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Fri, Nov. 22

A Christmas story recalls boyhood

I never got what I wanted for Christmas, but I suspect that was mostly due to the fact that I never really knew what I wanted.

But as I look back, I don't ever recall being disappointed on Christmas morning. Santa would always come through.

Very seldom was there anything that I had asked for. That was a good thing. On those occasions then I got what I asked for, I found myself wishing that I had asked for something else.

Like the year I asked Santa for a chemistry set: A friend of mine had one. It came in a large metal case with maybe 100 different chemicals. The one I got had six chemicals. The only thing I could make was ink - it came out brown - and a recipe for rubber eggs.

I tried it once. There should have been a not in the instructions that it would be best to use a hard-boiled egg. The egg did bounce, and made an awful mess when it broke open.

On Saturday following Thanksgiving, there would be the big Christmas parade and Santa Claus would be coming to town.

I had been waiting forever, and I wanted to give him the long list of toys I wanted.

We only lived about three blocks from the end of the parade route, but Dad would bundle us all into the car, drive about two blocks and park close enough so that we only had to walk a block or so.

We huddled on the sidewalk, my feet frozen because I had only worn my school shoes and didn't have sense enough to wear even an extra pair of socks. My discomfort quickly would be forgotten as the parade began to pass, the cars with various town celebrities - the mayor or councilmen, a Miss Something-or-Other wearing a crown and looking to be freezing because she was not wearing a coat over her gown, and a variety of floats, sponsored by various merchants.

There were also marching bands from the different schools. When my older brother, Larry, was in band, he would have to march.

We would get all excited when his school marched by, trying to be the first to spot him. He would march by, playing his trombone. We would shout and wave, but he always seemed to ignore us.

At long last, the float with Santa on it would pass by. It was followed by a band playing, "Here Comes Santa Claus," and Santa would wave and throw out candy - I was never quick enough to get any - all the while shouting "Merry Christmas! Ho-ho-ho!"

Afterwards, I would try to get Dad to take us into town so I could show him what toys I wanted.

"Heck, no!" Dad would say. "I'm not going into that crowd!"

He had a point: I believe that everyone in town had come to see the parade.

Dad loved Christmas, and although he pretended not to, he would get as excited as us kids.

He followed a certain yearly ritual in buying our Christmas tree. After dinner, he would announce that he wanted to get a tree before they were all gone. Then two or three of us kids - there wasn't room for all of us - would pile into the cab of his truck. It was the company truck, painted red, with large racks for carrying the window glass he installed.

Mom never went. She would be happy with whatever Dad would pick out.

Dad always went to the same lot. He knew the guy who ran it and had been buying his tree from him for years.

We would get out and walk around looking at trees. Dad finally would find one he liked. It was always a different kind of tree each year. It might be a pinion pine or fir or something in between.

Dad asked the guy how much, and no matter what the price, Dad's response was always the same: "I only want one tree, not the whole lot!"

"Now, Alan," came the reply, "you know how much it costs to bring these trees in."

The argument would continue for several minutes, until a price was agreed upon. "Well, I can let you have this one for ..."

Dad was happy. The guy might have come down only 50 cents on the price, but Dad could not have been happier if he had gotten it for free.

When we got home, Dad would set the tree on the front porch. Then, I would go down to the basemant and root around until I found the tree stand from last year. It was made of wood that Dad had salvaged from a glass box where he worked.

Decorating the tree was always a grand occastion. Mom would move the furniture and clean the room to make room for the tree.

Dad would bring the tree in and set it in the chosen location, then he and Mom would turn the tree until the best side was in front.

There was always a flat or thin spot, which would be hidden in the back. There was a reason Dad got such a good price, but he never seemed to mind. I believe he expected it.

After the tree was placed, we would all climb the stairs to the attic, where the boxes of Christmas decorations were stored. There were probably eight or 10 of them, and all of them were carefully carried down and set on the floor near the tree.

Dad would open the boxes and begin taking out the tree lights. He would plug in each string to ensure it was working properly, and then he and Mom would begin putting them on the tree.

We had one string of bubble lights, and my sister, Frances, and I would plead for them to be placed on the tree.

As the final touch, Dad would open the box that had the angel in it, and place her on the tree.

It was in these early years that the son, "Sweet Angie the Christmas Tree Angel," was on the radio, so Angie, as we called her would be given her place of honor on the top of the tree.

My parents had had Angie for many years. One year, Mom made her a new dress to replace the one one that had become very worn. Angie looked resplendent in her new, white satin dress.

Then, Mom and Dad would begin taking out the boxes of ornaments. There were far more than the tree could hold, and there were some that were a lot older than I was.

We carefully hung them on the tree, but as careful as we tried to be, there was always one that would slip off of its hook and shatter on the floor.

Then Dad would unwrap the icicles. He had carefully removed them from last year's tree, and would more than likely use them again next year. Dad wasn't one to waste anything.

To be continued ...

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