Olentangy Valley News

History today

Christmas gifts, decorations of past fascinate

It was a joy to "meet" Jean Perry Kirkham Shaw recently.

We have exchanged letters and phone conversations as she no longer lives in Ohio.

Jean was born in 1928 and is the last surviving child of Mary and Erwin Perry, who came to Powell that same year. Mr. Perry was an engineer during the construction of the O'Shaughnessy Dam in the mid 1920s.

I understand that as he drove to work from Columbus, he liked the small community of Powell and decided to settle here with his family.

Jean was one of six children, and I asked her to share her holiday memories. She wrote, "Times were hard for everyone. But we survived -- never went hungry as we were pretty much self-supporting on that little 44-acre farm."

The Perrys raised cows and sold bottled milk during the Depression.

There were no lights on the tree (though her father installed electricity soon after purchasing the home), and decorations were homemade. Often, they would string popcorn to adorn their tree.

Jean recalls not seeing the tree until Christmas morning, obviously "a beautiful sight in the eyes of a 6-year-old."

Jean remembers simple gifts: knitted caps and mittens, coloring books with only eight crayons, and Shirley Temple paper dolls.

She and her siblings were delighted one year to find silver-wrapped coins hanging on their tree. "Each of us got a quarter from our Grandma Neil," she said, and they thought they were rich.

These are the kinds of gifts only the oldest among us remember, and you would probably join Jean when she says, "I wouldn't exchange my memories of my early Christmases for all the tea in China!"

In 1993, I spoke to Jean's sister, Ivah, about her holiday memories. She said, "When Daddy saw a tree while hunting, he'd remember it and go back and cut it down." Ivah reported their stockings were filled with English walnuts, an orange, and popcorn balls made by their father. Jean did say that as times improved, she received a sled. Sledding was the children's primary winter activity, as the school across from their house had a great hill.

I know many enjoyed ice skating on the pond there, too.

Since I write this column on behalf of the Powell-Liberty Historical Society and the society's home is the Martin-Perry House, I must also share memories of at least one of the Martins.

Mary and Albert Martin built the house, located on Powell Road at Grace Drive, in 1889 as newlyweds. They raised three daughters.

Over many years, Mildred McNeil, a granddaughter, provided us with a large portion of the family history as well as items belonging to them.

Mildred's father and grandfather died less than a year apart when she was just 21/2 years old.

As a young child, she lived with her grandmother and recalls decorations of cotton, walnut half-shells covered with foil, colored paper chains, and cranberries and popcorn strung on a large tree branch. One unique decoration was the icicles. Someone had the idea to create them out of the "key" and resulting curled metal from sardine or corned-beef cans once they had been opened.

Just a few nights ago, when a young scout group toured the Martin-Perry House, they saw how something was recycled or repurposed -- ideas certainly not identified as such 100 years ago.

Each Christmas, when society member Sherry Carmichael decorates the house, a can, key and icicle are set out for visitors to see.

If you would like to schedule a private tour of the historic home, call 614-848-6210.

If you grew up in Powell or Liberty Township and have stories or family histories to share or memorabilia to donate, please contact us at info@powellhistory. org.

Happy holidays!

Carole Wilhelm is a member of the Powell-Liberty Historical Society.

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