There are days when I put my glasses down and I can’t remember where I left them. Or times when I have walked down to the basement to bring something upstairs and for the life of me I can’t remember what I wanted in the basement. But my memories of Christmases past remain as sharp as a photograph that was just taken with a new 16 megapixel Nikon electronic camera. I remember the Christmas trees that my father and my older brother would bring into the old farm house – ones that was probably purchased in the lot at the grocery store. After much effort, the tree would be planted in a new block of salt which was made for the animals to use out in the pasture. It made a good tree stand since it was heavy and had a hole in it. After trimming down the base of the tree, the tree was inserted into the block of salt and then a couple of wood wedges were tapped into place to hold the tree firmly.
One of my jobs was to help my mother decorate the tree. First there was a string of old electric lights – the kind where the bulbs are all in series and if one bulb burns out, the whole string of lights goes out. Fortunately, there were always a few spare bulbs kept in a drawer in the kitchen. Then came a few shiny glass balls and perhaps a few other handmade decorations carefully saved from previous years. And then strings of popcorn, which were made out of threaded individual popcorn kernels, were wound around the tree. The final decoration was to cover the tree with lead icicles – that’s right lead icicles. Each year we would carefully remove the icicles and save them for the following year. It wasn’t until many years later that the stores started carrying aluminized plastic icicles – I never understood why. The plastic icicles fell off the tree whenever someone opened the front door and let in a draft. They stuck to each other like they were glued together and were difficult to save for the following year. It seemed like we never did have enough of those new-fangled plastic icicles!
But when all of the decorations were on the tree, our Christmas tree was the most beautiful tree that I had ever seen. I remember receiving a Marx train set for my 6th Christmas in 1946. It was a train purchased out of the Sears and Roebuck catalog and placed under the tree by my mother and father. A couple of years later, I received a Daisy Red Rider BB gun. And then around the age of nine, a bicycle which was shared with all of my brothers.
I want to thank Susan, Jeanette’s daughter, for taking us on the trolley to downtown Pittsburgh to see all of the Christmas decorations. I can’t help but wonder what will these children remember about Christmas in downtown Pittsburgh this year? Will it be the beautiful indoor tree; or the displays of gingerbread houses; or perhaps the beautiful outdoor tree and skating rink in the plaza? The fact is I didn’t know anything about Pittsburgh or city buildings or trolleys when I was growing up on the family farm. But I sure do remember the most beautiful Christmas tree that I had ever seen standing in our living room!