True Tales of Life In the Old Days - Part 9, Recollections of Gladys True, A Vintage Vignette

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True Tales of Life In the Old Days - Part 9
Recollections of Gladys True

A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
October 6, 2009

Long-time Madison resident Gladys McFarlen True in her book “My Life from Wagons to Rockets” told of her perspectives on Christmas in Madison. Excerpts from the book are given below, continuing the series about her life, 1913-2004.

“The merchants downtown enjoyed good business, especially on Christmas Eve. People came and stayed all day, visited, ate lunch, and had a good time. About 7 or 8 P.M., they went home. Life moved so slow back then, and we really enjoyed it. There was no crime. Everybody knew everybody and knew when you had a new dress or a new baby. I was very young then and just probably did not appreciate what a good life we did have.”

“On Christmas Eve, Doc Hughes would get up on the top of the drugstore roof with chickens and a turkey. He placed a piece of paper around the leg of the poultry with a certain amount of money for the winner. He would throw them off and the person who ended up with this piece of paper would bring it into the drugstore and receive the prize. It was looked upon as entertainment and no one got hurt. Everyone had fun.”

“Christmas Eve was a big business day for the local merchants. I worked behind the counter (of Doc Hughes’ drugstore, where Gladys’ husband Robert Edgar ‘Pud’ True worked for their first eight years in Madison) that day to help with the sales. The drugstore had a beautiful, hand-carved soda fountain in the front of the building. This area had two round wooden tables and sets of chairs with round wooden bottoms and wrought iron trim where customers had Cokes, hand-dipped ice cream, and a good view of all the gifts displayed in the glass front display cases. When the building was sold in later years, the antique fixtures brought more than the building. The soda fountain ended up in Texas.”

“I can still remember the first Christmas I worked at the drugstore because I was angry with Pud for not buying me a two-cup percolator for $2.98. He said ‘no’ and just would not change his mind. I found out why when we arrived home later that same day. He had purchased a beautiful cedar chest and it had been delivered that very day. I did not have any idea of this and it was a wonderful surprise. It was the first Christmas we had the funds to exchange nice gifts following our marriage. I was certainly more satisfied with the cedar chest than I would have been with the $2.98 percolator!”

“I only worked at that time helping out in the drugstore on Christmas Eve. We have modern homes today with plenty of storage space, but back then the homes had very little or no closet space to put away Christmas surprises. The armoires of today are sold as antiques. These beautiful, solid wood pieces of furniture were the closets of the past. Many of the families lived in rental homes with little or no closet space, and they really made a special event of their Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve. It was fun to them, not like the anxious shopping of today.”

“(After establishing True’s Grocery Store in later years,) Our business picked up and we worked up to having three boys help in the store, Billy Stewart, Kyle Slater, and Buddy Balch. Christmas was our busiest season. Back then Pud ordered fruit and special things for the holiday season. Raisins came in a wooden box and were stuck together. The boys used a clean poker from one of the new fireside sets we had for sale to lift and stir these raisins so we could package and weigh them in a paper bag. They were still on the stem and were weighed on metal scales. At that time we kept paper bags of all sizes to sack everything: raisins, candy, milk, canned goods, meats, and a whole lot more. Our store had a little of everything.”

While some aspects of the old Christmases in Madison may be appealing, others are not. Such is progress with the passage of time.

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