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.

Douglas fir Christmas tree

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.

Old electric train transformer

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.

Stay warm!

Merry Christmas, Seasons Greetings, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa… whatever your flavor, have a joyous and magical season!

~Eric

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About V. T. Eric Layton

vtel57, Nocturnal Slacker

6 responses »

  1. lilbambi says:

    A Christmas from childhood is so precious.

  2. I remember it well, myself … strings of lights with those C9 bulbs, each with a reflective foil cowl about 3″ in diameter, with a proclivity to tear or flop around … and the train set going around the base, powered by pretty much the same transformer as in your picture.

    In particular I remember these little green felt elves we had back then. They came out with the rest of the Christmas decorations, then turn up in all sorts of places, all through the Christmas season. When I was 5 or 6 it seemed like the elves really were magical. It turned out my brother, who’s also many years older than me, was moving them around when I wasn’t looking. That happened for a couple Christmases before I caught on.

    Ah, those were the days, my friend … !

    • Yes. Those were the days, indeed. Odd that many of us seem to always yearn for that which once was rather than that which might be. Is it because we know that what might be will never be as it once was?

      And aren’t big brothers something? ;)

  3. ebrke says:

    As the only child/grandchild (and a girl) in a pretty much all-female family, I didn’t have a train running under the tree, but I do remember how good the tree smelled. Also, since I’m a bit older than you, Eric, the lights on my tree didn’t blink–that type didn’t come along until I was older. I do remember how the strings of lights used to tangle no matter how careful you thought you had been when you put them away the previous year! And I remember that Christmas Eve seemed to be the best time–Christmas Day always seemed to be a little bit of an anti-climax.

    • On this one particular Christmas, Christmas morning was the big day for me. However, in years to follow, the celebrations were mostly on the Eve and the Day of Christmas was spent relaxing.

      The way the made the lights blink on those old series wired light strings was pretty primitive. You installed a single bulb that had a special filament that would break connection between the poles of the lamp when it reached a certain temperature. When the connection broke, the entire string would shut off for a moment. The temp would quick drop on the blinker bulb and it would remake the connection, lighting the entire string once again. The blinker bulbs were usually clear, if I remember correctly.

      Yes, those neatly packed away strings of lights still have a mind of their own even nowadays. They must squirm and wiggle in those boxes in the attic all year before getting unpacked again for the Christmas season. ;)

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