Christmas was a big time for us. My sister and I would pore over the Sears Christmas catalog and show Mom everything we wanted. She’d write her Christmas list in Gregg shorthand, which may as well have been Sanskrit to us. About the first week of December, we’d get out the tree lights to “test” them and to try to hurry along the season. We’d also furtively search through all the hiding places where Mom might have stashed our gifts, and usually found most of them. Finally, about a week before the big day, Dad would take us into the hollow where we picked out, and cut down, one of the many hemlocks that grew there. After dragging the tree home, Dad would nail the end of an old egg crate on the butt of the trunk for a tree stand and we’d set the thing in the corner of the living room at the foot of the stairs. These trees were scraggly and thin, but after putting on as many lights as we had and all the ornaments we’d accumulated, we thought they were beautiful.
An elaborate creche, or manger scene, was set up on the wide window sill of the double living room window. We taped blue cellophane over the window pane, stuck lots of little silver and gold stars on it, and outlined it with blue lights, while a white star was centered over the scene. Each year, Mom would add a figure to the creche and we had, besides Mary, Joseph and the Baby Jesus, shepherds and their sheep, the three wise men and their camels, an angel and all the stable animals. An old wood box, that I think at one time had held a set of wooden building blocks that were Dad’s when he was little, was used as the stable.
Anyway, when everything was lit up and the living room lights were turned off, it all seemed quite magical to my sister and me. We’d sit on the couch and sing Christmas carols and sometimes Mom would join us. On Christmas Eve we put out our stockings (those horrid, long brown stockings that we had to wear in the winter, held up by harness-like supporters). Christmas was the only time I liked those stockings; they held a lot more stuff than a sock, and they were always full on Christmas morning.
After we opened our presents, we got ready and went to Rochester, Pa., to visit Grandma and Grandpa Ganoe, Mom’s sister Sara, her husband Dave, and my cousin Bob, who all lived in the same house. Grandma always got us neat presents (except for the time she bought me a suit with knicker pants— I hated it!), and Aunt Sara fixed a fabulous Christmas dinner for us, but the main attraction for me was Bob’s Lionel train layout. Uncle Dave set this up each year, just for Christmas, on two sheets of plywood that were supported on saw horses. The layout filled one end of the dining room and consisted of two loops of track joined by several switches. There were sidings with a coal unloader, a milk can platform, a log unloader and a cattle chute. There were two big Lionel steam engines and lots of cars that could be run around the track, loading and unloading cows, logs, coal or milk. I loved it and I wanted an electric train sooo… bad. I never got one, though; not for another twenty five years or so.
Aunt Sara went all out to put on a great dinner for us; it was at one of these Christmas dinners that we country bumpkins first got to try a shrimp cocktail (I don’t think any of us were quite sure we liked it), as well as French vanilla ice cream (we all loved that). Uncle Dave told me not long ago that Aunt Sara really got a kick out of entertaining us.
We’d get back home in time to do evening chores and to play with our new treasures.
Finally, Mom would tuck us into bed and we’d drift off to sleep, tired, but happy.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!