Love outlasts poverty for newlyweds during Christmas 1934


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Jul 12, 2016
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My annual contribution to the spirit of, and reason for, Christmas.


Love outlasts poverty for newlyweds during Christmas 1934: Written by J.J. Pursely

Printed in the Lawton Constitution

Editor’s Note: For many Oklahomans, Christmas in 1934 is more likely to be remembered as a hard one due to the Depression and the Dust Bowl. But Lawton resident the late J.J. Pursley, writing in the mid-1980s, remembered that holiday, not because of what he and his new bride Wilma didn’t have but what they had — a special kind of love.

Two people in love, barely 18 years old, not even dry behind the ears, married April 21, 1934. It was a year of the Great Depression, people living in poverty, dust bowl days, so bad you had to wet a rag to put over your face so you could breathe. The days would turn dark as night. People by the millions were out of work — wages were 50 cents to $1 a day — some more and some less.By the thousands, people were leaving Oklahoma for California and any place where they could find work.

Since April, I had had only odd jobs; barely enough to buy food, coal and kerosene. Pretty Boy Floyd, Bonnie and Clyde and soup lines were in the news. There were people living on the banks of Cache Creek with few belongings, not enough food or clothing. In my mind, it will always be a pitiful sight.

Wilma and I awoke that day facing a bleak Christmas Eve — no job, no food or heat. The water faucet was outside and it had frozen. We could see out the window and it was drizzling rain and spitting snow. Our little house had 1x12 sidewalls, wooden floors and inside was bare wood, no insulation and no sheet rock. We could hear the wind whistling through the cracks and water dripping in pans we had put on the floor.

Our only belongings were a three-quarter bed, a tinbelly wood stove, a small sofa and a two-burner kerosene cook stove. On the walls, I had nailed wooden orange crates for her to use as cabinets. I turned two orange crates upright, with a board across, so she could set her stove on it. She had made little curtains to hang from the front. We did not have much, but there were others who had less.

I had not enjoyed a real gift Christmas like some others. Our childhood Christmas was always going to the church to receive a sack of candy and nuts. I’m not complaining — there were seven boys and two girls in our family and it took all the money Dad made to feed and clothe us and pay the bills. I would not trade my childhood days at home for all the gifts in the world. It was a family of love, and as little as we had, we cared and shared with one another.

Lying there in bed, I looked at Wilma and something burned inside me to make this Christmas one that she would remember for a lifetime. As bad as it was out, I asked her if she would help me gather pecans so that we might exchange gifts. With a big smile, she said, “Yes.” Neither of us had warm clothes, so we got up and put on all that we had. My shoes were worn out on the bottom, so I cut cardboard and put it inside them so my feet wouldn’t touch the ground. We had some gunnysacks and I wrapped them around our feet for warmth. We left our little house holding hands and started toward Squaw Creek.

I knew she was hungry, so the first pecans we picked up, we cracked them and had some to eat, so we could make it through the day. Most of the pecans had been gathered already. We walked five miles, climbing up and down trees, finding them wherever we could. She had worked so hard bending over all day and I knew she was tired. It was near 4 p.m. and I said, “Let’s go back to town and sell what we have.”

We had to walk fast, and, I must say, the sack seemed like it weighed a hundred pounds. Our feet were cold and we were shivering. We barely made it to Fuller Creamery on South 3rd Street. He was going to close early because of Christmas Eve. I said, “Mr. Fuller, we have been out all day picking up pecans so we could have money to buy each other gifts.” He smiled and said, “Put them on the scales.” There were all sizes and some had worm holes in them. After some time, he said, “You have a dollar’s worth.”

By this time it was 6 p.m. We hurried to S. H. Kress Co. at 328 C Avenue. She had 50 cents and I had the same. In the store we went different directions, buying something for each other. I did not know what she had bought for me, but this is what I bought for her. She had wanted a real coffee pot, so I found a four-cup percolator with a little glass on top so you could see when it started to perk. Our old coffee pot was a can we used to boil water in and then we added the coffee grounds. I paid 15 cents for it. Wilma had only one slip — by day she wore it with a dress and at night she wore it as a gown. I found a pretty pink flannel gown for 20 cents. Then I bought some gloves to cover her sweet little hands when she was cold. We met sometime later at the front door.

I asked her if she had spent all of her money and she said she hadn’t. She had 15 cents left and I had a nickel, so between us we had 20 cents. I took her down to Sid’s Hamburger Stand at 308 C Avenue, and we had two hamburgers, five cents each, and two Cokes.

We started walking home toward our little slat house. I knew we had no wood, so on the way I picked up some orange crates at the Nash-Finch Co. at 3rd and F Avenue, and carried them home. We lit the kerosene lamp and built a fire out of the pine wood from the crates. The fire got so hot that the stove pipe from the heater to the ceiling was red-hot. At least we were finally getting warm for the first time that day. We sat down near the stove and sang Christmas songs.

I could hardly wait for her to see what I bought for her. We would take turns pulling the presents out of each sack — no Christmas wrappings on anything. I think she squealed the loudest when she saw the coffee pot. I received from her a pair of socks, a scarf and a pair of gloves. I don’t think she will ever be as beautiful as she was that night in her new gown — there was glow and radiance of love that I had not felt, but it will last a lifetime in my heart.

The lamp had burned itself out and the fire had died down, so we went to bed with such a joyous feeling. As she lay in my arms, we pondered the greatest gift of all. It was not what we had given each other, but rather what God had given us, a baby in a manger — our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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