Wednesday, December 22, 2010

I'm Thinking About Christmas!

The Cohen Brother's Dept Store Santa

I have many wonderful Christmas memories. My parents loved creating a Christmas Day that included plenty of toys, decorations and a morning that always brought us together as a family. There were never threats that Santa wouldn’t stop at our house or a complaint about an unwanted gift. My mother and father were successful at wowing me each and every Christmas morning for as long as I lived at home. The first year I was on my own and living in my own apartment, I decorated my small, sad looking tree with photos of Christmas mornings at home. In 1973, driving those six miles from my new apartment to my parent's home on that first Christmas away from home, caused me to wonder if I had made the right decision about leaving home. Christmas mornings would never again be the same.

Dad In his Christmas Shirt From Rosenblums

I Always had Great Transportation To Show Off On Christmas Afternoon - Thanks to Santa.

My Father wasn't hard to please on Christmas. Mom and I used to come up with some great presents for him and we knew we hit a home run. His favorite saying while opening presents was always. "Hmmm, just what I wanted-but not very badly." He loved new golfballs or a new putter and he always wore all of the beautiful ties I picked out for him.

So many WONDERFUL Christmas Dinners-Just the four of us.
 Christmas day always included a big turkey dinner that my Mom would  labor over all day for us. She was a great cook. One year my Dad got the idea he wanted to cook a duck on the grill for our Christmas dinner. It was an all day effort, since he didn't realize how Duck + Fat = Fire was a full time job. No more duck experiments after that. Our table always included my favorite, a can of Jellied Cranberry Sauce sliced neatly on Mom's special cranberry dish. In later years, she made her own and it was so much better. She'd always check with me though to make sure I didn't need the canned version. I finally outgrew the can.. I wanted to learn how to make my own cranberry sauce and conferred with Mother about her secret recipe. She'd laugh and say, "Nothing special dear, the recipe is right on the back of the cranberry bag - Just leave out some of the sugar!"
One of Many Artificial Trees

We were one of the first on our block to have an artificial tree. My father was allergic to whatever molds and pollen hitchhiked in on the tree and he either broke out in the hives or had a stuffed up nose for duration the tree was in the living room. I convinced myself I was allergic to real Christmas trees also, but was told by George Winterling to WASH THE TREE before bringing it into the house. This worked for me. No more tree phobias.

My mother usually kept her robe or housecoat on while we opened presents and my father was usually quick to get dressed. Seeing him in a robe usually meant he was sick or in the hospital. Neither one of my parents wore bed clothes or lounge wear after 7:30am, unlike me who can stay in my pajamas for an entire day and think nothing of it.

The Wrapping Paper Mess Intrigued Spot
Spot had a strange penchant for tinsel. He managed to digest it quite well.
One thing missing from our living room on Christmas morning was that big black plastic Hefty bag to keep things neat and tidy. Our entire living room floor was an ankle high sea of torn Christmas wrapping paper and ribbon that we had meticulously wrapped our presents in. I was usually my father’s wrapping slave and became quite adept at creating neatly wrapped  masterpieces. We always had the latest bow maker, self making bows, curling ribbon or the coveted “Sasheen” ribbon that my mother probably purchased at the drugstore after the previous Christmas or at Woolworth’s or Sears’ after Christmas sale. I got wise to the gift wrap thing and looked for some compensation from my Dad to do his wrapping. He used to have me do his shopping for him and even come up with gift ideas for Mom. It was evident to Mom on numerous occasions that I had picked out my father’s gifts for her and she didn't appreciate that one bit. I had to tell him my cover was blown after being questioned by my Mother as to who thought up and purchased her gifts one year. I thought my father’s traveling on the road with his job would have allowed him some extra shopping time, but looking back now, he was probably so exhausted from driving all over North Florida and South Georgia, he opted to drive home instead of getting a hotel and going shopping so that he could sleep in his own bed. Motels didn’t exactly have Egyptian cotton sheets or mock Sleep Number Beds to entice you to stay the night. A broken “Magic Fingers” at twenty- five cents a pop was about all the luxury that was available in the sixties.

