These Christmas gifts had strings attached, thanks to dad

Susan Manzke
Susan with her Howdy Doody, still in her household after all these years

Christmas is upon us. For me, this didn’t mean a lot of shopping, even online. My grandchildren are old enough to appreciate a card with cash more than they would if I sent them winter pajamas again.

Bags were packed for each family. I didn’t even use a Christmas bag for these packages. My gift bags were the brown ones from the grocery store—I’m big into recycling and these bags fit the bill. Also wrapping paper won’t just get ripped to shreds and tossed.

Today my mind drifted back to my youth and a special Christmas I remember.

This particular year, my mother was laid up with blood clots in her legs. I think I was five years old, and my sister Karen was three.

Mom couldn’t do any of her usual shopping or work around the house. Dad had to do everything.

Of course, Karen and I didn’t have any real understanding of how sick our mother was. Even though Mom had to lay with her feet up, a Christmas tree came into our living room—that had to be Dad’s work.

We children were sure Santa would come as usual, though my parents weren’t so sure about the big man in red’s arrival.

Dad wasn’t big on shopping. I don’t remember him going to the grocery store, let alone a department store—not until much later in life. After retirement, Dad haunted rummage sales.

Anyway, someone had to do something so Santa wouldn’t forget us, and that was left up to Dad.

Karen Mouseketeer and Howdy Doody are treasured mementoes from Susan Manzke's childhood.

I don’t know if Mom gave him any advice before sending him out to do Christmas gift shopping. I can only guess that she sent him on his way with a few suggestions.

On Christmas morning, Karen and I were not surprised to find packages from Santa under our tree. That was what we expected. We had no idea that our special elf that year was our Dad.

I think Mom expected to see two dolls when Karen and I ripped open our gifts. She must have been surprised by what was inside.

Karen and I didn’t exactly get dolls. We got marionettes. Karen’s was a roller-skating Mouseketeer. Mine was a Howdy Doody.

We were thrilled, even though working the marionettes wasn’t easy for us at that time. I think we got more tangled up in the strings instead of getting our gifts to dance, walk, or roller skate.

Our Dad, a big kid at heart, worked hard, making those two dolls move. As our hands were too little to make much progress, his hands were too big. Still, he tried.

Along with Howdy Doody and the Mouseketeer, Karen and I each had another package to open. These wrapped gifts were much more practical. We got gloves—those must have been Mom’s suggestion. Too bad there was a problem with the gloves. They were lady's gloves. Even when we pulled them on as far up our hands and arms as we could, the fingers dangled inches away from our little digits. Karen and I thought the gloves were fun. We flapped around the house wearing them.

Susan holds sister Karen's roller-skating Mouseketeer from the 1950s.

I don’t know what we ate for Christmas dinner. Dad cooked great soups and stews but never a turkey. That was Mom’s specialty. I doubt if we had cookies, at least none homemade. It didn’t matter to the two children in the house. Santa had come and we were happy.

This long-ago Christmas has stuck with me over the years. If asked, I consider it my favorite childhood Christmas and that’s probably why I saved the marionettes.

My dad loved Christmas. He played Santa for us and my cousins. Too bad the first year, he thought he was too young and wore a Santa mask. That year, children ran from that grizzly-looking Santa, which shocked Dad. He was trying to bring cheer and ended up getting tears. After that, the mask was tossed and he used his own face.

May I wish you a Merry Christmas and a visit from a Santa who won’t scare the bejesus out of you.

Susan Manzke, Sunnybook Farm, N8646 Miller Rd, Seymour, WI 54165;;