Column: Christmases past and present

Looking back over the last two-thirds of a century, Christmas is the time of year that elicits the most and best memories. My earliest memory was when I was 4years old and in a children’s hospital with tuberculosis. Roy Rogers and Dale Evans came, donated a television to each of the two wards. They stopped at every bed, spoke with every child and gave each kid a present. They gave me a sweater that my parents told me I wore on every occasion until I finally out grew it. The next year, I was out of the hospital, and my favorite present was the Hopalong Cassidy cowboy suit with two simulated pearl handled chrome cap pistols.

By my teens, I had left most of my childhood Christmas narcissism behind. I usually saved enough money by doing odd jobs, (selling flowers on street corners, mowing lawns, etc.), to buy everyone on my relatively short Christmas list a present. My list consisted of my two grandmothers, my mom, dad and my three sisters. I was usually able to complete my Christmas shopping in an hour to an hour and a half a day or two before the holiday. Where I grew up, the Westchester section of Los Angeles by the LA Airport, there was a strip of stores on Sepulveda Boulevard that had both a Broadway Department store and Penney’s. Most of my shopping was done at these two stores, with an occasional walk to the Pier One Imports or Sav-On drug store for the more exotic gifts.

A few years later, I proposed to Judi in a parking structure, (yes, I am a romantic), when we were going to a Christmas party. Since that time we’ve had many great and memorable Christmases together. We laugh when we think about the free opal ring that Finger Hut sent me because I had purchased more than $50 from their catalog. When she saw it, she gasped and told me that she hoped I didn’t spend too much money for the ring. I didn’t tell her it was free until six months later when she told me how much she loved the ring, but that it turned her finger black. She still has and loves that ring.

We smile when we recall the time my mother-in-law, Dorothy, (usually the sweetest woman in the world), tried to kill me, one Christmas Eve. She asked me to light the fire place because the gas valve was some distance from the hearth. I lit the long match and started to put it toward the log lighter. I turned toward Dorothy and said, “Go ahead and turn the valve.” A fireball burst forth singeing all the hair off my arm. My mother-in-law had turned the gas on about a minute before. She just smiled and said “Thank you.”

It was always a joy to watch our young boys on Christmas morning, playing with the toys Santa brought and ripping open the wrapped gifts and leaving the living room with a pile of boxes, bags and torn up wrapping paper. The boys also enjoyed playing a Monopoly like board game called The Christmas game, that was customized with cards with their names on them.

A couple of weeks before Christmas one year, we went to the Christmas Boutique, held in the basement of our church, after Mass. Having little interest in most of the items, my eye caught a unique Christmas ornament. It was a handmade, bird’s nest with a homemade blue bird sitting in it. It was crafted out of real bird feathers. It was a little more expensive than I wanted to pay, but it was so unique that I forked over the money. I placed it prominently in the front of the Christmas tree about halfway up. You can imagine my distress, when I came out one morning and found Tootie, our six-month-old kitten, had pulled the nest out of tree and was chewing on what remained of the feathers and nest.

Over the years, one of my best Christmas presents was a recurring one. As a young cop with little seniority, working holidays was part of the job. My shift ended at 2:30 a.m. and my two boys would arise before daylight. The thought of coming home and having to put together bicycles and other intricate toys before getting an hour or so of sleep, was daunting. Fortunately, my sister-in-law and her husband would spend Christmas Eve at our house. For several years, I would come home after work and find that my Jewish brother-in-law, God bless him, had put the kids’ bikes and toys together. I couldn’t have asked for a better gift.

The last couple of years, Judi and I would celebrate Christmas with our boys and their families the weekend before Christmas. This frees our sons to spend Christmas Eve and/or Christmas morning with their wives’ families and helps to uncomplicate Christmas schedules. This year we bought our two sets of grandkids a game called “Pie In The Face Challenge.” It consists of a plastic hand full of whipped cream and two pistons that are pushed by the participants. The losing contestant ends up with a face full of whipped cream. The kids loved it, but were not satisfied until grandma and

grandpa were each sloshed ear to ear with Reddi-Whip.

I sincerely hope that your Christmas memories are joyous ones. I pray that each and everyone of you find God’s blessings in the coming year.