Pop Beads & Tie Clips – Memories of Christmas

The Christmas after I turned nine, Mama let me take the bus to downtown Prichard, all by myself, to shop for presents. And I had a whole seven dollars to spend! I was so excited I couldn’t sit still. I hugged myself and jiggled up and down in my seat, till an old lady got on and sat beside me.

I got off the bus in front of Kress’s Five and Ten.

It was the best store for buying presents in Prichard – maybe in all of Mobile. It had rows and rows of counters piled high with everything anybody could want.

I walked in past the lunch counter and into a whole section with nothing but toys. But I only stopped for a few minutes, because I was there on important business.

I went to the men’s department. I liked the first thing I saw, a fancy pipe made of dark swirly wood, but it was two dollars and thirty-five cents, and Daddy smoked cigarettes anyway. I moved to the fountain pens. I knew Daddy didn’t have one. I liked a silver and gold pen and pencil set in a black case. It looked like it cost too much, but it was only seventy-five cents. Daddy would look real smart when he signed checks at the bank. I was telling the saleslady I wanted it, when I saw the cutest thing, a little ceramic hobo with a red nose, bowed mouth, and black top hat. It had a hole in its belly, and I supposed that was why it only cost thirty-five cents, but the saleslady told me the hole was on purpose. If Daddy put a cigarette in his stomach, smoke would come out of his mouth. I could see Daddy laughing and showing it off to Uncle Stanley when he came for dinner.

I bought the hobo and pen set, and still had nearly six dollars left to buy gifts for Mama and Grandma. I turned to go to the jewelry counter, but I saw something else perfect for Daddy – a gold tie clip with a silver boat on it for fifty-five cents. Daddy was a tugboat captain. I had to buy it.

Then I went to find a gift as nice for Mama. I walked down isles with things for women – fabric and buttons in every color, dress patterns, dresses, underwear, scarves,  hats, and perfume. I liked the dark blue Evening In Paris perfume bottle, but Mama didn’t wear perfume.

The jewelry counter had so many things – necklaces, beads, bracelets, pins, watches, and rhinestone earrings. I liked the glittery red beads, and asked the saleslady if she thought they’d be a good gift for my mama. She squinted, and shook her head – too showy. She led me to a display of colored beads. She picked up a purple strand, winked at me, and broke it in two! I must have looked scared, because she laughed and put the beads back together. “They’re not broken,” she said. “They’re pop beads. All the ladies love them.”

“Look,” she said, and took a long string apart and made two. “Your mother can have a double or a triple strand, or she can make a bracelet. Try it.” She let me try. Pop beads! I picked a three-strand set in three shades of pink, rose to carnation. They would go with Mama’s gray suit. I bought them and earrings to match, and had two dollars and twelve cents left.

I already knew what I’d get for Grandma – the Lilacs and Roses Talcum Powder she loved. I found a little pin to go with it, a red-crystal rose on a green stem.

I still had enough money to get a coke-float and a bus ticket, plus a quarter extra. I got an idea. Mrs. Gates, an old lady on our street, was so sweet to me. I’d get a present for her, and I knew what. In the back, behind the dishes, for just ten cents each, were wax flowers and vases – I was certain they were real crystal. I bought a vase with a red rose in it.

I skipped home from the bus stop with my packages, hid away in my room, and spread the gifts out on my bed. I scrunched up my face in a smile. Everybody would be so happy. I got Mama’s wrapping paper and tape, and set about my wrapping.

I had a great idea for Daddy. I’d make a card for him, wrap the gifts, and use ribbon to tie them to the card. I started with the card.

I could see in my head what I wanted it to look like, but I wasn’t getting it to happen. I cut the paper too small for the pen set. I tried to patch it. It was ugly. I worked on the hobo next. He was worse, a lumpy, lopsided, blob, held together by a half-roll of tape. That’s when I threw a temper tantrum. I tore paper and ribbons off of one ugly package after another and threw them on the floor until it was a cluttered mess.

I kept trying, but no matter how hard, I didn’t get it right. I kept on until Christmas Eve when I gave up and put them under the tree.

Before dawn on Christmas morning, I was wide awake, and it was hours till I could wake up Mama and Daddy without getting in trouble. I lay back and stared up at the ceiling, picturing what it would be like when my family opened my gifts – oohing and aahing over them. It gave me a little shiver. This was going to be the best Christmas ever!

Finally, it was quarter till seven, and I decided it was late enough. I ran past the living room without looking in to see what Santa had brought for me, burst into to their room, and jumped on the bed. “It’s Christmas! Wake up! Santa Claus came. Let’s go!

I got Grandma, and we all went in to the living room, a magical place, that glowed from the lights on the tree, and decorated with filled stockings and gifts from Santa. A Barbie doll in a black gown, china tea set, Monopoly game, colored pencils, and a hula hoop were displayed around the tree. It was more beautiful than any department store Christmas window in Mobile. Nobody ever knew how to make Christmas like my mama!

I studied my gifts while Mama made coffee and hot chocolate, then we were ready to open presents. “Open mine first! Here, Grandma, go first.” Grandma opened her pin. “Oh, my, my,” she said – she always said that. “Isn’t this the prettiest thing – and she pinned it right on her nightgown.

Next, Mama. First, she read the note I’d taped to her present. “Dear Mama. I picked this special for you because you always like to look pretty, and it will be pretty with your gray suit. Mama you’re the most fun person to be with in the world. I loved you yesterday, but then, I loved you more. And now, I love you more than that!”

She opened the box, and I knew she liked it when she inhaled real fast. She already knew about pop beads. “These are nice. I was hoping for some when I saw Mrs. Reeves wearing hers on Sunday.” She did her crooked grin, and said, “and later, if we’re bored, we can take them apart and make new things.”

Then, I took Daddy’s presents, and held them up by the card, the gifts pulling the paper and dangling like a broken puppet. “I couldn’t get it to look the way I wanted.” I said.

“Well, it’s different. Let me guess. It’s a dog.” I shook my head. “Then soup bones? No? I’d better just open it.” He read the card first. He loved it – I could tell. He opened the pen set. “I’ll write real fancy with these.” When he saw the tie clip, he said, “Stanley’s going to be jealous of this.” He clipped it to his collar. “Now let’s see what this funny thing is,” and he unwound the paper wrapped round and round. When he saw the hobo, he smiled. I told him how it worked, and he said. “This goes on the mantle. Stanley will get a kick out of it.” I couldn’t stop smiling.

After breakfast, I went to see Mrs. Gates, and gave her the present. She carried on like I’d given her a Cadillac car or something. “This is just beautiful and so fine. Why, just look at this vase. It catches light just like crystal.” She hugged me. “You’re the sweetest girl to think of me. You’ve just made my Christmas!”

It was the best Christmas – just like I knew it would be.


December 13, 2019