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Tue, Nov. 12

Organic Matter: There is absolutely nothing in Christmas for young in age or the young at heart

Memories of what used to be are stirred with another Christmas almost upon us.

Steaming hot chocolate, a homemade turkey dinner and the scent of pine are the things I most remember about Christmas while growing up on Long Island.

Regrettably, I can only reminisce about them as my parents and brother, the members of my immediate family, all are deceased.

There's no longer any opportunity to experience those things with the people who steered me through adolescence.

A turkey dinner is a long-standing tradition on Thanksgiving and that was the case at our house.

But my mother also prepared one for Christmas, so we got to eat turkey and the leftovers for the last five weeks of the year.

Mom did not bother making any stuffing as none of us cared for it, but she did make a batch of savory brown gravy.

My brother, Dick, was 11 years older than me, so he and dad took turns slicing the turkey that had gotten my olfactory senses going as it cooked in the oven.

I only like the white meat and seldom waited for everyone to be seated with his or her plates full before getting my first taste.

I usually sampled a piece as it came off the carving knife and dropped onto a serving plate.

Mashed potatoes with gravy, vegetables and rolls, plus a beverage completed the main course.

And the leftover turkey made sandwiches for at least a week thereafter.

Mom baked two pies to give us a choice each Christmas.

One year it might be apple and pumpkin, another year cherry and mince.

I was usually too stuffed with turkey to have any pie right after the meal, so I had a piece later in the evening with a cup of hot chocolate.

We did not go in for individual serving packets so common today.

Mom would prepare a pot full of chocolate.

It too produced a tantalizing smell that led each of us to have seconds, consequently it was all gone by the time we went to bed for the night.

We set up our Christmas tree on the night of Dec.

24 in front of the bay window in our living room.

It was always a real pine tree that had come from Maine and which I helped pick out of a local lot where they were sold.

I cannot recall anyone in our neighborhood having an artificial tree.

Everyone else wanted the pine smell in his or her homes as we did.

Of course, Christmas trees were more reasonably priced back then.

They sold for $1.50 per foot at some lots, $2 per foot at others.

But even the slightly more expensive ones were just $12 for a 6-foot tree.

My wife, Colleen, and I set up an artificial tree each year now.

It is safer than a real tree from the perspective of a possible fire from lights heating up and, quite frankly, I am not about to pay $30 to $40 for a 6-foot tree that will be thrown away after the holidays and do it again the next year.

If you can find a real 6-foot tall tree for $12 now before Christmas Day when prices drop as vendors liquidate their stocks, congratulations.

You have truly found a bargain.

After decorating the tree on Christmas Eve, Dick added the final touch by putting his Lionel electric train set around it.

Wrapped presents were placed inside the oval track layout.

I must have played "Casey Jones" as often as Dick.

He ran the train at night after getting off work, but I had it all to myself during the daytime.

The engine would run around the track followed by six to eight cars, including a caboose.

There was a button on the transformer to sound the whistle.

I could also stop a milk car beside a platform, press another button that would open the car's door and a man would come out and deposit a milk can on the platform.

Pretty neat, I thought.

Occasionally, a strand of tinsel would fall off the tree across the track, generating a brief short circuit if the train happened to be running.

It served as a useful reminder that our toy carried a not-so-obvious danger if one touched the track while the transformer was operating.

The fun continued until a day or two after Jan.

1, when we took down the tree and I realized it would be another 50 weeks before we did it again.

Oh, how I wish I could relive one such Christmas from my childhood.

Terry Organ is the Miner's education, health and weather reporter.

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