Memories of Christmas
My first memory of Christmas as a child living along Union Deposit Road near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was in 1937. I was six and a very special present was in preparation provided by Grandpa Royer. Somehow it was already in the house, so Dad was in charge of setting up the O gauge Lionel train set. It was a steam locomotive, tender, box car, lumber car and caboose. The layout was arranged around the Christmas tree inside the front door of the house, which was never used. It was late afternoon and all was arranged, the track together, the cars taken from the boxes and carefully placed on the track. The transformer was connected to the track, and plugged in. "Look", Dad said, "the light came on". Then all stopped, since the train was not to move until grandpa came. Time went by, I watched intently but had to wait. Then the very bad news came, Grandpas car was stuck on Hoaks hill, just about 3 miles away. It had been snowing and the car could not get up the hill. And it was time to go to bed.
Fruitcakes always played an important part in our Christmas season. Not because we like them, but because Dad had a fundraiser at Lower Paxton school, which sold them to make money, presumably for a class project. There was much family discussion as to picking the best one, since we were, I guess the test panel. I was in favor of the moist two pound loaf, which was the standard for several years. Its taste was not my favorite, but much better than the other dry one. I can still taste it today in my mind, saving the need to actually bit into any morsel. The "Salesman" and "delivery" phases were more difficult. Not only was I supposed to approach other extended family members, but was also to sell them to my customers on the Steelton "chicken and egg" route. The boxes (six two-lb. cakes) arrived and the deliveries had to be made. The leftovers seemed to remain about the house for months till the nice moist cake became as tasteless as the rejected dry one.
Then there was the Christmas when I got a very nice flannel shirt, the only problem being that I really had my mind set on another gift. I guess I looked very sad, and Mom noticed. She informed me, after the fact, "You have to tell us." So much for Santa or any other all-knowing being! During the war (my ages 10 14) a boy could not get batteries, buzzers, or doorbells. I had seen a Telegraph Set, and so much desired it for Christmas. Later I finally got to practice Morse code, even to the point of taking a ham radio licensee test. But, you know, they dont even use words in the test. Just code groups of five miscellaneous letters, which you have to get perfect, at 21 groups a minute, for an entire minute long over the five-minute test. FAILURE, maybe the shirt was not too bad after all.
The problem was always what to buy for Dad. One year Mom suggested a belt. Well, Dad always wore the same kind of wide belt, which fit with his favorite buckle. I went to the right store, Shenk and Tittle, I believe, but such a belt was not to be found. I tried Pomeroys, and several other stores, with no result. So finally I decided to buy him a new buckle. It was a handsome one with the initial "F" engraved on it, all be it narrow instead of wide. The buckle and the matching narrower belt were under the tree. Not counting on Dads resistance to change, I saw the buckle lying in Dads top dresser drawer for years, unused. Finally, after I was in college and going off to the University, I liberated that buckle, and starting using it myself, since I also have the same initial "F".
Several years later I remember getting a basketball and a steel hoop from under the Christmas tree on that special day. The problem was where to place the hoop so that I could try to throw the ball at it. There was no easy solution at our household. Finally, Dad decided to mount it on the front of the barn (converted to a chicken house) just under the windows for the upstairs pens. It was under the middle bay with served as storage area on the first floor. In winter when the ground was firm and hard I could try my hand at shooting hoops. As the summer came and the ground was softer and used as the chicken yard, the sight of a mud and "chicken dirt" covered ball was not too appealing. Needless to say my Basketball career was not too illustrious. I did play Jr. High School intramural. The only goal I ever remember making was, after an aggressive recovery of the ball from a foul free throw, I tossed it neatly in the basket. Unfortunately it was the other teams basket, hence giving them the 2 points. My personal embarrassment was only slightly reduced after my friend Richard Mauk did the same thing in a Lower Paxton township varsity game.
One year it was decided that sister Faye was to get a record player capable of handling the new 45 and 33-rpm recordings. It was suggested that a nice Christmas present from Anne and I might be a record to play on it. Asking around the family as to what type of music, Dads suggestion was "A March". Well, after spending some time in the listening booth at the record store in Harrisburg, I selected a classical recording. When Faye opened it at Christmas time she was less than impressed. It was disheartening for me since at that time in the 40s that LP cost me $5.95, a major part of my spending budget. After I went to college I bought the same record album for myself, since, I guess, I was the one who liked it. But it has not been played for years since we are now into the CD and MP3 age.
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