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People in the News No. 21

People in the News

Episode 21

Dec 24 1937

ANNOUNCER: Merry Christmas, everybody, from the makers of Pall Malls. Once again this new 15¢ cigarette brings you Miss Dorothy Thompson. Many of your good friends have arranged that you will find under your Christmas tree a Holiday carton of the new Pall Malls. We believe you will enjoy them. Made without artificial flavoring, Pall Malls are better ... naturally!

And now, on Christmas Eve, Miss Thompson has chosen a subject that is dear to the heart of every one of us. Her message comes to you as the Christmas gift of Pall Mall cigarettes. Miss Dorothy Thompson! 

[THOMPSON:] It is Christmas Eve - the festival that belongs to mothers and fathers and children, all over the so-called western world. It's not a time to talk about situations, or conditions, or reactions, or people who emerge briefly into the news. Instead, my seven-year-old son suggested that my broadcast for this evening, when he asked me the other day to tell him what Christmas was like when I was a little girl, before people came home for Christmas in airplanes, thirty odd years ago. And so I told him this: 

A long, long time ago, when your mother was your age, and not nearly as tall as you, she lived with her mother, and father, and younger brother, and little sister, in a Methodist parsonage, in Hamburg, New York. It was a tall wooden house, with a narrow verandah on the side edged with curley-cues of woodwork at the top, and it looked across a lawn at the church where father preached every Sunday morning and evening. And in the backyard there were old Baldwin and Greening apple trees, and a wonderful, wonderful barn. But that is another story. The village now has turned into a suburb of the neighboring city of Buffalo, and fathers who work there go in and out every day on the trains and buses, but then it was just a little country town, supported by the surrounding farms.

Father preached in his main church, there, but on Sunday afternoons he had to drive out to the neighboring village of Armor where there was just a little box of [a] church in the middle of the farming country. And for serving both parishes, he received his house -- and one thousand dollars a year. And he didn't always get the thousand dollars, either. Because sometimes the crops were bad, and the farmers had no money, and when the farmers had no money the village people didn't have any either. But then the farmers would come to us with quarters of beef, or halves of pigs, or baskets of potatoes, and make, what they call a donation. My mother hated the word, and sometimes would protest, but my father would laugh, and say, "Let them pay in what they can; We are all in the same boat together." 

Well, then, for weeks before Christmas we were very, very busy. Mother was busy in the kitchen, cutting up citron and sorting out raisins and clarifying suet for the Christmas pudding -- and shooing all of us out of the room, when we crept in to snatch a raisin, or a bit of kernel from the butter-nuts that my little brother was set to cracking on the woodshed floor, with an old-fashioned flat-iron. And I would lock myself into my little bedroom, to bend over a hand handkerchief that I was hemstitching for my mother. It is very hard to hemstitch when you are seven years old, and the thread would knot, and break, and then one would have to begin again, with a little rough place, where one had started over. I'm afraid the border of that handkerchief was just one succession of knots and starts.-- 

The home-made presents were only a tiny part of the work! There was the Christmas tree! Mr. Heist, from my father's Armor parish had brought it in from his farm, a magnificent hemlock, that touched the ceiling. We were transported with admiration, but what a tree to trim! For there was no money to buy miles of tinsel and boxes of colored glass balls.

But in the pantry was a huge stone jar of popcorn. And when school was over, in the afternoons, we all gathered in the back parlor, which was the family sitting room. The front parlor was a cold place, where portraits of John Wesley and Frances Willard hung on the walls, and their eyes, I remember, would follow a naughty child accusingly around the room. The sofas in that room were of walnut, with roses and grapes carved on their backs, just where they'd stick into your back, if you fidgeted in them, and were covered with horse-hair which was slippery when it was new and tickly when it was old. But that room was given over to visits from the local tycoons who sometimes contributed to the church funds, and couples who came to be married. The back parlor was quite, quite, different. It had an ingrain carpet on the floor, with patterns of maple leaves, and white muslin curtains at the windows, and an assortment of chairs contributed by the Parsonage Committee, a morris chair, I remember, and some rockers, and a fascinating cabinet which was a desk and a book-case, and a chest of drawers, and a mirror, all in one. And in this room there was a round iron stove, a very jolly stove, a cosy stove, that winked at you with its red ising-glass eyes. On top of this stove was a round iron plate, it was flat, and a wonderful place to pop corn. I remember there was a great coffee kettle, used for making maple syrup, and we shook the popper on the top of the stove - first I shook, until my arm was tired, and then Willard shook, until he was tired, and even the baby shook, and the corn popped, and we poured it into the kettle and emptied the kettle, and poured it full again, until there was a whole barrel-full of popcorn, as white and fluffy as the snow that carpeted the lawn between the parsonage and the church. 

And then we each got a darning needle, a big one, with a ball of string, and we strung the popcorn into long, long ropes, to hang upon the tree. But that was only half of it! There were stars to be cut out of kindergarten paper, red, and green, and silver, and gold, and walnuts to be wrapped in gold paper, or painted with gold paint out of the paint-box that I had gotten for my birthday. One got the paint into ones finger-nails, and it smelled like bananas. And red apples to be polished, because a shiny apple makes a brave show on a tree. And when it was all finished, it was Christmas Eve. 

