Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fort Hill Christmas memories

Apologies to Raymond, my Buffalo friend who is usually the first to read the blog if I post it after midnight, I'm a little late this week.....

They say Christmas is for the kids or the young, and I would have trouble arguing with that statement.  Although at this age I find much more pleasure in giving than receiving, even that activity is less memorable than when I did it in my youth.  It's not hard to take the money out of a pre-arranged Christmas club account and go to several stores to spend it.  It is hard to break open your piggy bank and count the pennies and nickels and then agonize what you can spend the money on and who. I'm not a Christmas Scrooge, but I do like to think about how magical and overwhelming the emotions were in the time when my pajamas used to cover my feet and there was a zipper in the front and a snap up butt flap in the back....

We lived in the middle of Fort Hill Avenue in Canandaigua when I was young.  It started as a simple house that my dad kept adding on to, until it had 7 bedrooms.  It was cold in the winter in my bedroom when I was a kid.  My dad would tell me that it made me healthy, but in reality it just made me shiver.  We would scratch our names in the ice and frost that would form on the inside pane of our windows.  That's not to say it was 32 degrees inside of my room, but as a kid, it sure felt like it.  We shared rooms and I remember the day I got to move from a room shared with 3 brothers to a room shared with 1.  Although it should have been thrice as nice mathematically, I remember most how quiet it was and how I missed all the chatter and whispers that had been the norm for me for so long. That's probably the moment when I invented the string can telephone, just so I could hear what was happening in my old room (Later I would invent the Internet too).  Yes it was cold in the new room too, but the one morning I never noticed it, was Christmas morning.

We would go to bed early the night before under the threat of "the naughty list", but we could never sleep.  My brother Redface and I would talk until the wee hours about what might be under our tree in the morning.  Bikes were a common wish, but clothes were a more common reality.  We had bikes, but we always wanted bigger,better and with cooler options.  We would finally fade off to sleep, but even then we dreamed of the presents beneath the tree.  We never had to set an alarm, we just woke up at the crack of dawn. The next part though, was kind of tricky.   We weren't
Picture 12 kids by 2 filling these stairs.
allowed to be downstairs until Dad got up, and you wouldn't dare wake up my father (If a father was ever going to invent Christmas spankings, it would have been my Dad). So, one by one, we would wake up and start filling up the stairs from the bottom up.  My parent's bedroom was right at the base of the stairs, so the fidgeting had to be kept to a minimum. You try that on Christmas morning, before your first pee, when you are 7.  It's funny, we had 12 stairs, enough for 1 per kid, but we piled in 2 or 3 to a stair, like Richard Petty fighting for pole position. The bottom stair was the most prized.  It seemed like hours would pass before we would hear my dad stir.  He would walk out, either shake his head at us or ignore us completely, and he would go and start the coffee.  Back then we perked the coffee on the stove, talk about a watched pot!!  Finally, coffee in hand, he would come back, wake my mother and release the hounds.  We always started with our stockings while dad got situated in the living room near the tree.  We had huge hand made stockings that were gifts from a family friend.  I can't say who made them, but I bet a sibling of mine will at the end of this blog.  They were made of a burlap material, but were big and sturdy and each one had our name embroidered on it.  They were full to the top, and in the toe of each one was always an orange or tangerine.  My mother used to say it was a treat that went back to when you could only get citrus fruit in the summer.  I don't know how she explained the loose shell-on nuts that filled a lot of the rest of the stocking.  We would eat some things from our stocking and then stake out a corner of the living room to seat yourself and with room to stack your booty.  My dad would climb in to the stack of presents, glasses and white T shirt on, and start the distribution.....

OOPS, I missed a step.  My dad was an electrician's mate in the Navy, and he was responsible for playing the music on the ship. He inherited some old equipment and tapes, and especially liked an old Wollensak reel to reel recorder.  Many Christmas mornings, he would set this up first
with an open mike and just let it run.  You wouldn't believe how well it captured both the emotion as well as the sound, or maybe I just feel that way when I hear those tapes.  You would not want to be the last person to receive a gift, as the taunting would start immediately, about what you had to have done to deserve no gifts.  I would compare it to being chosen last in grade school for the
dodgeball team, but it actually was worse than that.  The other thing you wanted to avoid, was the dreaded "shared present".  I remember clearly the year I got the Walkie and my brother Redface got the Talkie.  I'd seen them sold in pairs in the store, but that's not how my Christmas present came. It forced me to get along with my brother for a while, but inevitably we would fight and then my present wasn't as useful as intended. There truly is nothing that looks sadder than a kid in his coat and boots (with Millbrook bread bags hanging out of them), walking around Fort Hill with a Walkie, talking to himself. Occasionally you'd pick up conversations between truckers or cab drivers.  A word of warning, if you do, these are not the "new" words you want to bring home and teach to your siblings (I can still taste the soap).   My dad would continue to hand out all the presents until the last branch was shook and there were no more. The teenagers sometimes would go back to bed at this point, but for me, I had a bunch of new toys and things that screamed to be played with and tot-tested.  The year I got the slinky, it lasted 8 minutes.  "They walk down stairs, alone or in pairs, and make a slinkity sound....."  Bullshit.

