|An early Christmas before my time. L to R, that's|
my brother Phil, my brother Gary, my brother Gene,
and our cousin Sharon. Hmm, they told me they
only got apples and oranges...
When I was a little guy, it didn't really feel like Christmas until we got our tree. Our tree, of course, didn't come from a box in the garage; getting a Christmas tree meant a trip to a wondrous place called Addie and Joe's farm. My Aunt Addie and Uncle Joe lived about seven miles outside of Waldron, and part of the fun of Christmas was going out to the farm and trudging through the woods with Uncle Joe, in search of that perfect tree. We would bundle up and put on our boots, and after visiting with Mollie or one of Addie and Joe's other old horses, we would start our trek; past the old barn, through the clearing that led up to the little pond, and then either right or left to scope out the trees that lay at the foot of the big hill that separated Addie and Joe's place from their neighbors. Running part way through the woods was an old road, long since abandoned and overgrown with trees, but the flat terrain was unmistakable. I always imagined it was an old stagecoach road. There was also an old abandoned house place up in the woods. Nothing remained of the house, not even rocks from the old foundation, but if you went up there in the summertime you would find some pretty flowers growing incongruously in the middle of the trees. That little housewife that lived there so long ago had no idea that a part of her would live on!
So, we would carefully examine our prospects; the pine trees were pretty, but not as full as the cedars, so we would ultimately settle on the prettiest cedar tree we could find. And it's true; the tree that seemed the perfect height there in the woods was almost always too tall when we got it home, so a little sawing was required before we could place it in the bucket with some rocks to steady it and some water to try to keep it green as long as we could. A few chairs were relocated in the living room, and soon our tree was set up in front of the double windows on the north side of the house.
|My first Christmas, 1956. (Mama's holding me, |
Daddy's holding Janet)
Then began the process of decorating. We didn't use twinkle lights, we had a set of old C7's or C9's that had been around forever that we used every year. Once, someone had given Daddy a set of bubble lights; those lights that had a tube of colored liquid that, when heated by the light bulb, would actually boil a little bit. We loved those bubble lights, but they didn't survive many years after we got them. Once the lights were strung and tested, and the bad bulbs replaced, it was time for the other decorations. One of the first things to go on the tree after the lights was a paper chain that my twin sister Janet and I had made out of construction paper. To the chagrin of my brothers, we were adamant that our paper chain be a part of the tree each year. I'll admit that after a few years, a construction paper chain begins to look a little rough, and eventually, Janet and I concurred that it was time to retire it. But, for the purpose of our story today, we're putting on the paper chain. Another carryover decoration from year to year was our Santa ornaments. They weren't really ornaments; every year around Christmas time, the Acee Milk Company would put a sketch of Santa on their milk cartons. Janet and I had carefully cut out the Santa pictures from empty cartons, and after a few years we had a pretty good collection of milk carton Santa pictures to put on our tree.
We had a few ornaments that went on next, but the final part of the decorating process was the application of icicles. Icicles were very thin strips of aluminum foil-like material that were to be individually laid on the branches of the tree. Impatient children, however, tended to put them on in clumps, which meant that instead of looking like icicles, they looked like big clumps of aluminum foil strips. It was truly a patience-building exercise to properly apply icicles to a Christmas tree. They came in a little package with a cardboard holder, with the icicles wrapped around the cardboard. I inadvertently discovered one time that they would cling to the TV screen with static electricity, and when doing so it looked exactly like the TV screen was cracked. I managed to pull that prank just about every year. My sister Janet is famous in Yates Family Lore for her mistaken comment, "Aren't we going to put any shingles on the tree?" From that point on, we always referred to icicles as "shingles."
We also usually dragged out at this time of year a particular toy. A few years earlier, at Buddy Gray's grocery store, we had bought a soft Santa doll. In his right hand, Santa held a little bottle of Coca-Cola. That little Santa doll, along with Coke's great Christmas commercials, have served to forever link Coca-Cola and Christmas in my mind. That, I guess, is good marketing.
What's a Christmas tree without presents, right? The process of acquiring presents for the tree quite often began with one of our two or three yearly trips to Fort Smith. Around Christmas time, we would load up into our 1963 Ford and travel up to a magical, wondrous place called K-mart. K-mart at that time was located on Towson avenue, and Janet and I would have the opportunity to look over the entire toy section and pick out our own Christmas present. Added to that, on a good year we had the astronomical top end limit of twenty dollars, so the possibilities were indeed staggering. I was torn between looking over the toy selection and staring out the front windows of K-mart, because I had never been in a store that sold toys at night. I would stare out into the darkness and marvel at the exciting life I led. Eventually, I would settle on something; maybe a wood-burning set, maybe a game, or something else. Other times, when circumstances dictated it, our present would come from the S&H Green Stamp store, which was equally exciting.
But one of the gifts I remember most didn't come from K-mart or anywhere else in Fort Smith. It came from Oliver's Jewelery in Waldron. When I was about ten or eleven, Mama got me an initial ring. It was silver, and on a black square background had an elaborate "B" in silver. It was a real ring; it was sized for me and was not adjustable. I had begun to outgrow toys by that point, and I was so proud of that ring. I wore it for many years, and there is a pretty good chance that I still have it in a box somewhere.
Another non-toy gift that I remember well was my first pair of bell-bottom pants. It was during my seventh grade year, and I can still remember them; kind of a yellowish-tan with sort of a purple plaid pattern. Yes, you're right; on the cutting edge of fashion even at that tender age. I can remember walking up the stairs in the old junior high building wearing those bell-bottoms, and feeling really good. It was groovy.
In later years, we incorporated a couple of other Christmas traditions. One was the traditional Yates Football Game. Really, it was more like the traditional Yates Going Out In The Field And Throwing A Football Around, but it was fun nonetheless. We tried to do that, no matter how cold and windy it was. We don't do that anymore; our hips are all too delicate.
The other Christmas tradition involved me and my brother Phil. We would take all the empty boxes that were produced by that year's gift giving, and take them outside to a clear patch in the garden. There, we would carefully arrange the boxes to simulate a small city. Then, after carefully analyzing factors such as wind speed and direction, we would strategically light one corner of a box on fire. Soon, the inferno would be sweeping through our "town," with total devastation and destruction assured. Fun times.
I, probably like you, have many more Christmas memories, too many to share. But if you have a particular favorite, why don't you leave a comment below and share it with the rest of us. Or, if you're reading this from my Facebook link, just leave it as a Facebook comment. This is one time of year when it's particularly fun to look back. That's where the best Christmases are anyway.