Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Christmas Memories

Every year at this time of Christmas I enjoy revisited my past Christmas memories.

For all my photos, I have absolutely no photos of me as a young child in front of a Christmas tree. 

There are no photos of me sitting on Santa's lap.  That's because I never sat on Santa's lap.  My parents never took us (me and my two younger brothers) to a Santa, department store or a Salvation Army Santa. That kind of tradition just wasn't in their DNA.

Brat on Santa's lap

The first Christmases I can remember was when we lived in that cockroach infested, second floor apartment ($22 a month rent) on Washington Avenue in the white trash section of Downingtown in the late 40's and early 50's.  Ironically, that apartment building is still there and it is still the white trash section of Downingtown.  And believe me, White Trash.  My father was a hillbilly, literally.  Arrived in Pennsylvania from the mountains of western North Carolina in 1929 with his eight brothers (two more born in Pennsylvania) with his hillbilly mom and pop.
My father (tallest man in back with hat on the left) with ten of his eleven brothers (one took the  picture)  and mother - 1939 - at the burial of their father 1939

They were starving in those mountains and migrated to south eastern Pennsylvania to his brother-in-law's farm as cheap labor.  But I digress. 

My father married up to my Mother who was descended from Pennsylvania Quakers.  Her mother died before she was two years old and she had a "Cinderella" childhood.  My father was her "Prince Charming",

Mom's "Prince Charming" - a near illiterate North Carolina hillbilly - my father

to take her out of her poor living conditions. Mom got married to my father when she was only sixteen years old.  

Cinderella - my Mom's early life was very similar to this image

My Mother's birthday was Christmas Eve. She always told me she didn't like it when her birthday was combined with Christmas ("This give is for your birthday and Christmas").

My Mom, high school Junior - 1939 - she used to run home for lunch because she didn't have any food to eat in the high school cafeteria - she often joked about her lack of food growing up later in her life - "Never had to worry about gaining weight in those days!" - 

Thus with this family background, I have set the stage for my early Christmases. 

I remember always being reminded how she only got an orange for Christmas for which she was always thankful.  So we should always be thankful for whatever we got.  

She also reminded me that "Pop's" Christmas was even more bleak.  She said he was lucky if he got through Christmas without a beating from his father, who did like to beat his eleven sons.  And beat hard, enough to leave scars on my father's back, which she often referred to. 

My hillbilly father and Mother (she's in the car) at the eight dollar a month rental cabin where they lived when they first got married. No running water or indoor plumbing - was hinging machine on the front porch. Living "high" in 1940. the happiest times of my Mother's life, which she often told me.

Now I'm not complaining about our early Christmases.  I was grateful for whatever new pair of pants or scarf I got. I don't remember any toys.  

Then came the one Christmas I got very bold and asked Santa Claus (I still believed in Santa then) for an electric train set.  I really wanted that electric train set, the one with an engine that puffed smoke. And since I was the first born son, I assumed my wish would be granted.

Come Christmas Day, we three (me and my two younger brothers) could hardly sleep Christmas Eve.  Early Christmas morning we rush to the "front room" (which is what we called our linoleum floor covered living room in our apartment where our Charlie Brown Christmas tree was displayed in resplendent splendor) to see what Santa left under the tree.  

There were the usual packages which the Christmas paper couldn't hide the fact that more underwear and pajamas were underneath.  Then we spied the BIG package.  OH NO!  There it was!

I grabbed the huge box with my ten year old hands and ripped off the Christmas paper.  

There it was!  A Lionel train set! 


But wait, my Mother, who was observing her sons, quickly put a caveat on my Christmas present.  She said "That train is for ALL of you."  


How does that work?  

She said "You're all to share."

Well folks, long story short, that didn't work.  

We tried.  I took the engine and the coal car.  My middle brother Isaac took the two middle cars which included the flatbed car with logs.

By youngest brother John got the caboose. 

We split the tracks. We never did decide on how "owned" the transformer.

Needless to say this "sharing" didn't work.  I'm sure my Mother had the best intentions and our family was just too poor to afford a gift of such expense for each son.  But this just didn't work.  

My brothers and I never did use that train set.  In fact, I think I eventually walked away from it and gave the train set up to my brothers.  

I've always viewed this episode from my early life as a metaphor for my whole life. 

It's funny how a seemingly innocuous decision during one's early life affects one's future life.  

