New Year’s Day in the home of my childhood was a work day. Mother always took the decorations off the tree and carefully re-packed them on New Year’s Day – no exceptions. Daddy might not start removing the outdoor decorations, but New Year’s Eve was generally the last night that exterior lights were turned on.
It’s amazing what you remember when you’re just thinking about certain events. I was thinking about helping Mother undecorate the tree, the living room a mess of boxes, tissue paper, and Christmassy stuff, when I remembered about Great-Grandfather in the Honey Tree, a charming children’s book written by Sam and Zoa Swayne of Orofino and published in 1949. As I recall, the story was based on an incident of Swayne family lore, and Zoa, an artist, had illustrated it. In an age when it seemed children’s literature wasn’t innovative, the book enjoyed some national renown, and since the authors were prominent Orofino residents, the book was promoted as special in baby-boomer classrooms at Orofino Elementary. I think I was in the third grade when I borrowed the book from the classroom library prior to Christmas vacation. (In our school, there was no common library. Each classroom had a couple of shelves devoted to age-appropriate books.) In the hubbub of Christmas, I forgot all about the book.
One day in January, my teacher called me to her desk. Did I remember checking out Great-Grandfather in the Honey Tree, she asked. Hmmm – no, not really, I admitted. Well, she said, the card indicated I had checked it out and it was overdue. She was firm in her conviction that I had been the last student to borrow the book. Please check at home for it and return it.
So, at home I mentioned the missing book to Mother. Yes, she had a vague recollection of it. It had been on the coffee table, she thought. We searched the house thoroughly. My mother and my teacher sent messages to one another through me for several days. I remember the look of concern on my teacher’s face. Clearly she wasn’t amused. I admit that I was a dreamer, but my mother was usually on top of things.
My teacher remaining insistent that I had the book, Mother finally said, “Kathy, I just can’t imagine where it could be unless somehow we put it away with the Christmas ornaments.” Even to my child mind, that didn’t seem likely. How could we put a book in an ornament box? How could we not notice? I remember feeling momentarily dashed because, after all, the ornaments had been put away for the next eleven months, and my teacher was applying some pressure about that book. I figured it was too much trouble to get into those boxes again until next Christmas. Oh no, Mother reassured me, she would just have to pull the boxes out and check in them for the book. And sure enough! There it was. In the process of gathering up and putting away sundry holiday items, Great-Grandfather in the Honey Tree had been stashed right in the top of one of the ornament boxes.
If you’re interested in Great-Grandfather in the Honey Tree, copies are available for purchase online. The best price I found was through the ClearwaterHistorical Museum in Orofino. I think you can even read the book online by searching the title. KW
[The card above is from Vance's collection, evidently provided to students by the school. The picture of the Orofino house was taken by brother Chuck in 1984. Unfortunately, the telephone pole is in the way of a good view, but it's still typical of how Orofino looked in winter. And the book image is from the Clearwater Historical Society site.]