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An Anderson Christmas Story

Updated: Dec 21, 2020

By Mary Anderson Pickard, eldest daughter of Walter Inglis Anderson

Excerpted from "My Mother Was Santa Claus but My Father was an Indian", included in Christmas Memories from Mississippi published by Univ. Press of Mississippi

(Edited by Charline Mccord & Judy H. Tucker; Illustrated by Wyatt Waters)

Walter Inglis Anderson, "Mountain Woods," 1954. Watercolor. Courtesy of the Family of Walter Anderson.

Fog came with winter,

frequently whitening our Christmas. It crept up over the bluff from the water or swirled in through the pine savannah to wrap around the big house like a muffling blanket. Waking in my northwest bedroom I'd know it was there without looking, feeling its cold, damp thickness, hearing its intimate dripping from the branches of the big cedar trees closest to the house. With it came silence and mystery. Familiar trees were obscured. Horizons disappeared. Even the sun, our great timekeeper, seemed lost in the layers of white. The islands were gone, and, gradually, as I watched anxiously through my mother's bedroom window, our pier was swallowed up by the thickening fog.

"Mary, get dressed. You'll catch cold." In the altered world my mother's voice was reassuring. I hurried back to my room.

Walter Inglis Anderson (1903-1965), "Mary Anderson," c. 1955. Watercolor on Paper. Courtesy of the Family of Walter Anderson.

"Billy, wake up. We have to go see the fog!"

"Frog?" His sleepy voice sounded disgruntled and disbelieving.

"Fog! Look out the window. See the white. Listen to it."

In our corduroy overalls and sweaters, we crossed through our mother's room, past the warmth and crackle of fire in her fireplace, and out onto the front gallery where we stopped, shocked by our world encompassed in white.

"Where's the beach and the pier?" asked Billy. "Where's the water?"

Did he think I knew? I peered through the moving mist and assumed the air of authority conferred by almost two years.

"Gone," I replied, "all gone."


"They're erased," I announced dramatically. "The trees, the pier, the water all wiped away."

I meant to frighten Billy but suddenly my hair was wet and cold and I was afraid. Perhaps the fog would consume us coo. "Come on," I urged and we dashed back into the house, to the comforts of fire and mother and breakfast.

Walter Inglis Anderson, "Mother and Child," Pen and Ink. Courtesy of the Family of Walter Anderson.

Daddy's pleasure in extremes of weather was contagious. He loved the mystery of fog and the way it simplified perspective, form, even time. At midmorning the fog seemed to be lifting. We could see our pier, its length exaggerated by the moving layers of the rising mist. The old posts left from some past pier marched out with the long sandbars, reaching fingers of land exposed by the north wind and the low tide of December.


Walter Inglis Anderson, "Pier drawing," Pen and Ink. Courtesy of the Family of Walter Anderson.

On Christmas morning the icy stillness was broken by the snap of an ice­-coated branch and the whistle of the north wind.

"It's morning, Billy! It's Merry Christmas!"

Before the fire screen in Mama's room, the filled stockings hung so stuffed with secrets that they were unrecognizable.

"He came! Santa Claus came!"

Billy tugged at his stocking. But then Mama was there beside him lifting it down. I saw the face of a puppet doll peering from the top of mine as she handed it to me, but its visible charm was eclipsed by the tantalizing bulges and bumps that stuffed the stocking to the bursting point. I could recognize the Santa Claus apple, huge and impossibly red and shining, just by feel, and the big Louisiana orange. Down in the toe I saw the gleam of a silver dollar. These would be in every stocking, but the mysterious boxes, the small special toys, a new paint box, beads, a puzzle, paper dolls and comic books rolled around two drumsticks, soap shaped like animals, a new comb and brush, a hat and mittens – never were stockings so well filled! Peppermint and a yo-yo and a magic orb containing a tiny Christmas tree. When I shook it, snow fell. We plundered those stockings blissfully by the warm fire, squealing with delight.

Block print by Walter Inglis Anderson. Courtesy of the Family of Walter Anderson.


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