For Christmas eve we all wore our best clothes. Baby in a little challis dress as blue as her eyes, and I had a new pinafore of swiss lawn that my Auntie Margaret had sent me from England. We waited, breathless, in the front parlor while the candles were lit. Then mother sat at the upright piano in a rose-red cashmere dress and played, and father sang, in his lovely, pure, gay, tenor voice: 

It came upon the midnight clear 

That glorious song of old 

From angels bending near the earth 

To touch their harps of gold 

And then we all marched in. And it is true that we had decorated the tree ourselves, and knew intimately everything on it, but it shone in the dark room like an angel, and I could see the angels bending down, and it was so beautiful that one could hardly bear it. And we all cried: Merry Christmas! And kissed each other. 

There were bundles under the tree, most alluring bundles. But they didn't belong to Christmas Eve. They were for the morning!

Before the morning would come three little children would sit sleepily in the pews of their father's church and hear words droneily, and shift impatiently. And want to go to sleep in order to wake up very, very early! 

And wake up early we did! The windows were still gray, and, oh, how cold the room was! The church janitor had come over at dawn to stoke the hot air furnace in the parsonage, but at its best it only heated the rooms directly above it, and the upstairs depended on grates in the floor, and the theory that heat rises. We shuddered out of our beds, trembling with cold and excitement, and into our clothes, which, when I was a little girl were very complicated affairs indeed. First, a long fleece-lined union suit, and then a ferris waist dripping with buttons, then the cambric drawers edged with embroidery, and a flannel petticoat handsome with scallops, and another petticoat of cambric and embroidery, just for show, and over that a gay plaid dress, and a dainty pinafore. What polishing of cheeks, and what brushing of hair and then a grand tumble down the stairs into the warm, cozy back parlor. 

Presents! There was my beloved Miss Jam-up with a brand new head! Miss Jam-up was once a sweet little doll, dears, who had become badly battered about the face in the course of too affectionate ministrations, and here she was again, with a new head altogether and new clothes, and eyes that open and shut. And scarfs and mittens from my mother's lively fingers. And a doll house made from a wooden cracker box and odds and ends of wall paper, with furniture cut from stiff cardboard - and that was mother's work, too. And a new woolen dress, and new pinafores!

And under the tree there was a book: The Water Babies, by Charles Kingsley. To my beloved daughter Dorothy.

Books meant sheer magic. There were no automobiles -- none for Methodist ministers, in those days. No moving pictures. No radio. But inside the covers of books was everything, everything, that exists outside in the world today. Lovely, lovely words of poetry, that slipped like colored beads along a string; tales of rose-red cities, half as old as time. All that men can imagine, and construct, and make others imagine. 

One couldn't read the book now. But there it lay, the promise of a perfect afternoon. Before one could get at it, one would go into the dining room. And what a dinner! This Christmas there was Turkey -- with best wishes from one of my father's parishioners. And the pudding, steaming, and with two kinds of sauce. And no one to say, "No, dear, I think one helping is enough". We glutted ourselves, we distended ourselves, we ate ourselves into a coma, so that we all had to lie down and have a nap. 

And then, lying before the stove, propped on my elbows, I opened the covers of my Christmas book. 

"Once upon a time there was a little chimney sweep, and his name was Tom. He lived in a great town of the north country...in England". 

How well I knew that north country, with its rows on rows of dark stone houses, its mine pits, its poor workmen. From such a town my father had come, across the ocean, to this village in up-state New York. And now, I forgot Christmas, forgot everything, except the fate of little Tom. And what a book! It wasn't just a story. There was poetry in it. And the words of the poems sang in my head, so that after all these years I can remember them: 

"When all the world is young, lad, 

And all the trees are green, 

And every goose, a swan, lad, 

And every lass a Queen; 

Then hey for boot and spur, lad, 

And 'round the world away; 

Young blood must have its course, lad, 

And every dog his day". 

And the little girl lay and dreamed that all the world was wide and beautiful, filled only with hearts as warm and hands as tender, and spirits as generous as the only ones she had ever known.. When she was seven years old. 

I wish you all a Merry Christmas! I wish us all a world as kind as a child can imagine it!

ANNOUNCER: And to you, Miss Thompson, the makers of Pall Mall Cigarettes extend their wishes for a very happy Christmas. (PAUSE) May we remind you that next Friday evening - New Year's Eve - Miss Thompson will discuss the man or woman, who, in the opinion of our radio audience, is the outstanding personality of 1937. If you have not yet mailed your vote, you may still do so - but please send it tomorrow at the latest. Who in your opinion is the outstanding personality of 1937? Mail your vote to Pall Mall Cigarettes, in care of this station. 

Nelson Case speaking - and wishing you all on behalf of the makers of Pall Mall Cigarettes a good old fashioned Merry Christmas. 

This is the National Broadcasting Company.