You know what you really get when you and your brother race your 87 foot coiled springs down the stairs all hopped up on Christmas candy, cookies and adrenalin?  174 feet of hopelessly tangled, stretched out steel.  Try putting that back in the box and returning it.
     Christmas morning was a time when you also found out the true meaning of "caveat emptor", let the buyer beware.  How about your dreams of reigning over mass villages of sea monkeys, only to find out you were raising brine shrimp?  Don't even get me started on my 5th grade fiasco with my X-ray glasses.  I remember mailing a bunch of pennies and a slip from the back of an Archies comic book to get one of these things, and it actually arrived a few weeks later.  I'm still amazed now that I think about it, that the envelope got through the mail to the place.  I had a friend, later in life, that mailed her dinner pancakes to "The starving children in Africa", but that is not a Christmas story, she just didn't like pancakes, but I digress.....

an unknown street in Buffalo during the 77 Blizzard
     So the toys would not live up to expectations and all too soon, Christmas day became like any other winter day off from school. We built igloos and snow forts, threw snowballs, and sledded down the hill across the street at Evan's Field.  I remember in 1976 or  1977, shortly after Christmas, we had a blizzard that was so bad that it snowed so much that we had to tunnel our way out to the street.  Anyone who lived through that week has no fear of global warming.  It was kind of cool to live in that environment for the following week, but to this day, I don't shovel unless I absolutely have to (just ask my wife). So those were some of my memories of my Christmas's on Fort Hill Avenue in Cdga.  Feel free to share your own by commenting at the end of this blog, or share this post to your Facebook and see what memories your friends have.  I'd love to read them all, while I wrap my Slinkys.


beeg said...

Thanks for not posting an actual picture of the stairs with us on it....Year after year, it was just a shot of my holly hobby underwear. Great Blog...laughed out loud many times!

Nathan Rider said...

There is an exceptional post where you have showed most important thing. I will share with my friends. thanks.

Karen Yarger said...

I believe your mom made the stockings! Paul still has his!

Nila said...

Here's a story I wrote a few years back about our Christmas Mornings

Christmas Morning when I was young was probably the most excruciating time of the entire year. We kids would wake up well before dawn. We'd been told the night before not to wake up my Mother and Father until the sun was up. I'm not sure we ever were able to wait that long. We'd sneak into each other's rooms until we just couldn't stand it anymore and we would go out into the hallway with all of the good intentions of "being quiet" and wait by my parent's door hoping they would wake up. Finally after what seemed like an eternity they would wake up and we'd have to wait until they were dressed before we could all go downstairs to the kitchen.

Of course we had to have breakfast before we were allowed into the living room. A full blown breakfast of bacon and eggs, toast and juice with all the trimmings. We kids would shovel the food down without even tasting it, but Dad; he would take his sweet time. He would painstakingly chew each mouthful and tell my Mother how good everything was. He would ask us if we wanted seconds, it won't take that long. It was awful.

Grandpa had to come through the living room on his way to the kitchen. He and only he knew if Santa had really come during the night. He would ask my Mother where all the coal and potatoes had come from that were all over on the living room floor. We would look at him in disbelief. He had to be kidding, he just had to be. It was terrible; Santa wouldn't really pass us by or leave coal and potatoes, would he? Had we really been that bad all year? Did Santa know about the windows in the barn that we had shot out with the BB gun, or that we had found our presents in the attic opened them, played with them and rewrapped them? Did he know about our bickering and our fights? No, Grandpa was just kidding, he just had to be, we knew it.

We kids would filter into the dining room, waiting. After the grownups had finished breakfast and cleared up the table they would finally join us. My Mother would grab the camera and be the first one into the living room. I love those pictures she took on Christmas morning. We all look so excited and surprised, except for the year we'd opened our presents before hand.

Dad would decide oldest to youngest or youngest to oldest. He would change it every year just because he could. We would all be standing there in line our stomachs gittering, giggling with anticipation. What had seemed like an eternity was in fact an hour from the time we had awoken to the moment we walked through the short hallway from the dining room to the living room. An hour of excruciating anticipation. One brief hour leading up to one of the most exciting moments of the year.

And there we were. Standing just inside the living room door. Grandpa had been kidding, there were no potatoes, the room was full of brightly wrapped packages filled with etch-a-sketches, underwear, and Barbie dolls. Stockings bursting at the seams with candy, fruit, and trinkets of all kinds. Sleds or bikes or our first color TV. All the amazing things we couldn't afford all year long, but my parents managed to find the money for at Christmas. The room always seemed to be filled to the rafters with presents. Of course with five kids, two parents, one grandparent and an aunt there had to be.

It was magical, those mornings, tearing through the wrappings and finding that one toy I'd dreamed of. Looking back they all seem to have blended into one day. One greatly anticipated, amazingly magical day that only came but once every year.

Bill said...


Thanks for being my first internatioal share. I hope your friends in Australia like it too!


What a wonderful story, we could have grown up in the same house.

Daphne Mays said...

Great one, Bill! It could have been our house (except for the number of kids) right down to the slinkies, oranges in the stockings and the cold room! Actually, water did freeze in my room once, but that was a particularly cold and windy night. I went and slept behind the woodstove. I too distinctly remember that blizzard! We dug huge tunnels on some hills and sledded through them.

shot2 said...

I always thought the loose nut in the shell in the stocking thing was peculiar to my parents...guess not.

kmarvin2002@yahoo.com said...

I'd forgotten about the reel to reel recorder, but can see it clearly in my memory. We too had oranges and shell on nuts in the bottoms of our stockings. I always traded the oranges and had to have someone else crack the nuts open for me.