Christmas in 1952: Tragical to Magical

Christmas in 1952: Tragical to Magical

March, 1952. ALL the Anderson children, upon arriving home from Mama’s funeral. If you notice, we all attended. There was no question that I at 5, was too young or should not attend. I am happy to have this picture and comforting proof that I participated and was there with my family to honor my Mama.
From Left to right: Phillip in front, John behind, Esther, Anne (front) Naomi, Ruth, Daniel, David. (Car was Uncle Bill’s new Olds).

Christmas in 1952: Tragical to Magical

December, 1952 – I was 5 years old.  There was a walkway from the street to the back door, which my brothers kept shoveled despite snow that was higher than our heads.  The plowed and drifted snow banks were up to the second floor of the house.  I am the youngest in a family of eight.  Six of us were still at home.

Mama had died that March at home after a long illness.  I turned 5 that April.  Then daddy died in October and there we all were.  Alone in a big, drafty old dilapidated 17-room house that was not insulated.  That was why the snow was piled so high around the sides.  My brothers used it as a form of insulation.  Shoveled and packed tightly against the house, it kept it warmer, actually.

But now it would soon be Christmas.  How would there ever be a Christmas this year?  What could we possibly get for each other with no money and no parents?  If mama and daddy could be taken away, who could say if Santa would even come to our house?  I had my doubts and fears and my little heart was sad and empty.

In 1952, there was no such thing as welfare.  There were no agencies to watch over a small family of kids in a tiny town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  Our oldest brother was able to become executor over an old car and this house that daddy had bought for $350 before I was born in the 1940’s.


Photo Credit:


Our oldest sister was able to come home and become our legal guardian.  Daddy had served in World War I, and there was a small amount of orphan’s pension that would eventually come each month to cover basic food and utilities.  But daddy had just died.  All that would take time and Christmas was looming quickly and bleakly.

A moment of excitement came one day when my older brothers, who had been gone all day, burst noisily in through the front door. (This was the company door and only used when company came.) The “front room” was the only room with a rug that looked nice.  This was the room where mama’s casket was placed when people came to call.  It was closed off and not heated in winter.

Here were my brothers, covered with snow, freezing cold, laughing and dragging in a tree they had found and cut.  Not an easy task, trudging through deep snow in the woods, cutting and dragging home a tree for us.

Decorating the tree was special.  Mama’s ornaments came out.  A few strings of lights… Plastic icicles that caught the light, colorful, fragile glass balls, candles, and angels.  There were long strings of tiny glass beads, more broken every year but still usable.  Finally the tinsel! Made of real aluminum and put up one strand at a time, careful not to pull too hard or it would break.  It had to be saved from year to year.

I remember lying on the floor at night, propped up on my elbows in front of that lighted tree, with my brother Phil, with his arm around me.  The room was freezing cold, but it was magical. We had the tree and decorated it in all of our very best. Surely Santa might still come.  Would he?  I stayed there as long as I could stand it, night after night, dreaming and hoping.  Phil was always beside me, with his arm wrapped around me for warmth.

On Christmas morning I was afraid to go down.  I hesitated.  We read the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2 in the prayer room.  We prayed and thanked God for keeping us.  Then we opened the door and went into the front room.

Annie-2The room was filled with magic!  Gifts from Santa were never wrapped.  There were so many things from Santa and they all seemed to be just made for a little girl!

He DID come!  He DID find our house!  I remember several, but the one I still have in my possession to this day was “Bonnie Braids”, the Dick Tracy walking doll.    (But that is another story!)

Unknown to me, the people of that little town, almost to a person, came here and there, wanting to leave money or a gift for the little orphan girl who just lost both of her parents in the mere months before this Christmas.  So my older siblings made the magic happen.

All I knew was this:  If Santa could find the house of one little girl far in the north and the snow and make her so happy, then maybe there would be more to be happy about another day.  I decided that my life was going to be mostly ok after all.

And it was.

Do you have a favorite Christmas you would like to share?  I for one would love to hear about it.

Molly Keating
Molly Keating
Hello! I'm Molly and I run & manage the Blog here at O'Connor. I grew up in a mortuary with a mortician for a father who's deep respect for the profession inspired me to give working at a mortuary a try. Work at O'Connor has brought together two of my deep passions, writing & grief awareness. In 2016 I earned Certification in the field of Thanatology, the study of Death, Dying and Bereavement. I am honored to be able to speak on these taboo topics with knowledge, compassion, and a unique perspective. I want to sincerely thank you for following & reading the blog, I hope that this is a healing place for you.


