I am not sure why, but I have been reminiscing about early Christmas seasons. Perhaps this happens with greater frequency as we age, and, just to put things in perspective, early for me means the early 1960’s…
We lived on East Broad Street in Quakertown PA in a large brick half double. For a period of 4 years, my grandparents lived in an apartment on the second story of the house. My oldest brother lived in a room on the third floor, and my next oldest brother and I shared a bedroom on the first floor. I am not able to list these thoughts in chronological order, but that really won’t matter…
My father and I walking up Franklin St. to shovel snow at the home of two elderly women – quite possibly sisters – I don’t recall their names. I was way too young to really help, but I had my little shovel just the same. And when we were done, I was given a gift of candy.. in a mason jar decorated as a snowman? The question is that I can’t quite place the picture of it in my head, but it was pretty special.. and we used the jar for many years. While the details may escape me, the warm feeling and excitement that a whole jar of candy made me feel is still easy to recall.
The fake fireplace, complete with chimney and fake electric fire… it was made of cardboard, and I still can’t quite fathom what made my parents buy it , but it was a staple for a number of years.. and it gave us a place to tack our stockings until the cardboard would no longer lock together.. and it complemented the fake Christmas tree. Early memories of real Christmas trees are hazy. My mother found that she was allergic to all sorts of things.. and trees were one of them.. so we settled for fake trees instead. Now this was the 1960’s… fake trees were really fake! Ours was 7 feet tall.. metal branches with metallic stuff that was supposed to resemble needles.. and 21 electric candles at the end of select branches.. I am sure that it went together well the first year, but it seems to me that my dad had increasing difficulty getting the branches to fit and the candles to light in ensuing years. Maybe he was just short of patience.. but I don’t think that he looked forward to putting that tree together.. he seemed to use the word damn a lot during the process.
The candles (electric) in the windows.. one of the touches that mother added to our Christmas preparations was putting candles in each window in the house… it was something that I looked forward to doing in my own house.. and we have some in the tiny house now! I relished the job of visiting each window and turning the candles on in the early evening. We always wanted her to leave the candles on when we went to sleep.. and I remember looking out through the frosted window and seeing the snow falling.. hoping against hope that it would snow all night.
At least one winter, it did.. and I remember what seemed to me a great deal of snow in the backyard..we were determined to build an igloo – I think it turned out to be more like a snow cave. in those days, a lot of the neighbors burned coal, and they would put the ashes outside on the curb.. the town would pick them up and then use them on the streets in the winter.. one night we went for a walk in the snow.. I remember the cold, and I may have been carried or pulled on a sled that evening.. there were buckets of ashes on the sidewalks.. while I don’t remember a whole lot of details.. I remember the magic 🙂
While my grandparents lived above us, we would celebrate Christmas around our tree and then head upstairs to do it over again with them. They also had a fake tree.. theirs was silver, and it was short, so my grandmother put it on a table. They had ornaments from years before – probably the 40’s or earlier. At the time, I just thought that they were old.. Now I would probably treasure them. Isn’t that the way it always is?
Grandma was the best at making cut out cookies.. she made them so thin.. my dad loved them. They were wonderful for dunking with our tea. To this day, I think about my grandmother when I bake those cookies, as well as many other baked goods associated with her. In fact, I just made some today, and I am sure that they are (were – they are all gone ) not as thin as Grandma’s
Mary Reiser was my mother’s roommate at nursing school. She and mom remained life long friends.. and Mary would come to visit us from time to time. She did not have a car, so sometimes we would have to go pick her up at the train station. Mary always brought us unique gifts. One year she brought us pencils with our names on them. That is a big deal when you are 6 years old and have never seen that before!
The Berkowski’s were the parents of my aunt Lola.. I don’t recall ever meeting them. They were Jewish and lived in New York city, but they never failed to send us gifts at Christmas time – wrapped in white tissue paper and fixed with ribbons.. it was amazing to receive gifts from people I did not even know!
And what about the gifts.. the album by the Royal Guardsman that had Snoopy vs the Red Baron on it that Dan got.. the big plastic submarine that I got.. and the aircraft carrier that Craig got.. Probably the coolest gift – a tent and sleeping bag that I got one year.. I wanted to use that sleeping bag every night!
And what about the gifts that I gave.. this might be a little more difficult to recall. But I do remember getting mom some bayberry candles.. a fragrance that I love to this day.. and the spice rack that craig and I got for mom by pooling our coins together.. I remember the trip to the neighborhood hardware store for that purchase.. the building is still there, but it is no longer a hardware store.
The luminaries – a tradition on broad street in Quakertown.. hopefully, still so. What a spectacular event, to come out of church on Christmas eve and drive along the street, lit with hundreds of candles in bags.. along the sidewalk, on porches.. it was a once a year event, and that made it particularly special.. a year is a very long time for a 6 year old.. not unlike the showing of Charlie Brown’s Christmas. If you missed it, it would be a year before you could catch it again. I am not so sure that was a bad thing…
We moved from that neighborhood when I was 9 years old – to a brand new town house that was probably a third of the size. And there are lots of nice memories from that house too, but they simply are not the same.. perhaps because we traded in the old for the new – the fireplace was in the trash, the fake trees looked a bit more realistic , my grandparents moved back to Tamaqua… – but more likely because the magic is not quite the same after a certain age – still special and nice in new ways – but just not quite the same…