Thursday, December 21, 2006

Visions of Christmas Past

As was certainly true for most young boys and girls in their single digit years, Christmas for me was a colorful and mysterious event with its own compliment of scents, tastes, sights and experiences to awe and amaze.

From our home in northwest Indiana, we made an annual Christmas journey to Chicago by South Shore, an electric passenger train. Cars painted a dull orange would take us directly to downtown shopping, depositing us right at the doorstep of Marshall Fields. Only after careful consultation with the Sears Christmas catalog were my brother and I ready to make the trip. We understood that Santa brought a great many things our way, but we also knew Mom and Dad supplemented what was in Santa’s sack. So, Ron and I made lists of all the toys we could possibly want and included a few extra knowing that we could not get everything we desired, and knowing it didn’t hurt to hedge our bets a little. Then, at some point, Mom, Dad, Ron and I whisked off to Chicago, ostensibly to see all the store displays but there was more to it than that.

Ron and I were very much dazzled and preoccupied by the animated Christmas displays luring shoppers to store windows. It was like nothing else we had seen before. Electric trains journeyed around magical towns occupied by elves that slowly moved their heads and arms. Mechanical toys that went far beyond our imaginations filled the windows and made us want to revise our Christmas lists with a couple of lengthy addendums. By the end of the day, Ron and I were so tired we hardly took notice of the sacks Mom and Dad carried with them as we boarded the South Shore for the trip back home to Indiana. They had done a little Santa work while we soaked in the lights, the sounds of traffic, the crush of shoppers.

At home, we alternated each year between an artificial tree and live ones we purchased at a grocer in town. But one year Dad took Ron and I to a farm to cut a live one ourselves. I think we ended up going to a farm that belonged to somebody Dad worked with. I can remember snow on the ground, not much, just a dusting but it started to snow again while we were picking out a tree to take home. For someone as tall as a seven year old, the Christmas trees looked big and they were difficult to see around. There was a shuffling among the trees and I looked over to see two horses make their way into the clearing we occupied. They didn’t stay long but it was an impressive sight to a city boy.

We ended up taking home two trees that day. One big one for the living room and a smaller one for the room Ron and I occupied. We were proud of that tree. It was the first time we had one of our own. I can recall drifting off to sleep to the twinkle of Christmas lights and the scent of pine needles.

Suddenly, deep in the night, Ron and I were startled awake by strange noises that seemed to be emanating from our tree. It was a popping sound, the source of which was not clear until morning. Only then did we realize that the tree had been set up too near a heat register. Anytime the house needed to be warmed, pine cones on the tree opened up and seeds sprang forth, ready to produce a sapling. Difficult to do on hardwood floors but the pine persisted, evidently convinced spring had arrived.

I haven’t even begun to tell you about singing “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” to Grandma, or Dad as Santa, or any one of a thousand other wonderful Christmas memories. But this blog entry can only cover so much. I’ll leave the rest for other times because I am certain I will never forget.