  1. Hi Anne –
    Wow what an amazing story & life you have! I am truly moved by the death of your parents at such a young age, and the town that provided your family with presents. I love how you felt the christmas magic in such a dark time, faith is an amazing part of life, we can still have light in the darkest hours of our lives.

    • Anne says:

      A flashlight does little good at noon, but in the darkest moonless night, it casts a helpful, welcoming beam.
      When there is an absence of even the basic necessities, faith can grow. Then when the need is fulfilled, the joy becomes so great, and thankfulness so deeply experienced, that the memory easily holds it and faith can grow and develop. All one has to do is remember the milestones.
      I would never wish troubles on anyone. Yet the greatest stories occur during adversities.

  2. Carrie Bayer says:

    Anne, this brought me to tears! Even though you gave me a brief overview before you were finished writing it so I knew what it would be, it is more beautiful than I ever imagined a sad story to be. And the fact that is is YOUR story…. WOW, just wow…. You have an amazing family of siblings & it is easy to see where you get it from. You are one my my most amazing friends, thank you for sharing your story! I love you! Carrie

    • Anne says:

      Now you know why we travel to MI every year to gather.
      After a number of years when all had graduated but me, the homeplace was closed up and sold. By then I had moved in with my sister Esther, more than a day’s journey away. It wasn’t long before we were all scattered over the country.
      It was over 40 years before we had a reunion with all 8 siblings gathered together at Lake Tahoe, CA in one place for a few days. At the end, when everyone was dragging suitcases and coolers out to their vehicles, Lou had Andreas Bocelli cranked up full blast on the car radio singing “Time to Say Goodbye” . Everyone was emotional. We vowed to make sure it happened again. Now it is easier because we all come to the same place every year, except for one sister who has been too ill to make it and the two that have died. Family is important.
      I love you too, Carrie

  3. Cheryl Lanterna says:

    Dear Anne,
    Although I don’t know you personally, I know many of the other wonderful people at O’Connor. Today is the day after Christmas and I opened your story-it is heartwarming and also inspirational to read the way a family came together to take care of each other. What a beautiful story and reminder of what family, friendship and human kindness should be. Although I am saddened to learn that you lost your dear parents at such a young age, I am inspired to read about how you all overcame such a hardship. Thank you for sharing! May the New Year be good to you and those you love.

    • Anne says:

      Thank you for commenting on the blog. I know many read, but so few will add their two cents. And sometimes when you have exposed yourself as I have in this particular piece, you appreciate gathering a few coins of comment.
      I will be forever grateful to my older brothers and sisters. The older ones, especially, gave up a lot. I know my second oldest brother was shocked when right after graduation, the oldest brother handed him the keys to the car and said, now you are in charge. Take over. I want to get married.
      Each and every one in their time and place have given much to me. As the youngest, I was the most vulnerable, and yet, in another way, the most untouched by all that had occurred before, a clean slate, so to speak. All my siblings had their opinions of what I needed to know, to learn. I was a handful, yet they all loved me and watched out for me and I knew it. They taught me the greater value of a good mind and pure heart over outward beauty or wealth or nice things. Not that we minded if any of that came our way. It was just considered an extra blessing.
      I am glad we stayed together as long as we did.

  4. April says:

    Such a wonderfully written story. Brought tears to my eyes. I think most of us don’t realize how hard life was back in those days let alone to loose your parents. You were very fortunate to have a loving family to watch over you, and a community that came together in love and caring. You’re a bright spot in my life and always a great encouragement.

    I love you mom,

    • Anne says:

      Thank you for reading and taking time to leave a comment. Growing up in a small town can put you under a microscope, but it also has the warmth of knowing most everyone and everyone knowing you. I know realistically in a town of 500, maybe only close neighbors actually sent or gave a few coins but it seemed like we were surrounded with care for that Christmas. At least I was. Naomi said the AmVets gave us a big basket, which probably included Christmas dinner fixings.
      If I am a bright spot in your life, it is partly the bright reflection of joy you are to dad and I. Every day is better when you are in it.
      I love you, April

  5. Judy Williams says:

    What a wonderful way to end my busy, busy Christmas Day! You have so blessed me, Ann! Thanks for sharing – thanks so much! Love, Judy

    • Anne says:

      Thank you so much for taking time at this busy, busy season to read and send a comment. You bless me back more than you know.
      Sending love and hugs

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