Out on the ranch, Christmas began for my brother and me when the Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward Christmas catalogs arrived on the mail truck. We pored over every page of the toy sections until the catalogs literally fell apart.
I eventually had to decide on one doll for Santa Claus to bring me, and my brother, Warner, chose a truck. Looking back, I think it was a miracle that Santa found us out on that isolated cattle ranch in Nevada, but I remember the Christmas Eve of 1944 when he actually came twice.
After our supper, my parents, my brother and I sat in the living room near the oil stove and looked in wonder at our beautiful tree we had cut from the hills above the ranch. We sang Christmas songs while Mom played the player piano. The words were printed on each roll as the paper slowly moved around the cylinder. My dad played "Silent Night" on his harmonica. Then since Warner and I knew Santa would not come while we were up, we announced we were going to bed early.
Cookies and milk were set out for Santa, Dad turned off the power plant, and the rancher became very dark and quiet -- except for the chimes of the clock on the small shelf in the dining room outside our bedroom door.
"When the clock chimes four times," my mother told us, "you can wake us up, and we'll all go into the living room to see what Santa has left for you."
It was impossible to get to sleep, so we began to count the chimes each quarter hour and then the ones on the hour ... nine, 10, finally one, two three. We would whisper the number to each other every hour to make sure we'd counted right. At 3 o'clock, Warner decided we should take our flashlight and creep into the living room and just look at our toys, but we wouldn't touch them.
It was very dark, but as the flash of light moved under the tree, I saw my beautiful doll. She was leaning against a package, and she was so much more beautiful than she had looked in that catalog. We sat by the tree, shivering and moving the flashlight from my doll to Warner's truck. Then we crept back into our beds and again began listening to the clock chime. We counted, one, two, three, four. Four o'clock! We threw on our robes and slippers and rushed to our parents' bedroom.
My father quickly dressed and went out to turn the power plant on again. Mom, Warner and I went into the living room to wait for the lights to come on. Then Warner and I looked at each other in total amazement. There, sitting next to Warner's truck was a Gen. MacArthur doll. And sitting next to my doll was a second truck in a different color.
Of course Santa knew we only played with our toys when we were together. I had always wished for the same toy Warner wanted, but I wouldn't give up my doll, either. This was the perfect solution. But why did he wait until early on Christmas morning to come back with a doll for Warner and a truck for me? To ask our parents about this would be to admit we had sneaked out of our beds before the clock chimed four. Maybe Santa just had some toys left over, we decided.
That player piano is in my living room today, and the old clock sits on top of it. I usually forget to keep it wound most of the year, but every Christmas Eve, I wind it and listen to the chimes -- one, two, three, four.