Maybe I'm wrong but I know this, my Mother's decision at that time only contributed to my life long questioning of myself "Am I good enough?"  

I think my Mother tried to make up for her mistake at a subsequent Christmas.  I wanted a camera so bad.  I think it was my next Christmas, when I was eleven years old that I got my camera.  Thus beginning a life long hobby of taking pictures. 

My brothers John and Isaac with their new Christmas presents 1954 - bikes! And my first pictures with my new Kodak Brownie camera - definitely not HD but I loved the fact that I could take photos now

There, this is just one of my Christmas memories.  I have another one (much better) which I will share tomorrow).  

By the way, the photo of bubble candles at the beginning of this blog is an image I will always associate with my early Christmases. We always had those wonderful bubble lights on our Christmas trees, no matter how sad the Christmas tree. The bubble lights always "made it Christmas."


Mike, Studio City said...


Jon said...

A fantastic post, Ron - I really enjoyed reading it. Our childhood experiences definitely have a strong influence on our later life. It's important to remember the past, and to share it.
I like the photos. Your father was a hillbilly hunk.

I remember those Christmas bubble candles - they always fascinated me. My family never had them but one of my aunts did.

Ron said...

Thank you Mike. The same to you and Glenn. Will we see you in February?

Ron said...

Thank you Jon! You understand this post. I don't think most do. These cathartic posts are good for me and you. That's one reason I blog. My father was always popular with the women. I have a letter that my Mother saved in which one of the women who was after my father wrote to her saying "You can't hold on to him." She mentioned that my father was "Big", (and not just tall) which was the reason she wouldn't be able to "hold onto him." Thank goodness my Mother did. She laid down the law to him after one memorable encounter (which I may also write about in a future blog, if I haven't already done so) and he behaved the rest of his life because he truly loved my Mother and didn't want to lose her. I'm glad my Mother wasn't like many other women and left him the first time he strayed. My Mother told me before she died that my father was the "only man I've ever been with in my life. I never wanted another man other than your father." I'm glad she shared this private information with me before she died.

wcs said...

I was just the other day explaining bubble lights to Ken. He wasn't sure what I meant when I was talking about bubble lights, so I found an image on the web to remind him. We always had them when I was a kid, but not any longer. Modern LEDs don't make enough heat! LOL.

Jon said...

Your Mom was a great lady, Ron. We were both fortunate to have very special mothers.

You're right on target when you said that most people don't understand this post. I feel the same about the posts I write on my blog. People either don't read them carefully, or they simply don't "get" it. Few bloggers bare their souls like we do.

I probably sound brash...but it's true.

nitewrit said...


I remember bubble lights, which would bubble once hot enough. Mentioning trains, that was what I had on one assessor, which was an oil drill. There was a bubble light tube that would cool and heat and when it grew heated and the bubbles went up it represented the drill had struck oil. You could have come up to my place and shared my trains, a whole one, engine and all the cars you could have run. I had a couple Lionels and an American Flyer. I do miss my trains. And , of course, as an only child I didn't have to share with anyone.


Ron said...

To me, these Christmas bubble lights always evoke warm memories of my early wonderful Christmases. I have bubble lights now but no tree. I should put up a tree next year!

Ron said...

I understand your posts, even your posts that others don't like. I know where you're coming from because I'm coming from the same place in many instances. I "get it" in your posts and I'm glad you "get" mine.
We were indeed fortunate to have such wonderful Mothers. Growing up I just assumed that everyone had mothers like we did. Thus I was very surprised when I met others my age who didn't get along with or like their mothers. I just couldn't imagine growing up like that. What I did know was growing up with a father who was distant and seemed like he didn't like me. I don't think he ever did, which is a shame because we're both nice guys. Right Jon!

Ron said...

I was very jealous of you being an only child and not having to share your trains with anyone. I didn't think at the time to share your trains, which I would have done. Can we go back and do it now? Whoops! Can't can we because I think your Mom sold your trains.

nitewrit said...


Yes, she took my trains out of he attic and sold them at the flea market. She didn't ask my prmission or share any of the procedes either.


Ron said...

She sure did Lar. I remember seeing her at Farmer Brown's in Morgantown selling your things. I thought you had given them to her. I felt bad when I saw your items on that table. I wonder where your train sets are now?

Ur-spo said...

Happy Christms to the both of you! hohoho

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