After Charles returned from school one day, he and Robert were playing Blob when their mother announced that they were going to the Masonic Lodge to see Santa Claus that evening. Blob was a game that the boys had invented. In previews at the movie theater in the nearby town of Oxford, enough of the plot of the movie by the same name had been revealed to suggest the game, without necessitating a viewing of the horror film—which their mother would never have permitted, anyway.
One of the brothers was designated “the Blob.” He covered himself with an old blanket and huddled on the floor while the other brother hid. Then the Blob searched for the hidden brother. While he searched, he periodically knelt and rolled around on the floor while keeping the blanket over him. When he found the brother, his object was to cast the blanket over him while making horrifying snarling sounds. If he failed to get the blanket to fall over his brother, he had to crouch beneath the blanket and make muttering noises until his brother had a chance to hide again. The search repeated. If he was lucky enough to drop the blanket over his brother, the brother became the Blob, and the proverbial tables were turned.
With a visit to Santa Claus in the offing, the brothers soon found themselves having to dress in their Sunday best. Because temperatures were chilly, they had to don long underwear. Robert had trouble folding the bottom of the leg of the underwear and stuffing it inside his sock. After he had pulled on his woolen trousers, he had to put on his corrective shoes and tie their laces. His mother had repeatedly demonstrated how to form a loop and to hold it in one hand while doubling the other end through the loop so as to form a second loop. Robert could almost achieve that much, but, when he tried to pull the two loops tight, the end of the one he had doubled invariably slipped through the first loop. He was left with one loop, a loose knot, and a long strand of lace that he would trip over, if he were to leave things as they were.
On his own, Robert had learned to form one loop in one hand and a second loop in his other hand and to tie the two loops together. He assumed (incorrectly) that speed was important, so he practiced forming the loops as rapidly as possible. That way, he could tell his mother, “See? My way is just as fast.” Ida wanted him to tie his shoes the way she had shown him, and she made him try and try again. Finally, Robert’s father said, “Ida, he gets his shoes tied just as nicely his way as our way. Why not let him have his way?” Reluctantly, she consented. (Robert would tie his shoes his way for the rest of his life!)
On this occasion, Robert tied his shoes successfully. Next, his brother and he had to zip up their parkas, put on their stocking caps, slip the hoods of their parkas over the stocking caps, wrap their mufflers around their faces, and put on their gloves. Charles and their mother climbed into the back seat of the 1950 Chevrolet, and Robert and their father took the front seat. Robert always got “car sick” in the back, so he had to ride in the front. His mother thought it was a reasonable concession to put Robert in front.
The boys were perspiring under their parkas, even after the short drive to the Masonic Lodge. The two-story building was on the south side of an alley that led westward from State Route 55 not far from the intersection of State Route 26. Some thirty years earlier, the first floor had served as Ray Ogborn’s garage and automotive repair shop. The boys’ grandmother Kosie had a brother, Charles Albert Cobb, nicknamed Charley or Cobbie, who died in 1931. His widow, Margaret Wagner, was the beloved family member that the boys and their parents called “Great Aunt Margaret.” She eventually had married the veterinarian, Doc Goddard, but he, too, died before the boys were born. Residents of the town continued to refer to her as Mrs. Margaret Goddard. Ray Ogborn had purchased the automotive business, but not the building, from Charley, so Great Aunt Margaret transferred ownership of the first floor to her sister Louise and Louise’s husband, Pete Thurman.
To reach the Masonic rooms on the second floor, the boys and their parents trudged down the dark alley. Robert kept turning his head from side to side so that he could see beyond the fake fur that surrounded the hood. Half dead vines shuddered in the cold breeze along the brick wall. Traces of snow highlighted the weeds along the foundation of the building across from the Masonic Lodge. The family passed through a doorway at the very back of the old building and started up the dimly illuminated stairs. Robert tripped more than once. Several of the steps creaked.
They entered the main hall. A huge potbelly stove stood in the center of the room. So much wood had been fed to it that it was glowing red in places and was radiating a tropical heat that melted the frost on the tall windows. Chairs were pushed back around the walls. The boys were thankful to remove their coats, but, even then, they were too hot. They waited patiently for Santa Claus. Well, they knew that this was not the real Santa. He came without being seen on Christmas Eve and left presents for the boys in their very own home. This Santa was a well-meaning member of the lodge. Soon, they heard him ho-ho-hoing. To the adults’ applause, he burst upon the gathering. He was wearing a flimsy Santa costume with a rather poor excuse for a cotton beard, but he was most certainly jolly! He handed small gifts and candy to all the children. The leader of the lodge said a few inspiring words about Christmas, and the event was over. The adults stood conversing with one another far longer than Robert’s patience could hold out, but he knew better than to tug on his mother’s sleeve. Eventually, Ida smiled down at Charles and Robert and asked, “Are you boys ready to go home?” They nodded politely.
On went the parkas, the stocking caps, the mufflers, and the gloves. Once the family was back inside the Chevrolet, Ida suggested that they see the Christmas lights. Joe drove around Pine Village, which took relatively little time, as the town was quite small. Next, he headed north on State Route 55 all the way to Oxford. The stores that year were carrying GE “ice bulbs,” which were pale blue Christmas lights that were shaped like globes and covered with “ice crystals,” as they were called, and Elvis’ recording of “Blue Christmas” had been playing on radio stations for two years. Even so, the family was surprised when Joe drove past Doc Scheurich’s ranch house in the woods just to the south of Oxford. All blue lights outlined the home! The blue was such a departure from the multi-colored bulbs that the boys and their parents were impressed.
Once the family was home, Joe played 45 RPM records on the Victrola, which resembled a piece of furniture and which had an honored place in the living room. Twin doors with ornamental ovals in the gleaming finish swung open to reveal a radio and record player, as well as a fabric-covered speaker, on the right and shelves for storing 45 records on the left. Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” was a favorite!
Christmas Eve fell on Wednesday, and the family went to the Methodist Church for the evening service. Joe’s father, Seymour, had come from Indianapolis to spend the holiday with Joe, Ida, and the boys. Grandpa Rhode gave everyone a ride in his black 1951 Hudson Commodore 8 Sedan. The family disembarked from the comfortable car and took the stairs to the sanctuary. For the remainder of his life, Robert would retain a detailed memory of how holy the church appeared that night. Candles stood in the windowsills, and their flames reflected from the undulations in the stained glass. Real evergreen boughs surrounded them, and the scent of pine filled the room. People spoke softly as they took their seats along the pews. Mrs. Brutus, the organist, launched into “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Everyone stood and began to sing. Robert long remembered the twinkle in his father’s eyes and the sparkling light reflected in the glistening eyes of his mother, whom the song touched deeply.