Friday 4 December 2020

Christmas Past

 by Ann Christine Tabaka

festive milkshake

I can clearly remember Christmases when I was young, and it would snow, and snow, and snow! Snow covered everything in November and December. It was beautiful and glorious, and so much fun. I loved to play in the snow. I still love to play in the snow at almost 70 years old. Oh how I loved to sled down the hill in our back yard, onto the frozen creek, and smashing into the embankment wall on the other side. All the neighborhood kids would come over to sled down our little hill. It seemed so big at the time. But, years later when I returned to my mother’s house, I realized how small it really was.
We were poor, but my mother worked to support us because of my father’s disease. She worked in Woolworth’s Five & Ten. After school, I used to love to take the bus that traversed the Pike, and then walk the two miles down to the Merchandise Mart where the stores were. When I was growing up it was the only group of stores outside of the downtown area. Now they are called strip malls. Woolworth’s was a place of magic to me, with toys, and clothes, and a soda fountain. So many fond memories. My first hot dog, my first soda, my first milkshake, and TV celebrities from the local Philadelphia area would visit to sign autographs. I met Sally Star and Big Chief Half Town. Such a thrill for a little kid. 
We always had to have a real live tree. I loved the aroma and the old ornaments that my Babci gave us from Poland. Delicate glass Santas, snowmen, and angels. I would make paper strips into rings and construct colorful chains to add to the decorations. Colored lights, silvery tinsel, and all the other wonderful treats for the eye. A train that was so old, it was held together by masking tape was placed under the tree every year. If you had the pellet to put in the chimney, and added water, it would puff real smoke as it chugged around the tree. Lights would flicker on and off in the passenger cars so that you could see the silhouettes of the riders. We were so poor, that we rarely got any presents except for the hand-me-down clothes from our older cousins. I remember one special year, when I wanted a toy sewing machine that really worked to make clothes for the used Barbie doll that a neighbor gave me when her daughter got the newest model. It was late Christmas Eve, and I was sure that I would never get it. My mom and dad bundled up and left the house at five in the evening. Back then, stores used to close at five, but would stay open until six during Christmas time to give customers extra time to shop. I was the most excited kid in the entire world when they came back home with a small metal sewing machine that actually worked when you turned the wheel by hand. It is one Christmas that I will never forget as long as my mind still works to remember. 
My father passed away from his illness when I was 14. My mother still worked at Woolworth's.  My father left us with so many unpaid bills that she had no choice. Creditors were always knocking at our door. Both my brothers were so much older than I was, and they had moved away years ago. It was just mom and me now. I was just starting high school. It was the sixties, and everything was now Mod and modern. So, my mother decided that a real Christmas tree was too much work for a single woman with a daughter. The day that she came home with that silver aluminum tree I was shocked. At least it wasn’t pink aluminum, which was also in vogue back then. For the first time in forever, we had real gifts and a real celebration. My mother was finally free from abuse and we were going to have a good life from now on. Shortly after that, she left Woolworth's and started at Kennard’s Department store where they sent her to school and she worked her way up to the head of the department. She was super smart even though she had to leave school in the ninth grade to go to work because of the Great Depression. My brothers always teased that they had the education and degrees, but mom was smarter, and ended up making more money than any of us. She eventually worked at Sears & Roebucks, and worked her way even further up in the retail world.

Years passed, and we had less and less snow in our area. When we did have snow, it was in late January, maybe even February, but never for Christmas. A White Christmas was a thing of the past in my part of the world. How I missed the sledding and playing in the snow. My mother grew older, and feebler. She had multiple small strokes, multi infarct dementia followed. I was clearing out our old house so that I could move her to a place that could care for her. Up in the unfinished attic, I came upon a tattered faded box that was falling apart. I carefully opened it to find that silver aluminum tree. It was a tad bend up from being stored away for so many years, but it was just as gaudy and shiny as it ever was. It brought back so many memories, memories that are worth keeping. Remember to keep Christmas in your heart every day. Happy Christmas Everyone! May you have much snow to play in!    

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