“My last Christmas (1966) was so totally different, in that the house parents were responsible for shopping for the Christmas gifts you got,” says Mrs. Cluley. “One year, I helped Mrs. Wilds sort the Christmas gifts as they came in from sponsors. She did that up in the attic of the Administration building. It was quite an undertaking!”
By Ada Loraine Beckett Cluley 1956-1967
Christmas. Oh, the smell of the pine! Close your eyes for a moment. Smell the pine needles. No! Not the Pine Sol!!! Remember the excitement when the trees were delivered to the cottage to be decorated. Long before artificial trees. But lots of icicles, and oooh, how angel hair would spread the light on the trees so they looked like multi-colored halos. Mrs. Evans would have the tree in the main building done so beautifully. The tree had to be really tall and full to fill the area outside of the parlor by that wonderful grand-father clock.
Oh, how the days seemed to drag! There were rehearsals at church for the Christmas pageant and Christmas Eve service, cleaning all the buildings till they shined brighter than the moon …now smell the Pine Sol…, and plucking probably a hundred or more hens.
Then the celebrations began. Santa came to each building and took the annual Christmas photo, and some years gave each of us a stocking with apples or oranges and a little candy in it. We were all dressed up in our Sunday clothes and shoes, so we couldn’t eat anything out of it, yet. We went to church, came home and went to bed. After all, it was Christmas Eve, and Santa said he would be coming if we were on his good list. Oohhh, it was hard to sleep, just thinking about the things you had put on your Christmas list. You had to put down clothes and your sizes; but, you could put a couple toys on it. I had a Betsy Wetsy Doll, Barbie Dolls, and Lennon Sister Paper Dolls on my list one year. Eventually, you couldn’t keep your eyes open, so dreams fell on you, and danced all about, not of sugar plums and fairies, but all the things you hoped to get. In the blink of an eye, Christmas morning would arrive.
I remember my first Christmas at the Children’s Home. I was so homesick, but so excited at the same time. It wasn’t like living in a “normal” family situation, where you run to the living room and see all the presents under the tree. There were no gifts under the tree from Santa, just those you had put there for your friends. It didn’t matter. I had been told that Santa would send me gifts from my Christmas list. But, why weren’t they under the tree when I woke up? The other girls didn’t seem distressed about Santa not leaving the gifts under the tree in the cottage. Oh. Maybe they were all under that giant tree in the administration building and we all get together to open gifts there. That must be how it works. That way I get to see what my brother gets from Santa, too. So not to worry!
Well, the breakfast bell rang and no gift opening, yet. I finally had to ask someone what was going on. Whoever I asked told me it would be after breakfast when the boxes were brought over. Oh? Okay? Whatever that meant. Now I knew that before lunch time I would be opening my presents.
Except for the girls on dining hall and kitchen duty, the rest of the girls didn’t have to go to their assigned chore. After breakfast we younger girls were shuffled into the study hall room in our cottage to wait until we were called to come open our presents. Our house mother, Mrs. Grant, was in the basement directing traffic. We were extremely excited as we watched the senior boys bring over boxes after boxes of gifts that had been delivered by Santa. One of the girls watching us would open the door and ask, “Whose box is it?” The boy would tell her and we would all get excited and noisy. It seemed to take forever for all the boxes to be delivered. Then… WHAT? We can’t open them yet?! This isn’t right! It’s Christmas morning ! What’s going on? You have to wait until the senior girl assigned to you gets here to help you. She has to write down who sent each gift and what they sent. Gradually, older girls arrived and took their charge down to the basement, found her boxes, and as each gift was opened the helper wrote down the required information.
An awful lot of time has gone by. Why hasn’t my helper shown up? Did she forget? There are only two of us waiting. Maybe because this is my first Christmas here she doesn’t want to be my helper. Okay, here we go! Oh my gosh!! What a mess! There is paper everywhere. How do they find their gifts?
My helper takes me to my space in the basement, and I begin to open a package. She yells for me to wait. But… I’ve been waiting forever! I want to open presents! She says give it to her so she can write down who sent it. I do so and then rapidly take the gifts and tear the paper off as she gives them back to me. She explains to me, that after lunch we don’t get to play until we write thank-you cards to each person that sent a present.
I guess my eyes were open to the reality about this aspect of Christmas. My Santa— was my sponsors. Over the years, I had great sponsors. Two of the churches that supported me were Our Savior Lutheran Church in Norge, Va. (This was the home church of Mrs. White, who was a house mother at the Sr. Girls Cottage for several years), and Advent Lutheran Church in Charleston, S.C. (This was my home church before being sent to LCH).
I drove through Norge last summer and stopped to take a picture, and I visited Advent again in February 2013 when I went to South Carolina for my brother Lawton Beckett’s funeral. I have always remembered both of these church families, and many others over the years. I think other children from The Home, have also remembered and thought about their sponsors as well. So, on behalf of all the children who passed through the doors of the Lutheran Children’s Home of the South, I want to thank you all for the dedication and services you provided us. THANK YOU SO MUCH!