In 1966 there were a good many stuffed toys made that were not safe for children. I don't know when they started making them or when they stopped making them. I only remember the impact this had on my wee life and how one remarkable woman saved the day for me many years later.
My Great Grandmother had come to Wichita from Ottawa to spend Christmas day with us. Like all the women from both sides of our family, she was energetic and chatty no matter her age. She'd come with my Grandfather and his wife, Glenna, from Overland Park. The glorious sight of their car in the drive with all those gifts in the back was second only to the tree come Christmas morning. They had arrived in the dark in the middle of a snow shower. It might have been late at night, or it might have been 6:00 in the evening. For some reason I recall their arrival from the vantage point of the front yard rather than through the front window. I watched as my Grandfather and Father piled presents up and took them into the house. The large colorful bulbs that lined the roof were hazy and wondrous through the veil of snowfall. Our tree could be seen through the window. The tinsel didn't hang as much as hover over and around the lights and ornaments. My Mother's approach to decorating the tree was nothing less than artistic. A painter, and later a sculptor, she crafted the tree from the inside out with balance, color, light, and harmony.
The two-bedroom house my parents had rented from my Grandmother was cozy and warm. Our heat came from a floor furnace located in the center of the house between all the rooms. It was easy enough to avoid even though it was large because it was so hot. It was so hot it was scary. And yet, the bedrooms always held a chill. The cracked windowpanes may have had something to do with that.
The air of Christmas morning was heavy with the smell of bacon and coffee. I stumbled sleepily into the living room with my three brothers, one older and two younger than me. Once the tree was within our sight, we were wide-awake. The presents brought from out of town had been placed under the tree right away, but Mom and Dad always waited until the middle of the night to place theirs. Our patience was rewarded every year with a morning vision so breathtaking I can still see it whenever I close my eyes. Mom gave as much care to how the gifts were arranged as she did the decorating of the tree. The gifts were never stacked or piled. They were their own landscape with depth, shape, and texture whether it was a lean year or a time of abundance. While I fidgeted with anticipation, I was also in no hurry to see the earth of gifts supporting the tree get taken apart. We could always tell what was from Santa because the presents from him were different from all the rest. His came in plain colored paper with no ribbon or bow, just a simple tag with a child's name and signed "Love, Santa." He dutifully left behind crumbs on the cookie plate, a drop or two of milk in the glass, and a note that reminded us of the good things we'd done that year.