Long ago and far, far away in another world called the 1960s a small boy had a Christmas that the man from a much later and much different world still remembers.
The year was 1964 or so, maybe ’65. I was mere 3 or 4 years old. I still remember my dad bringing in the Christmas tree and making that wooden stand for it. No one bought cheap Chinese-made Christmas tree stands back then. People made their own. It wasn’t a plastic Christmas tree either. It was a genuine Douglas fir. It probably cost my dad a whopping $5.
Dad leaned the tree against the wall in the corner of the living room where he planned on setting it up and went out to his workshop to saw up some scrap wood to make that stand. He always had scrap wood on hand because he made animal kennels for the airlines as a side job. Unfortunately, plastic would later end that business venture. Anyway, the tree stand wouldn’t have been anything fancy; just a couple boards crossed and nailed to the bottom of the tree. Of course, Dad had to cut that tree bottom square first.
When the tree was up, mom took over. She wrapped an old white sheet around the bottom of the tree hiding the stand and all. Dad’s job was to get the lighting squared away. He had a box with two or three lengthy strings of colored electric bulbs; real incandescent bulbs, not LEDs. The string was wired in series. Remember those? If one bulb went bad, they all went out. I still remember the old man grumbling and cussing a bit trying to figure out which bulb in the string was causing the issue. He’d hold them up to his ear and shake them to see if the filament was broken and loose inside the bulb.
I got my very first (many followed in my career in electronics service) electrical shock off that string of lights. I can distinctly remember sitting on the tile floor in the living room and playing with the plug in the wall socket. ZZZAAAAAP! It got me. I was wearing nothing but tighty-whitey underwear and my fat little bare thighs were on that cold tile floor when I got zapped. I felt it. I don’t think I ever played with a plug in a socket again. Once was enough for me. I ain’t stupid.
Once the lights were up on the tree and working to dad’s satisfaction, then everyone could start in on the decorating. I have an older brother. I don’t know whether or not he participated in the tree decorating on this particular Christmas. He would have been about 15 years old at the time. This stuff may have been kinda’ silly for him by that age. For me, though, it was just marvelous.
We didn’t do a lot of traditional Christmases like this in my house after this one. Maybe that’s why it made such an impression on me. The memories are fragmented and cloudy a half century later, but I still remember them. The tree was just magical for me. I loved the way it smelled. I loved the blinking lights and the shiny decorations. I think this is the year that my dad set up my little electric train set around the base of the tree, too. Remember those?
I recently read a Stephen King book where a character in the book is reminiscing about the smell of the old train transformers after they’d heated up a bit. I can still remember that smell, too. If you ran that train around those tracks at high speed for too long that old Bakelite box that the transformer was in would start to get pretty warm.
I don’t remember what Santa brought me that Christmas, and it doesn’t really matter. The memories of that tree, of my mom and dad, and of my big brother are what are most important to me. It truly was another world far, far away. If Einstein was right, that world still exists somewhere back along the stream of time. I don’t know that we can buck the current to return to previous times. Using my fallible human memory, I can make the trip whenever I want, though.
Here’s wishing you all the opportunities to make many, many more wonderful Christmas memories as you drift down that stream of time.
Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa… whatever your flavor, have a joyous and magical season!
- Douglas fir image from http://www.santastreeland.com/christmas-tree-lot/
- Lionel train transformer from miscellaneous eBay sale.