Christmas, when I was Young

OK, Christmas has come and gone.  But, I feel the need to describe how, when I was “a kid”, my parents, and brothers, enjoyed the simple pleasures of a Christmas in Seattle/Bellevue, WA “back in the day”…

I’ve been around the world a lot since I was a child.  I went away to school.  I graduated college and got a job out-of-town.  I moved, and still live, a good distance from “the Rents“.  But I often miss those simple times with my brothers when we truly celebrated Christmas.

I still miss “the little things” about the holidays when I was a kid, and the various activities we did that didn’t quite qualify as traditions of the holidays, even though we did them EVERY year.

First, and foremost, I miss Mom’s cooking.  This is not just  the “fancy” meals she would create for a special occasion, when we’d gather in the dining room and eat off of the plates we’d see once or twice a year, but it was the feeling you’d get, on an ordinary day.  The way she could make a simple breakfast of eggs and bacon taste like a gourmet experience, regardless of what day the calendar it was. Even a bowl or Raisin Bran and a cup of instant coffee was, and still is,  a memorable experience when “Mom” makes it.  You can, literally, taste the love when Mom is in the kitchen.

It’s been several years since I’ve shared Christmas with Mom and Dad, but that doesn’t mean that my thoughts still don’t take me back to a simpler time, in my youth, when Christmas “ROCKED” at my house…

There was Christmas everywhere.  The outside of the house had the lights that framed the roofline, and the big tree in the front yard, the bushes, and the showman at the front door completed the whole ensemble of the holiday spirit.  Then there was the interior of the house.

In addition to the tree, which sat in a rotating stand that played music, there was the centerpiece of it all – the train set.  This was a Lionel “O” Gauge setup with two concentric oval tracks and trains.  All this stuff was older than me.  In fact, it was my father’s set when he was a kid.  All of the locomotives, cars, houses, figurines were gingerly wrapped in old newspapers and in their various, original boxes.  Some of the stuff would need repairs due to age.  I remember hand winding one of the DC motors on the kitchen table until 2AM because company was coming over the next day and “It just isn’t Christmas without the train”.  I used to scoff at those things, but to find out how much they are worth now?  Man!  What a collection, indeed.  Since the tree was in the center of the train rig, presents were ALWAYS on the hearth of the fireplace, or in front of it in cases where the gift was too large.  I didn’t stop with just a tree and a train though.

Dad has a thing for elves, Christmas elves, not the Lord of the Rings kind.  They were everywhere, on the mantle, atop the chandelier in the dining room, atop the mirror by the front door, everywhere.  I think he forgot about one (we didn’t say anything) and it hung out until Easter.  Dad also made several centerpieces out of pine and holly from the back yard.  He did have a knack for designing these, but FTD never called upon him for his services.

Another piece was the manger scene.  This was a bit over the top, but it still awed us children.  We had one of those old cabinet stereos, we called it “the coffin” because that was about how bit it was.  Dad would cover the top with cotton and then set up his barnyard diorama of the 1st Christmas.  At least 30 animals, lead figurines from the ’30s would spread across the landscape of the stereo, complete with angles and a Christmas Star light.  Very cool!

Kolackies - Like Mom used to make

Mom did her part as well, she made cookies.  Literally, hundreds of cookies.  Routinely she’d crank out five or six different doughs and make cookie cutter creations that, when fully decorated, looked more like ornaments than treats.  I once decided, for a third grade math project to calculate just how many she had made one year and came up around 1200.  Not only were the decorated cookies made, but rum balls, Viennese Pretzels, Peanut Butter w/Hershey’s Kisses, Butter Cookies w/Candied Cherries, Polish Cookies w/preserves (Kolackies), Oatmeal, Chocolate/Chocolate Mint, the list went on. These were displayed on the dining room table (with a few elves) for any visitor (or hungry kid) to help them selves too.  The “backup” cookies were stored in the rec-room with strict DO NOT TOUCH warnings.  Many family friends, teachers and even the milk man (I’m dating myself) got a box of Mom’s cookies for the holidays.  I still await their yearly arrival.  Not as many as before, but just enough to make me miss them the rest of the year.

Mom also hand-made ornaments.  She did it as a hobby and was quite good at it.  I think she even sold a few at a consignment shop.  To this day, I have not seen anything like them at any other home I’ve visited (unless of course, they were ones she had given them).  One time, the whole 6 ft. tree was done, entirely, with Mom’s ornaments.  Dad liked them because they were styrofoam balls, covered in beads, ribbons and bows, so they didn’t shatter when a curious toddler knocked them off the tree and onto the train tracks.  I made a few myself, but never “really” got into it.

In addition to food and decorations, there was music.  “Old School” music.  Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, some traditional Polish artists, to name a few.  Dad had taken all of his 33s and 45s (google the term youngsters) and put them all on a reel-to-reel tape.  This tape was two-sided, and his tape deck could play forwards or reverse.  It was pretty high-tech when he bought it in the seventies.  As a kid I had the whole 6 hours of music (three hours in each direction) memorized, and knew when the ominous “CLUNK” would signal tape reversal.  The triggering mechanism was a piece of aluminum foil near the end of the tape, before it came off the reel.  Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.

As we grew older, some things were left out.  Less cookies one year, no train the next, but it always felt like “home” for Christmas.  When my folks moved from Seattle to Tucson, after retiring, the tradition continues, to this day.  Some southwestern flair has been added, like the “paper” bags with the candles, a Santa Cap for the cactus, but the feeling remains the same.

One of my favorite pieces of all is a statue of Santa Clause, hat removed bending down in front of a manger.  That thing was the first thing someone would see as they walked into the livingroom, where most of the decorations were.  It never broke. It had no lights.  It didn’t play music. It was always handled with utmost care.  It was just a simple statuette, about the size of a hi-top shoe.  To me, it kind of said that, even though we had all the commercial, traditional, humorous and downright silly trappings of “X-Mas”  it was still “CHRISTmas” at our house.

Hope everyone had a good holiday.  Now it’s time to make 2010 a Happy New year, the best we can.


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One Comment on “Christmas, when I was Young”

  1. Frank Says:

    Nice thoughts bro’. Those were the days (I remember your new volleyball creating havoc through the middle of downtown “plasticville”.

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