Christmas 1960: Monroe, Washington

The log house in Monroe, Washington. Summer 1960

December 20, 2021

Woke this morning thinking about the log house in Monroe, winter thoughts, a pulling up of memories, Christmas memories, from that long ago time. Ben, the girls and I, spent only one Christmas in the log house, Christmas 1960. We must have had a Christmas tree that year, but no images come. I can’t actually see it. There is just a faint memory of going out into our woods to look for a tree. My ideal trees were noble firs and blue spruce, sweet smelling trees with sturdy branches prefect for holding ornaments. They were not native to our northwest Washington woods, however. The evergreen trees that grew up here, and grew in abundance, were Douglas firs, hemlocks and western red cedars. Hemlocks and cedars had weak, drooping branches and did not fit my idea of a Christmas tree. Even though the branches on young Doug firs were also rather weak, they did have a classic pyramid shape. With ornaments and lights one would be okay.

The tree would have been set in front of one of two big windows in the living room, windows that faced the road. This room, the original log house, was huge. A river rock fireplace set between the two front windows provided the only heat. The fireplace had no damper, and when a fire was burning, air from the whole house was sucked up the chimney creating a zone of blistering heat in front of the fireplace and arctic cold in the rest of the house. Needless to say, we burned a fire only on special occasions; the rest of the time we kept a blanket tacked up in front of the opening to help keep down drafts. Christmas Eve would definitely have been one of the occasions when we took down the blanket and built a fire.

My parents and little sister Jacque drove up from Phoenix to spend Christmas with us that year, that I do remember. I was so happy they were coming, remember shopping for gifts for them at the Coast to Coast store in town, remember sewing a wool plaid jumper for Jacque, carefully matching the plaid, lining the top in red satin. That was the Christmas Ben and I built a play kitchen for Beni and Renee. Ben used 1/4 inch plywood to construct a cabinet long enough for a sink, stove top and oven with cabinets underneath. I painted the cabinets pink and glued down some white vinyl tile on the countertop, bought a turquoise plastic dish pan to inset into the counter for the kitchen sink. It was fun to make and when finished looked more ‘real’ than the plastic play kitchens one saw in stores. Looking ‘real’ had been my primary criteria for judging toys when I was a child, and I assumed my girls would feel the same. I could hardly wait for them to see it when we opened presents on Christmas Eve.

Renee and Beni were still just little girls Christmas 1960. Renee was four, Beni three months shy of her third birthday. That was the year I looked at them and wished I could slow down time, wished they could be this particular age for at least one more year. The things they said were so fresh, made me step back, see things in a whole new way. And it wasn’t just their words that delighted me. It was their physical presence, their faces, their delicate profiles. I longed to capture what they looked like at that moment, and I asked Ben if he would buy some film, dig out his camera and do some close-ups. He had a good camera, and when we met had taken some excellent photos. However, he’d lost interest in photography soon after we married. The most recent photos he’d taken were of Renee soon after her birth, but he thought taking new photos of the girls were a good idea. He bought some film, and on a day with good light, I dressed the girls in the Christmas outfits my mom had made for them, and we went outside to set up for the photo shoot.

Nina Renee Richardson, age 4
Benith Jean Richardson age 2 1/2

Ben definitely was out of practice. These are the best of the shots he took that day. Neither is very clear, especially the one of Beni. But I still treasure these photos. Imperfect as they are, they do capture the tenderness of their sweet faces. Tears come when I look at them. I long to go back and hold them in my arms again one more time.