Yesterday By DONNA HUNT Every year I wonder why it is that the older I get the quicker Christmas rolls around. When I was a child it seemed like it would never arrive. Now I no sooner get our Christmas decorations safely stored away than it’s time to start getting them out again. This year, after heart surgery in August, I am particularly slow in getting decorations displayed.
When I was young, traditions were such a strong part of Christmas. I miss the routine of getting ready for the holiday. One thing that has remained is the Christmas music available at almost every church. This year the weather hasn’t cooperated with Christmas parties and to some extent shopping although shoppers seem to be out in numbers buying gifts or getting in the Christmas spirit.
One thing we have now that was unheard of when I was a kid, is the ice skating rink on Main Street. Several nights ago we drove by the rink on a particularly warm evening and were shocked at the number of kids and adults enjoying the normally northern tradition of skating on the ice. Whoever thought up this idea for the city is to be commended.
Those of us who preferred to stay in our houses and keep warm rather than venture out with the thought of a fall on the ice and breaking a bone, got either a little stir crazy or accomplished a multitude of things around the house. I was among the cautious ones who stayed put a great deal of the festivities.
As a child traditions were such a strong part of Christmas. Selecting a Christmas tree was a part of that tradition whether it was going down to the lot on the trade grounds on Woodard Street or maybe at the west end of the old high school grounds at Main Street and Armstrong Avenue to pick one out a tree.
Maybe on a Sunday afternoon before Christmas – my dad thought we shouldn’t start until after Dec. 10 for some reason – we would go out in the country to my grandfather’s farm or on property owned by someone we knew and walk for what seemed like forever to pick out the perfect cedar tree. Daddy, who never was a handyman with a saw and nails, would laboriously cut down the tree and load it into the trunk of the car.
Once we got it home, he would begin building a crosstie of wood and nail the tree to the base. This was before the days of tree holders that would hold water to keep the trees fresh. It usually took a lot of sawing to get the trunk of the tree straight so that it would attach to the base and not lean in an awkward direction. I even remember it being attached to the wall a time or two to keep it from tipping over.
When we finally got it stabilized and felt pretty certain that it would stand up, we hid the base with cotton batting and began checking out and untangling the previous years’ lights. This always meant a trip to Barrett’s Drug to get bulbs that had burned out or maybe a whole new string of them.
Once we had the lights on the tree, it was easy going as we attached the ornaments and liberally sprinkled the tree with tinsel and maybe a little artificial snow. I still have some of those ornaments, but they are so old and fragile that I don’t hang them on the tree, but display them in a basket or a large bowl.
Every year about the same time, my allergies would start acting up. We never suspected the cedar tree as the reason, so every Christmas I sneezed and snorted from Dec. 10 to Dec. 26 or later when the tree came down.
In later life, that realization’s light bulb came on and a trip to Barrett’s produced a tinsel tree the next year, complete with a revolving red, white and green spotlight that made the tree sparkle. The tree was never the same though because we couldn’t put lights on it for fear of a fire. So as soon as artificial trees that looked almost real came along, we had a green tree from then on. Those tinsel trees are now collector’s items and I wish I had kept mine.
A couple of years ago, I succumbed to what is called a white “stick tree”, meaning it was white and looks like it is made out of sticks. The best part of it is that it has white twinkling lights already on it. Last year I covered it with red ornaments and enjoyed it for a week or two past Christmas. Then I left it up all year with plans to decorate it for all holidays through the year. That plan never materialized.
This year the tree was still standing, looking a little naked without the red ornaments. Here it is 10 days before Christmas and it still has only two ornaments, a large red, bird on the front and an angel placed on top when my son helped me get some decorations out of storage. I do have a few Christmas decorations scattered around, but for some reason, I looked at that poor tree tonight and felt bad that I have never decorated it. Maybe tomorrow will be soon enough.
Christmas shopping when I was younger was a pleasant experience. As I remember it, we were not so rushed and most stores were much more helpful in suggesting gifts and even gift wrapping them for free.
We had more downtown store to shop in as I remember in my childhood days although we have some very nice ones offering great gifts today. Back in the day when I really enjoyed shopping, we could go to Madden’s, Lilley’s or K Wolens department stores and find almost anything we wanted. At K Wolens we even got Gold Stamps to exchange for merchandise. Today, even the K Wolens building is gone, having been destroyed with the building on either side in a terrible fire last month. We could go to Weingarten’s or Label’s or Three Sister’s or Newsom’s or Franklin’s or Freel’s and find anything a woman might like to have to wear. My parents were thrifty enough that most of our gifts were to wear.
For the men there U.S. Clothing, Dad and Lad’s, Sneed’s or Noel’s as well as the top three listed above. For the kids there were Wennie’s Youth Shop and Young Fashions. Drug stores – there were four or five of them, Loi-Mac Pharmacy, Bear Drug, Kingston’s Drug, Burtis Drug and Harris Drug. Most also had gift items as well as whatever was needed for our health and soda fountains. All these stores were on Main Street and on Saturday the sidewalks were crowded with shoppers all year long. A favorite pastime of the older generation was to park on Main Street and watch the people go by. Some had favorite parking places and got there early in the day to stay all day.
As a child most of my shopping was done at the S.H. Kress or J.J. Newberry stores where prices were more fitting to my $1 a week allowance. I have a picture of S.H. Kress with a sign over the jewelry counter on the west wall saying “all items $15 cents each”. That was more my speed.
Of course the candy counter on the east wall was just about as inviting with the different bins of all kinds of candy and the aroma of fresh popcorn that nearly drove me crazy.
Stores decorated their windows as well as the interiors beautifully for Christmas and for many years gift wrapping was done almost everywhere free of charge. High schoolers were able to earn a little holiday spending money by wrapping gifts during Christmas. Occasionally today you can find individuals or groups doing gift wrapping for donations.
My dad owned a drug store, Loi-Mac Pharmacy at 200 West Main, and every Christmas after I was old enough to reach the cash register, I helped out during the holidays and was the chief gift wrapper. I cannot remember if I got paid or if it was just insurance that Santa Claus would bring me what I wanted.
Christmas programs at the church were and still are a special at Christmastime. The music and pageantry are part of what the holiday is all about. Cantatas and nativity scenes have always been beautiful and no Christmas should be without them.
Hope you had an opportunity to attend at least one Christmas parade in the area, a party, or church Christmas activity.. Christmas traditions may have changed, but the spirit of the season remains the same.
Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at email@example.com.