Two Christmas mornings stand clear in my memory. One when I was only in elementary school and lived in Lakewood and one when I was seventeen living in San Jose Manor. It goes without saying that these two Christmas’ were trumped after I had a child of my own and witnessed his disgust on Christmas morning with the mess that Santa’s reindeer left on our front porch after we were nice enough to leave carrots out for the reindeer to snack on. Leaving Santa a beer one Christmas Eve to go with his cookies seemed normal to me. On one Christmas, my granddaughter woke up to a brand new bicycle under her tree and the first thing she said to her parents was, “Hey, I’d like to have one of those!” 
The Storybook Princess
Imagine the look on my face on Christmas morning at age six or seven finding what I considered to be (and still do) the most magnificent doll ever created by The Madame Alexander Doll Company. Fashioned after a princess who read stories on television, The Storybook Princess Doll under my Christmas tree with her ball gown crisp and full waiting there just for me, knocked me either drop dead speechless or brought me to tears. Being the easy-to-cry kid that I was, it was most likely the latter. I approached this doll from Santa with a wonder and a disbelief that it was really for me. Her dark and neatly netted hair was adorned with a rhinestone tiara and in her hand was a small wand or scepter that is missing in the picture above. This wand was used on television to magically bring a story to life on the TV show. The doll’s gown was bright fuchsia satin and netting with small tea roses sewn under the netting. It was a large doll,  but much larger in my memory than it really was. I scooped her up and loved her until her hair fell off and her strung arms and legs sagged loosely out of their sockets sometime in the 1980’s when I finally had to dispose of her due to the smell of her decomposing plastic body and sticky rubber parts turned gooey and unsightly. Rather than see her in her deteriorated state of old age, I threw her away. I had painted her molded fingernails with a red ball point pen that had bled into her graceful rubber fingers turning them a bloody looking red. Naturally my Storybook Princess had a variety of hair-dos created by me. Anyone familiar with dolls knows that a Madame Alexander doll wig was never meant to be brushed. My mother stored all of my dolls in our oven- like attic, knowing I would not want them thrown away. When she finally gave the box of dolls to me, a few of the dolls had succumbed to the Florida heat. Others fared well and I enjoy them to this day. Even Suzy, the first doll I had, is still around. She hasn’t changed much (she’s the one on the left with her other buds). I don’t remember getting Suzy on Christmas morning and she was never very special to me until I was a grown woman. Suzy accompanied me to Hope Haven and was allowed to come home with me. All of the other gifts and toys I received in the hospital when I had polio were thrown into the incinerator according to my Mother. For some reason, Suzy survived the death squad and is even listed in one of my doll appraisal books. She is pictured and shown with the name “Crying Baby”. Her body is a little hagged out and her

The Christmas Suzy Was Under the Tree

Suzy Today ( Left) Hanging Out With My Mother's Childhood Dolls
voice box is rusted mute, but she looks happy to me. No wonder she had such a scowl on her face, having to go to the germy hospital. These dolls serve as reminders of the thoughtfulness that went into the gifts from my parents and the endless enjoyment I had playing and imagining with them.

The other Christmas I will never forget was when I was seventeen. Being born two days before Christmas and having a Grandmother born on Christmas Eve, it was mandated by her that my birthday gifts never be wrapped in Christmas paper. This particular birthday, it was slim pickings. Not only did I not have any gifts bestowed on me in the usual birthday manner, but my Mom didn’t apologize for the unusual lack of enthusiasm I was customarily spoiled with. I think I received a few pairs of much loved Vanity Fairs from my Aunt Marian and that was it. I thought that I maybe hadn’t deserved anything since my grades in school were unremarkable to say the least and being seventeen, maybe all of the birthday fuss had come to an end and I was too old to expect much. I certainly didn’t say anything about my disappointment, but I sensed in my mother’s eyes and voice that she knew. Christmas Eve came and went and on Christmas morning the same thing happened. Wrapping paper was all over the living room floor and my little terrier Spot sat dug in between my hips and the arm chair I was stewing in. No presents for Claire except for the ones that came from my relatives in Pittsburgh. It wasn’t until my brother Neil was assigned to clear away that sea of wrapping paper, that my Mother asked me to run get her slippers and sweater from her bedroom closet. It became evident that I had clearly fell off Santa’s radar that year and was left wondering why I, who had put a lot of thought into the gifts I gave that year, was honored with NOTHING. Your probably guessing by now that the slippers in the bedroom was a ruse to get me to the back of the house to behold a sight only second to that Storybook Princess. Out of the box and all set up waiting for me in my parent’s bedroom was the very expensive reason I had not received anything for my birthday and Christmas. My parents had bought me a brand new top of the line Singer sewing machine set in a gorgeous walnut sewing cabinet with the bench included. It was a beautiful beige model that would do a zigzag stitch and I noticed a few other features that were not on my Mother’s ancient black White Company sewing machine that I had finally convinced her to let me move out of her bedroom into my own. I learned to sew when I was very young and there was never an end to the knock-off Villager dresses and shifts that I produced for school clothes. Skirts, culottes, herringbone wool jumpers and fully lined wool tattersall pants were favorites of mine. My Mother rarely turned down a request from me for fabric as my sewing made me happy and I was always confidant and happy with my school clothes.
A Lifetime of Enjoyment

My Mom

So those are my favorite Christmas memories. I believed in Santa Claus to the point of actually hearing sleigh bells while trying to get to sleep Christmas Eve. My husband makes the same claim. These things are why I enjoy Christmas and all that goes with it. I don’t mind the shopping or coming up with ideas for gifts. I don’t attend church like I did when I was young, but instead I love watching “Christmas at the Vatican” in a dark living room with only my Christmas tree lights on. One of these days I’d like to return to Rome and witness the crowds at St. Peters on Christmas Eve. Until that happens, you will find me here at home in my living room wishing I still had that Madame Alexander doll in mint condition with box to auction off on eBay. More likely than not, you’ll find me sewing.

Here's to you Mom & Dad - Merry Christmas!