Getting dressed for the Big Party was almost as exciting as the party itself. I was four or five years old and all dressed up in the prettiest dress my mother could make. She made it out of green velvet and put a white lace collar on it. My sister’s was just like mine, but blue velvet.
Mama got the velvet in town from the local department store – department meant that they sold everything. It was in an old building on Main Street with overalls as the window display. At Christmas they’d tie red bows on the suspenders and stick candy canes in the pockets, so they’d stick out and make you think you were going to get all that candy if you bought that pair of overalls.
When my sister and I would walk in there with Mama and Daddy, the man who ran the store, Mr. Skelton, and his wife Essie, and their son, Elton, all greeted us by name and welcomed us to look around.
They seemed so happy we’d come in town to do a little Christmas shopping on Saturday night. They’d pat my Daddy on the back, and they’d show him farm shoes and hats and Essie would show Mama fabric and embroidery supplies.
I figured they lived in there since they were always there when we came to town. They had the brightest lights on, and they were so happy to have us come and see their goods.
But what I really looked forward to was for my sister and me to go next door to my aunt’s drug store.
She made the best fresh squeezed lime juice, then added that red syrup juice to it and my mouth would water. If she was out of limes, and they couldn’t always get them in, we’d have a coke with that same red juice in it.
Then the popcorn popper was popping in the front of the store and the smell popped right up your nose from that pan that turned sideways to dump it all out. It was enough to make anybody hungry. ‘Course, since it was our aunt and uncle’s store, we just helped ourselves. We could fill up a sack with popcorn for free.
When we used to play hide and seek in the back of the store, where all the boxes were, we could hear the movie voices from next door at the picture show.
Sometimes we’d sit back there, just on boxes, and listen to Roy Rogers and Gene Autrey movies. Of course, if we decided, we’d pay the dime and get in and see the newsreel and cartoon along with the main show. That’s when I saw Dale Evans in those fancy cowboy boots.
Now back to getting dressed to go to the party, see it was Christmas time and oh, it was cold outside. We had already taken a bath in the metal tub Mama had filled with water she boiled on the stove. We bathed one at a time right there in the kitchen by the stove where it was nice and warm, then we wrapped in towels in towels she warmed by the oven door. Then we jumped in the petticoats she made for my sister and me. She rolled my hair up and curled it and put my sister’s hair in braids with ribbons at the ends.
We were waitin’ on Daddy. The hold-up to go anywhere was always my Daddy. He’d get in late, and Mama would have to rush him to get dressed, while we’d be tellin’ him to hurry up cause the car lights had started meandering up the hill to Grandma’s house; we could already see out the window that people were comin’.
It was the Big Christmas Party she had each year in the parlor of the Big House with Santa Claus and bowls full of ribbon candy and a 15-foot-tall Christmas tree.
Finally, we’d get out the front door headed up to the Big House to the Big Party. My sister and I couldn’t wait; we’d take off our coats that Mama had made, and walk in.
Everyone turned their heads and went on over our dresses and hugged us. I guess they were happy to see us because we were the ones who carried around the bowls full of candy to all of them.
They sat around the room in chairs kinda backed up to the wall with a big fire going in the fireplace, watching the fire ‘cause it popped a lot and they were afraid the big tree would burn, and there was a punchbowl full of what I never cared for, punch.
Now, after all our neighbors had gathered, we were told to close our eyes. “You know who” was coming, they told us, I’d better have been a good girl cause he would know.
We put our hands over our eyes to hold them closed; that way we could peek. I wished I could hide all of me behind my hands about then, since I started rememberin’ how I’d sassed my Mama and been mean to my sister and they said he’d know all of that.
Well, now it was time for Santa Claus. Now they told us we could ask him for anything we wanted. Well, all I could think of were those boots Dale Evans was wearin’ in those Roy Rogers picture shows in town.
When I looked up he came in, and he was as big as the Christmas tree and I was shakin’ inside and out. There was no way to hide cause he spotted me and my sister right away; since we stood out, I guess, everybody was makin’ such a fuss over us.
Well, it looked to me like he almost hurried through the grown-ups and they’d laugh and clap their hands like they weren’t even scared of somebody like him all the way from the North Pole with his reindeer!
Those reindeer were probably parked close to our house out in the pasture, probably drinking out of the pond right out there between the houses.
He was the biggest man I’d ever seen, and he was coming straight for my sister and me. I put my head behind her back and scrunched down. I couldn’t believe it; she could talk to him and she said out loud plain and clear she wanted a panda bear to put on her bed.
He had hold of her hands, then he reached for mine. I tell you my heart was jumpin’ and I couldn’t tell if I could hear the words come out of my mouth or if I was just thinking them. I saw him laugh and felt him squeeze my hands and I knew I never really got those words out that I wanted those Dale Evans boots.
Well, he slowly moved on to the next folks and I ran straight to my Mama and stood right beside her. She was laughing at me for being scared and it looked like other people thought I was foolish too, so I just got behind a chair and cried a little.
Now I never told Mama about how bad I wanted those boots either. It just never seemed like the right time to come out and speak up and say, “I want those Dale Evans boots in the Roy Rogers picture show.” But what always did seem right was my Grandmother’s Christmas Parties and having those neighbors over every year, that fireplace poppin’, those big tall Christmas trees, folks laughing, and me and my sister carrying those bowls full of ribbon Christmas candy. © Susan Swab 2022
Author Susan Swab spent her childhood on a family farm outside Prairie Grove, Arkansas. “Dale Evans Boots” appears here with the kind permission of the author.