I would suspect that most of us—that is those of us who have been around the block more than once or twice—have different approaches to the Christmas season.
I was reminded of this the other day on a ride home from a routine doctor appointment. We were behind a delivery truck that asked, in bright red letters, “What does Christmas mean to you?”
Patty, my care-giver and driver also saw the sign and we had a short talk about that and came to the conclusion that it is probably the reminisces that one has of the season.
There are good memories and some not too good but they must be included with the plethora of others in making our store of remembrances complete.
Patty asked me if I had a bad one and I had to say I did, although sad might be a better word than bad.
It was the Christmas of 1943. My wartime ship, the light cruiser Detroit, was plying the waters off the Aleutian Islands looking for the enemy. The enemy knowing this was making himself as unobtrusive as possible. And the weather and limited daylight was aiding him. We, nevertheless, were searching.
A few months before this operation the ship had been in Honolulu for supplies. Some of those were of a personal nature. Members of my division had bought some phonograph records, you know, the old 78 rpm’s, and with the aid of a small record player rigged to a radio we had music in our living space. Not exactly high definition but music nevertheless.
Unfortunately, the records were stowed in one of the drawers of a metal file cabinet and in a fairly rough sea took a beating that they could not stand, the vinyl of the day being what it was. Most of them were broken.
One record was, however, salvaged. A recording of Shubert’s “Ave Maria” by a young singer, Deanna Durbin, only had portions of the edges chipped off making about half of it usable. We thus had Christmas music, of a sort, played on a makeshift rig of a sort on Christmas of 1943. And we memorized Deanna’s rendition. Oddly enough I spent other Christmases under wartime conditions but do not remember any of the details. They, no doubt, do not include a broken record.
Many people would aver that Christmas was mostly meant for children. And they would be right excepting it is the adults that make the day for the youngsters.
Some of my most fulfilling Christmases involve children and most of them were out of my own household. My most memorable times were when my kids were of the elementary school age, you know, that magical age when an event like Christmas can light up and inspire most anyone. The kids would dress in their finery and we would leave the house in the early morning on a Saturday before the day. We would leave the mother at home as this was her day as much as ours.
This was in the pre-mall days. If one wanted a shopping adventure he had to go to the big department stores. These were downtown. We remember the Walker-Scott store, the Marston Department store and the Kress and Woolworth establishments all within walking distance of each other. The basement at Walker’s demanded the most attention.
This was the toy section that was anchored by a Lionel Train exhibit that would mesmerize the meanest of Scrooges. It featured those big O-gauge engines pulling dozens of cars of all types and descriptions through mountain passes and prairies into gaily decorated villages complete with pedestrians and buildings. It took almost physical force to unglue the young ones from that scene and remember the goal of the trip.
Those adventures would culminate with a lunch at the Manning’s Cafeteria that offered the best chicken salad sandwiches and coffee in town followed by a Christmas type movie at one of the downtown movie palaces.
Under those conditions Christmas was certainly a time for children. But we must not forget it was the adult person who was storing up those remembrances for times like today. They make 1943 seem like the distant past.