I used to wonder why old people liked to talk about the past. Now that I am in the “old people” club, I totally get it. It has little to do with not being progressive or keeping up with the times or even wanting things the way they were. and everything to do with fond memories. I mean, who doesn’t want to visit great memories? Especially around Christmastime. I don’t necessarily remember visions of sugar plums dancing in my head but I sure remember spritz cookies, Russian tea cakes and homemade fudge. Since I was a product of The Greatest Generation and a Baby Boomer I didn’t have to worry about The Great Depression and other atrocities, me and my siblings had it pretty good.
I remember the giant Sears catalog along with a few others in our household becoming dog-eared as we searched the “Wish Book” as it was called for the perfect gift to ask Santa to bring us. In reality maybe we got one or two items on our list and it is doubtful the items ever came from Sears as my parents were Montgomery Ward shoppers, but it didn’t matter. The fun was in the wishing and looking and dreaming (geez, I think that was a 1960’s song). Anyway, the anticipation of maybe getting a thing or two on our Santa’s list kept us on relatively good behavior for at least a few weeks and undoubtedly a blessing for our folks who barely had to utter “naughty or nice” to keep us in line.
Most moms didn’t work outside the home in those days so my mom got into the swing of Christmas by stenciling Christmas decorations on our window panes by dabbing a sponge dipped in liquid pledge (odd but true) that formed Santa, trees etc. Then she baked up a Christmas cookie storm and hid the cookies from us because she didn’t want them all gone before Christmas. We were always pretty sure my Dad got some early cookies though. She also always made us nightgowns or pajamas that were usually red flannel with really dumb looking Little-House-On-The-Prairie sleeping hats (the book not the TV show) so we could take an equally dumb picture in front of the Christmas tree. She always gave us these pajama things on Christmas eve along with slippers. One year I got beautiful blue fluffy, furry slippers. I was thrilled not to once again get the slipper socks which were the norm back then. Imagine getting excited about a pair of slippers? This is why we call it the good old days.
I remember we went Christmas caroling with the kids on my Chicago city block even though most of us couldn’t carry a tune. About a month before Christmas the only music teacher on the block and probably the only parent who felt up to the task would contact our parents and ask them if we wanted to participate in Christmas Eve caroling. I don’t ever remember being asked by my parents if my sister and I wanted to do this, I just remember going over to the teacher’s house (one house down ) for “practice,” a few times before the big night. I do remember her telling me I needed to sing from my diaphragm and that I sounded nasally. And I do remember thinking I was into dancing not singing and people would just see a bunch of cute neighborhood kids singing and not necessarily care if they sounded like a professional choir.
We only went to houses on our block where we knew people well or that had kids in the singing group. Some people gave us candy or hot chocolate, it was great to be out at night on Christmas Eve as a kid and some people even gave us money. I remember one time a guy named Moose Krause, who was the brother of the policeman, who lived next door to us and was visiting, giving the music teacher $20.00. That was a lot of money back then, it was the late 1950’s. We all figured it would be divided up amongst us singers who were freezing out butts off singing in the snow. But our music teacher had other plans for the money and told us it should go to our neighborhood Catholic church collection box at midnight mass. The Christmas spirit took hold of course and we all agreed she was right. It wasn’t until years later and talking to my Dad that I realized that Moose krause was the athletic director of Notre Dame and a huge notable athlete in his own right. My Dad was talking to him for quite a while on the front porch that one Christmas Eve and for my folks, who would go to Notre Dame games quite a bit in those days, meeting Moose was a big deal. For us kids the big deal was yet to come, Santa Claus was coming to town.