Christmas Stockings then and now

Farm Forum

At our house, the stockings are hung by the chimney with care.

Probably at yours, too.

Knitted by Mary, each stocking on our fireplace mantel has the names of one of our three children on it. For about 25 Christmases we dutifully filled them with goodies, carrying on the tradition.

Now, with the kids off on their own life’s journeys, the knitted socks (plus five more for the grandkids) are hung more for holiday décor than as Christmas treat containers.

Every year when our brood was young I’d reminded them of what I received in my Christmas stocking hung with loving care in our drafty little house nestled on the leeward side of the Pony Hills in Wessington Springs.

It was a real stocking, darned many times to plug the toe and heel leaks. My recollections about those stockings relayed to the kids elicited only the inquiry of what a darned sox was in the first place.

In the 1930s, we had no fireplace and the chimney could barely exhaust fumes and coal smoke, let alone multitask as a stocking supporter.

So our Christmas stockings were draped over the backs of wooden dining room chairs.

One of the objects in each on Christmas morning was an orange. Let me tell you, in the 1930s, an orange was a BIG deal.

In the mid-1930s when I was hanging my Christmas stocking, oranges were selling for 29 cents a dozen. Gas was a dime a gallon in 1930.

So in the 1930s a dozen oranges was the equivalent of about three gallons of gasoline for the old flivver gathering dust and chicken droppings out in our old shed with its sagging wooden doors that we never bothered to close because of its tired hinges.

I figured when my parents bought the four of us kids an orange for those Wessington Springs Christmases, they may have bought six oranges (one each for them) so they invested 14 cents for our family’s Christmas morning snack.

At that time my dad was earning less than $10 a week at the elevator where he worked about fifty hours a week in that drafty place for a little less than 20 cents an hour. He had worked nearly an hour to buy those oranges.

But an orange wasn’t the only item in our Christmas cornucopias.

There might be a shiny new penny, perhaps a new pair of socks, an elevator pencil, a piece of Christmas candy, and maybe a little paper note book. There was always a new handkerchief, which seemed to be extra stocking baggage to me.

Shirt sleeves worked just as well.

In a good year down at the elevator, we all may have also gotten a box of Cracker Jacks. They were three for a dime then.

I remember one year my stocking also gave up new shoelaces to replaced the knotted and frazzled ones I’d worked on and square-knotted to death, shortening their length with each new break and subsequent knot.

And always in our stocking would be a couple of walnuts or a handful of peanuts. Walnuts in 1933 sold for a quarter a pound. They now can run as high as 14 cents each.

I wonder if any child on the flatlands this Christmas Day will find an orange or a walnut in his or her Christmas stocking.

I’d bet a shiny penny they probably won’t?

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