My mother Wenonah, or Jim as most people knew her, was fiercely independent. After my father's death 10 years ago, she continued to live alone in the house they had built 40 years before. Until a month before her death this year at the age of 96, she cooked her own meals, drove her own car, paid her own bills, and exercised vigorously for 30 minutes every day. Jim washed her dishes by hand. Her dishwasher died of old age without ever being used. She used a washing machine to wash her clothes, but refused to have a drier, saying she liked the crisp feel of clothes dried outside on a line. Sometimes the weather was a little crisp too when she hung out her clothes, but she liked it that way.
I called Jim every two or three days after my father died, but living 600 miles away my visits were infrequent. During Jim's last years, all of her contemporaries were gone. There were a few friends and family members who called, but her main contacts were her next door neighbor, her yard man, and her hair dresser. She spent our last few visits together showing me keep sakes. The house was full of them. In fact there was hardly anything that didn't have a story.
One day Jim opened a dresser drawer and pulled out a little box. I recognized the box. It contained a tiny manger scene that she had set up every Christmas as long as I could remember, but I had never heard its story.
Jim and Don, 1941
My parents were married in 1941, and their first Christmas together came just two weeks after Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Everett, my father's younger brother, was on the Battleship Oklahoma which was sunk during the attack, so the family assumed that he had been killed. Christmas was the last thing on their minds.
Jim said that she and Don, my father, lived in an apartment just about a block from her sister Kaliteyo. Kaliteyo's daughter, Lahoma was in the sixth grade that year, and every day after school Lahoma would come by to visit Jim. She was always cheerful and Jim looked forward to seeing her, in spite of the cloud that hung over their lives.
Lahoma and Kaliteyo
One Saturday Lahoma came by to visit and brought with her a large paper bag. Don was off work so both he and Jim were at home. Lahoma announced that they needed some Christmas decorations, and then proceeded to take little ornaments out of her bag and put them around the room. Lahoma and her mother were struggling to make ends meet, and it was a sacrifice for her to spend her meager allowance on decorations for them. Jim and Don promised to try to be happy for Christmas.
Manger Scene, 1941
Jim said that the next day she decided to celebrate Christmas. She went to Greens, a variety store similar to T, G and Y, and bought a manger scene for 50₵. So thanks to Lahoma they managed to have a little joy on their first Christmas together.
It was January before they got the news that Everett had survived the attack on Pearl Harbor. My father got a job at Boeing aircraft and didn't have to go to war, but two of his brothers served in the Pacific.
As I looked at the little manger scene again after all these years, I noticed printed on the box: "Made in Japan."
Lahoma, Jim, and Don at Oklahoma State Fair, 1941