There were two churches, my father’s Presbyterian church and the other, a Baptist church. They held services every other week so the whole community would be Presbyterian one week and the next, Baptist! My father also had three small country churches and would hop on his three-wheel Harley Davidson with one or two kids on the back holding on for dear life while he drove to his other churches. He didn’t get home until quite late those days!

Fond memories come flooding back when I think of Roanoke. The farm was huge and the grasshoppers full of tobacco spit. I didn’t always want to pick them up because I knew I would have tobacco juice on me until I was able to go inside and wash it off! The rolling hills were fun to explore with Barb. We would spend hours in the fields living out fantasy lives, pretending to be important people. When the Beatles came to America the first time, there was a rumor that they were hiding out in central Missouri. Of course, I don’t know if it was true, but my sister, Barb, and I would pack a lunch every day and go out into the fields looking for them! I just wanted a hug from Paul McCartney!

I think part of Dad’s income included being given crops of corn, cucumber, beans, tomatoes, you name it! We ate well throughout the year because my mother, sister and I would can every single crop we got! That saved our family a great deal of money.

But this is a story of Christmas, really. That community became our family in so many ways. I remember one cold December day that dad got a phone call (on our party line) from the general store. They had a package he needed to come and get. We all waited anxiously for his return. “Who would be sending us a package?”

When my father returned, he had a long, narrow box, wrapped with a bow. It was for me! I felt like I had won the lottery! I asked if I could open it immediately and he said I could!

What I found in that box was a beautiful blue corduroy coat with faux grey fur lining! This seemed to be the first brand new coat I had ever been given! I felt like a queen! I had always gotten hand-me-downs so I felt very special!

“Who is this from, Dad?”

“I don’t know but it is for you!”

What a special day! Someone gave me this coat without even wanting or needing credit for it! It was a truly special gift! A true Secret Santa!

I loved Roanoke, but it really was the beginning of the end for my life as a preacher’s kid. It soon became apparent that the ministry would not be a career which could support a family of nine so we soon moved to a community just a few miles away, Fayette, Missouri, which had a small college where my Dad taught the Bible as literature. He eventually moved our family to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, where he taught full time at Lake Superior State College (now Lake Superior State University), and except for preaching from the pulpit when our local minister needed someone to fill in for him, he all but ended his career as a minister.

Life continued to move on for the family. My siblings and I have all moved to towns and cities all around the country. We remain close and for that, I am so thankful. The memories of that little community in Missouri remain special to me. While there, I learned the importance of community, of being aware of the plight of others, and giving when I can. Great lessons which led to my career as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.

Copyright Martha L. Harris

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