Editor's note: Read part 1.
“…Christmas, Christmas time is near…”
Dateline: 1958 Christmas: Buffalo, N.Y.
“Christmas is a bridge. We need bridges as the river of time flows past. Today’s Christmas should mean creating happy hours for tomorrow and reliving those of yesterday.”
~ Gladys Taber
This is the exact look of a young child who just got a brand new, red and silver tricycle for Christmas…in Buffalo, N.Y.
I cannot prove it in a court of law but looking back at old photos, my “Christmas” tricycle looks remarkably like my June “Birthday” tricycle I got 6 months later, this time in birthday wrapping.
Growing up as a little kid in Buffalo there were many Christmases where I was dwarfed by the snow. A sled at Christmas, yeah that works. “Artics” as my grandmother called boots, that worked as well but kind of sucked if you were hoping the box you were unwrapping held a Mr. Potato Head.
Every Christmas at my house was white, or as Mrs. Wells (the booger lady who lived next door to us) always told my parents every Christmas Eve, “I’m hoping for a white Christmas, but if you’re out I’ll drink red.” I was 10 years old before I realized Mrs. (Booger) Well’s first name wasn’t actually “Ditz.”
I don’t know how life turned out for her, there are many Booger Wells on fb, none looks like that next door lady though.
“…time for toys…”
“There's nothing sadder in this world than to awake Christmas morning and not be a child.”
~ Erma Bombeck
I grew up in a black and white house in black and white times.
It was a three-bedroom, 1,200-foot postwar ranch house which sat on the corner of a neighborhood filled with all the same type of homes, every second corner was a black and white ranch, we got one of them.
I always thought the house had a fireplace. It is the time-honored way a fat man in a red suit breaks into your house one night a year without the cops being called. But several years ago I was going through some old photo albums and once again had a beloved cherished childhood dream blown up.
I have since told my wife, Barb, to hide all the photo albums with our kids in them to protect them 30 years from now if they don’t find the photos of the “pretty white pony” they both had when they were 2 years old and used to ride in the backyard.
Seems only right.
Back then I was allowed to “help” decorate the Christmas tree (which may or may not have been from “Yellowstone Park and 50 feet high”) up until the time I broke one of the ornaments, which were all made of glass that shattered in tiny tiny pieces that we would find in the carpet as far away as June when one would stick me in the bottom of my foot.
I have since instilled in my kids a “decorate at your own risk” kind of mentality when it comes to Christmas bulbs and tinsel, and they seem to be none the worse for it.
I still have many, some, um three of my parent’s probably-outlawed-by-the-feds-by-now-glass-ornaments left. We don’t put them up, in my will they go to our grandchildren (when we have some) so they can break them in their parents' house like I did in mine.
Seems only right.
For the millennials this is the centennials original coffee pod.
You took a thing called a “strip key” that was stuck on the top of it and you would wind that around the can and pop the lid off leaving a basically surgical steel sharp rim that you would wipe off every once in awhile to get the rust off.
Stuff like that is how we have earned the right to be like we are.
My parent’s would take the empty coffee tin and sort of wash it out and then store all the tiny individual Christmas tree lights in it until the following Christmas when it would fall out of the top of the closet on Dad’s foot as he was moving stuff around looking for it. This always unleashed a verbal barrage of Christmas cheer (one of the best kid parts of my Christmas, I would start laughing as soon as he opened the closet door).
In 1958, less than 80 years from when Thomas Alvin Edison’s light bulb lit and allowed for lighting a Christmas tree inside your house with the fire department involved, all Christmas tree lights were made of glass and came in red, blue or green, unless the possibly toxic paint on the glass scratched off and then your Christmas tree lights were red, blue or green striped.
And, every one of the little buggers had to work or none of them would work.
It took my Dad only a few minutes to saw off the bottom of the Christmas tree that we bought at my cousin’s “Fresh Cut” (cut a couple weeks ago in Maine before they got to the “Fresh Cut” lot) tree lot/gas station, dump some sugar in the water in the stand, lift the tree several times until it fit in the hole, then screw some screws into the stump.
Then it took a couple of hours to “find out which bulb was bad,” replace it and hope it was the only naughty bulb so the rest would light up.
The growth of my vocabulary of “swears” always grew in direct relation to the number of bulbs out on the Christmas tree.
The lights are gone, but I still have the Coffee can that held many of the Christmas lights of my childhood. Even now every once in awhile while stringing the LEDs on our tree I still somehow smell a quick whiff of coffee on a light or two.
Barb knows, when I die and I’m cremated, no need to buy an urn…it’s already here up in the top shelf of our closet.
“…and time for cheer…”
“We are better throughout the year for having, in spirit, become a child again at Christmastime.”
~ Laura Ingalls Wilder
Yeah, the music thing started young … 3 years old here.
That guitar was a Christmas gift put in my tiny hands by Grandpa Santa, Clayton “Clay” Robbins.
Grandpa Santa died three weeks after Christmas in 1957, I’m sure I didn’t really understand the death part too much. I did totally understand that Christmas 1958 would be without Grandpa Santa, and in truth to this day I may have never recovered from that.
Especially on Christmas morning.
All of his quotes from here on in were told to me decades later by his wife, my grandmother, Tess, the lady who basically raised me and to whom when I close my eyes and think of a person I would call mom, it is her face I see.
I was 30-something-years-old when Tess passed away and we spent much of her last years talking about the crazy things “your Grandpa Santa did for you.”
