A Christmas (goodness gracious), a Long Time Ago

I am settling into the Southwest corner evening; the fire is warming the family room; a selection of guitar renditions of Christmas carols are on the stereo; the aroma of Maureen’s dinner is wafting from the kitchen; the magnificently decorated tree, a Maureen and Sarah creation, is lit.

It has been a good day; i did my entire checklist of calisthenics, a rare feat; Apple Care resolved a major concern of mine about document management on my computer; my editor declared in her next reading of my book it was a “fabulous military memoir;” i am only a day away from completing my Christmas gift list; and the waning gibbous moon is casting it’s pale light over the Christmas season.

So, in my non-reclining chair by the fire, i am taken back to Christmas past from a long time ago. The homes on Castle Heights Avenue and the connecting streets, West Spring, Wildwood, and Westwood teemed with children. Our home rippled with children’s expectations and fear. My fears of ashes and soot in my stocking were justly deserved.

Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” and Spike Jones’ rendition of “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth” were our favorites in spite of Bing Crosby’s Christmas songs. The songs were essentially back stage to our Christmas happening. And of course, the Christmas hymns were almost ceaseless at the Sunday morning and evening services. Yes, we went caroling as well.

In the days of yore into which i go back, “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life” were about the only movies that were available that i remember watching. And since television didn’t enter our life, and then only from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 pm until 1954, the focus was different.

i suspect our Christmases were pretty much the same as most families back then with a few twists like opening presents on Christmas Eve when we opened ours after Santa Claus’ drop offs were revealed and we had eaten a proper breakfast.

Christmas season did not start in October like it does now. If any early shopping was done, it was with the two-inch thick Sears and Roebuck catalogue. Big gifts were often on layaway somewhere, and clothes were purchased often at Caster Knots on Church and 7th or Harvey’s at 6th and Church in Nashville. Those day-long trips to the big city were big deals because we went to see Harvey’s  larger-than-life and gloriously lighted creche in front of the Parthenon.

And we didn’t put up our decorations three months before nor leave them up until spring. Daddy went out to Papa Wynn’s farm and cut down a cedar tray, mounted it in the front corner of the living room and made a wreath from cedar branches for the front door about a week before the big day. When time had moved into the 50’s lights were added to the wreath. Then he put the branches around the arched door and added lights to that also, none blinked but they all went out when one died.

It all came down the day after Christmas.

Christmas Eve was gump-stump full of anticipation. It was hard to sleep while trying to hear hooves on the roof, and imagining what that old man looked like while he ate the cookies and boiled custard we had left on the coffee table — he always ate about half the cookie but drank all of the boiled custard.

Christmas morning came early, but not early enough for us. In our home back then, the children stayed upstairs in the two bedrooms, sometimes it was just the three siblings, sometimes there were five, and at least once our Prichard cousins from Florida were also in attendance.

We were standing, or rather jumping up and down and screaming “please let us go see the presents” on the bottom steps of the narrow stairs behind the closed door guarded by an adult. Those adults had been up into the wee hours helping Santa and before we were allowed off those stairs Daddy had to set up the brilliant lights for taking the home movies. It was usually around 6:30 before bedlam when the little imps exploded into the living room to stop and gasp at the gifts galore under our stockings hung on the mantel with care.

Early on, i got a miniature service station. There was the Double-R miniature ranch complete with ranch house, bunk house, corral, cattle, horses, and of course, Roy and Trigger (i don’t remember a Dale figure but i wasn’t focused on women back then).
And then there were toy soldiers, cowboy outfits, including chaps, boots, and hats, and wagons, and a Red Ryder BB rifle.

After that, the rest of the day paled. All i wanted was to play with my toys. i was likely to get some practical clothes in the wrapped presents. i would eat but ready for the dessert and boiled custard, so i could get back to those happy things laying lifeless in the living room by the tree, waiting for me to imagine them back to breathing, full of life little people…or go outside and be a cowboy.

In many ways, i was much like Ralphie in “A Christmas Story” except i didn’t wear glasses and thankfully, no one ever gave me a bunny suit.

And somehow, some strange and amazing way, we did not forget why we celebrated this day, a holy day.

Things have changed. Being old, i forget the bad parts, remember the good, and believe it was better. There really is no better, just different. And i think, no, i feverishly hope no one forgets the promise of peace on earth the event 2021 years ago brought to us.

Merry Christmas.


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