Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmases Past

I'm writing this for the younger folk in the clan...hell, after turning 75 this fall, everyone is younger, save a handful. I want to tell some stories from the 1940s.

My first memory is 1945...when I was 4. Dad made it home for Christmas after being away in the Army for 3 1/2 years. I do not remember specifics other than Dad's presence after waiting for him at the train station in Mahoningtown until (if memory serves) after Mid-night. I was not sure I was as happy to see him as the rest of the family seemed to be. That's another story, however. Christmas of 1946 is a different matter.

Joe graduated from High School in January 1946 and promptly went into the Navy. With his departure Mom and Dad hired an Amish man, Jonathan J. Byler (then 19) to work the farm...with Dave...which meant he would live with us as well. So by Christmas, Yone as we called him, was very much a part of our family. He lived in the room behind the kitchen, later became Bonnie Lutz' room, then the TV room, for those of you who remember.

He showered in the cellar near the furnace. A shower head was installed among the floor joists, and a drain was in the floor there, or so I recall. No matter, there was always a thin layer of coal dust down there, so it was not the most enticing place to shower. It was still there when the house was sold, but not used after Yone left. I remember Jim and me using that shower only once or twice over the years. But Yone was like a big brother.

On Christmas morning 1946 he and Dave were back in the house after milking the cows (6 or 7 by this time) and the furnace was stoked and heating the big house. The old place had little or no insulation so the heat went right up to the roof and melted any snow that was up there. This year there was plenty and just as Jim and I were stirring there was a big snow-slide off the roof and onto the back porch below (this is a year before the garage went on so there was quite a drop to the shed roof of the porch.) Jim and I slept in the little room on the North West corner of the house. With a loud crash the snow hit...I had heard it before and knew what it was, but this time Yone tried to convince us that the sound was Santa leaving the roof of the house...naaa....he didn't fool me: too late in the morning, it was daylight, it was snow, I just knew it. That pretty much ended my belief in the old elf. Too much empirical data indicating otherwise.

We were not allowed to open gifts before Bonnie and Pop-Pop arrived, so we were focused on seeing their gray car come done the road and park adjacent to the barnyard gate. They never came up in the drive, as I recall. They were driving a 1935 Ford...the black 1948 showed up later. Of course, Tottie was with them. But as I think about it, I am not sure if in 1946 she was with them. I am guessing yes, however. When she was in the country she would take the train to New Castle for Christmas. Her presence was off and on those early years since she had stints in Puerto Rico and then Greece.

Tottie added significant flavor to the Christmas experience. She brought trinkets with her; trivia from abroad or New York City, either of which was coveted by us kids. Most of the "in" games at the time showed up for us at Christmas...Pit, Authors, Scrabble to name just a few came to Luacres courtesy of Aunt Tottie.

By 1947 Yone was gone. Joe was released from the Navy early due to the shrinking armed forces after WWII, which meant he was back in the house...we were all home together, once again.

Dad started a tradition this year. He purchased a "trophy" with a plastic base and had a athletic figure in gold plate affixed to the top, its was hand raised and sported a crown of laurel on his head. There were gold-plated plates on the front and back suitable for engraving. Dad bought it from our three season neighbor and jeweler, Sam Tieche. It was to become an annual award for some fete of a member of the family. I was awarded the "trophy" that first year, which said: "1947 - Tom - Swim". I guess Dad thought it was of note that during the previous summer I learned to swim while I was not yet six. I know that there were discussions about what constituted such an annual later years Jim "won" it for "Art" (1948); Joe and Shirley were immortalized for their marriage (1949) and Dave's name was included in 1950 for Delta Theta Sigma (which was inscribed in Greek letters)....and there were other awards, but for the life of me I do not remember after 1950....51? and presuming 1952 Dave and Tillie. Chickie? Probably something, but I forget.

I wonder what happened to that thing? The engraving was done by Tieche, but each year he used a different font so the honor or names all fit on one line, so it did not look symetical as I recall.

Christmas of 1948 was much different that the previous two. First, Pop-Pop died in October of that year, so there was sadness. Also, Shirley and Joe were an item, so there was an added person at the opening of the gifts and as somewhat different eating schedule. Joe and Shirley were often with her family at the same dinner time. Dave and Tillie were also an item and I embarrassed myself in front of here more than once.

The fall of 1948 was also the first year we were not milking cows. They all went when Dave graduated from high school in June. It would be almost another ten years until bovines inhabited the old barn...and then not milking stock. The days of shipping milk from Luacres was over. The spring house no longer cooled milk in the old trough.

Bonnie Beal was always with us at meal time...Ed was there some years and not others. He had shown up several weeks after Pop-Pop's funeral and while he was functioning he was not always sociable. Ed, too, is another story, which I won't detail here. He was Mother's baby brother, but he was an alcoholic and was abusive to his bride and Mother held no quarter for that. There was tension.
We did not celebrate with Bonnie Lutz in those 1950 Bonnie Lutz was living with us when she broke her hip. She was there until she died in 1952.

Joe and Dave headed off to college (Slippery Rock and Edinboro, respectively) in 1948. They were headed to Penn State's Ag school, but were farmed out their first year due to the influx of students due to the GI Bill. By 1949 Joe and Shirley were married and off to State College. Joe was the beneficiary of that legislation, which is how he and Shirley could manage married life...well, and the fact that she worked at the Navy's Underwater Research Lab located just off Penn State's main gate.

I was drinking this all in...year by year, decision by decision by my older siblings. Christmas was a significant event because the family always was together.

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