One of which was putting that guitar in my hands one Christmas after my parents took my birthday drum set he gave me “out to be fixed.”
Tess told me that when my mother told him, “Wait with the instruments until he grows up and learns from someone,” to which I’m told he said, “He ain’t learning how to play from someone else he needs to learn how to play from himself.”
Christmas 1958 was tough on me, no Grandpa Santa, until Grandma Tess walked out of her bedroom with a green metal box which she placed in front of me as I sat on the floor in front of the Christmas tree.
“Donnie, Grandpa Santa wanted you to have this, it’s his tacklebox.”
Grandma told me that all I did was look at it, didn’t move, didn’t touch it, just looked up at her with a tears running down my face and asked, “What’s a tacklebox…”
And with that my father got down on his knees and crawled over to me, opened up the “tacklebox" and took out a shinny green ... thing.
“It’s a fishing reel Donnie,” said either my father or grandma, “Santa Grandpa bought it for you and was going to give it to you today.”
Sixty years later I still have his green metal tackle box, I think it may be the same reel that was in it but to be honest I couldn’t swear by that.
I can swear by what happened next, when I reached into Grandpa Santa’s tacklebox I suddenly learned about fisher grandpa’s three hurty, prickly, ouchy trebles, as in three hooks attached to some wood thing.
And that all three of those treble things were now sticking into two of my fingers and my thumb.
As I started to cry and shake them off I put that hand down on the red plaid blanket under the Christmas tree the second treble thing went deeper into the skin part of my tiny thumb and popped out through my thumbnail on the top of my thumb.
That’s when my daddy suddenly as Grandma told me, “Just took a little nap on the floor next to you by the Christmas tree.”
Grandma Tess from that day on always called it “The Treble Hook Christmas,” while my parents referred to it as The-Emergency-Room-screaming-kid-fainting-father-several-stitches-finger-cast-#%@&!*ng-Christmas.
I’m told it was a tie between who was the bigger little kid, my father or the actual little kid, me.
Now while I can’t vouch for that reel being the real deal from when I was a kid I can vouch that this wooden lure (with by the way all those treble hook things long removed) is the lure of the legendary “Treble Christmas” fame.
I know that because Grandpa Santa left, the summer of 1957 when I was just 4 or 5 he let me “help him” paint it out on the back porch where I’m sure none of the responsible adults in the house would see a 4- or 5-year-old painting a lure that had hooks attached to it.
And there were two of those stinky three hook things too.
The last time I saw my Grandma I was sitting on the end of her hospital bed in Kenmore Mercy Hospital, she was laying there me “Clay stories,” and from them I could tell she knew a lot more of what Grandpa did then he thought she did.
Once a week he would take me fishing to the foot of Niagara Street in Buffalo, “…fishing for Clay pretty much meant playing cards with his friends and using you as the bait under the guise of fishing,” she said laughing, “but to his credit he did by some fishing stuff.”
I don’t know if you can remember things from when you were 4 or 5 years old, I sort of, sort of but in truth can’t tell if I’m remembering real sights and sounds or just remember old photos of it. I don’t know but every once in awhile a flash of clarity comes through and it is always of sitting on his lap looking into water and watching a “stick” he held in his hand, then it disappears.
Grandma, still laughing, “…Clay told me that every time he put a worm on the hook you would start to cry because he was hurting it…” I don’t know how true that statement was but it could explain why when it rains I go out of my way not to step on any worms on the pavement. Just saying.
And then she said, “It wasn’t about fishing Donnie (I’m in my 30s with a child but was always Donnie to Gram) because to be honest Clay didn’t actually liked to fish he always told me so, he always said, I do it not because I love to fish, I do it because I love the kid.”
And I was that kid.
“…we've been good but we can't last…”
“There are three stages of man: he believes in Santa Claus; he does not believe in Santa Claus; he is Santa Claus.”
~ Bob Phillips
It is now Christmas in my house, my mother and father, grandma and Santa grandpa are all long gone.
Our house is filled with our children, an extremely rare occurrence, now all in their 30s, little bitty kids someday in the future.
I usually hand out the Christmas gifts one at a time, with, as my father used to do, a red and white Santa cap on my head, but this year my son, Jimmy, is going to do it because of the dizzy issues I still deal with at times.
I have learned it is better to be safe then to bend over to pick up a gift and land in the Christmas tree instead.
Every Christmas Eve night though I get up out of bed and sneak downstairs to the living room and turn on the Christmas tree lights and just sit there and remember when department store windows turned into wonderland at the three foot level.
By the way, this is me as a department store Santa, I was one for a day back in the early 1980s when I was a TV reporter in Fresno, Calif.:
I got the job by answering one question that the department store PR flack asked me before she would let me put on the costume:
“Do you believe in Santa Claus?” she huffed.
“Yes ma’am I do, more so than I believe in all those who aren’t Santa.”
Seemed only right.
There is much that I could wish for you here at Christmas, but there is truly just one wish that I wish for you and yours.
May you never get too old, too cynical, too pragmatic that for one night a year, Christmas Eve, you don’t lie in bed and listen for the sound of hoofs up on your roof.
“…Merry Christmas, hurry fast.”
Christmas Don’t Be Late
#1 Song Billboard 12/22/1958
db, bb, ab/jb, jb/cp, maddie, cally…and riley too
“At Christmas, all roads lead home.”
~ Marjorie Holmes
And give thanks for all of this to the baby boy who lay in the manger hay so very long ago … Happy 2019th birthday to the child known as Jesus of Nazareth.