No Reindeer games for me in 1941

Our Christmas of 1941 actually began with a series of unusual events that started in late August. Our family had joined up with the Rodkey family for a brief vacation near Geneva on the Lake. I was 5 going on 6.

Joann, 10, and I were playing along a road near our cottage. I spied a toy pistol lying in the gutter and picked it up.  It was a working cap pistol. Joann claimed that she saw it first and tried to yank it from me. I won and threw it at her, causing a nasty cut on her forehead. Although it wasn’t serious, Joann, her older sister Jackie, and my 11-year-old sister joined together in their disdain for me, and I was ostracized for the balance of our stay. I tried to apologize to Joann, but I was rebuffed.

School began the following September at Garfield Elementary. I was in the first grade. I was very slow on the uptake and, although the others could, I couldn’t read a word or identify a letter. Most of the kids in my class had gone to kindergarten. Just as I was slowly beginning to catch on, I came down with tonsillitis and wound up getting my tonsils and adenoids out in Drs. Beal and Shapiro’s office. Recovery was very slow.

Back in school I had fallen even further behind. To add to my sinking morale, Mom came down with a serious case of pneumonia and was placed in St. Joseph Riverside Hospital on an emergency basis. She was in an oxygen tent when my sister and I were sneaked in to visit her. She gave us her half-used up box of Whitman’s Sampler chocolate.

During Mom’s stay in the hospital, my sister and I were farmed out to stay at the Rodkey’s. Because of my pistol-throwing incident, I was regarded as a pariah.

Even though the song had been out since 1939, this part of the verse fit quite well: “They never let poor Rudolph (me) join in any reindeer games.” My sister and the Rodkey girls would have nothing to do with me. Incidentally, I didn’t have a red nose.

So, I retreated to the basement and drew pictures of Santa and Christmas trees on a chalk board I found there. Mr. Rodkey was recovering from surgery, so he wasn’t very participative. Mrs. Rodkey became my rock.

Then, on Dec. 7, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, along with the ships there, my morale was going down with them. I was extremely frightened by the prospect of war.

At school, it seemed that the only skill I succeeded in was playing the triangle for our Christmas play. I still couldn’t read, and Miss Helbel placed me at a special table with Billy, Ralph and Lloyd who spent a lot of their time eating paste.

Mom finally came home just before Christmas in a huge white Buick hearse/ambulance combo. She wore a beautiful quilted satin bed jacket and someone had given her an ornate brass bell to be used to summon help.

Mrs. DelBene, a nurse and friend of the family, took care of Mom as she continued to recover at home.

Christmas finally did come, and our little family was able to quietly celebrate it. Dad had put together a new Lionel train layout for me, and it was a delight. Mom’s return from the hospital had brought my world back to just about normal.

I still puzzled at how Santa had managed to get down our chimney and into our new house. Even when the cast iron damper in the chimney flue was wide open, I could see that it would be difficult for even a medium-sized cat to squeeze through.

Years later, when I came home from the U.S. Army on furlough, Joann, her sister and their respective husbands, fixed me up with a very pretty young woman. We triple dated and we all had a great time out on the town together.

I guess all was finally forgiven.


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