Sloshing Down Christmas Memory Lane

doll in a chairOkay. I already told everyone about my stage debut as Innkeeper No. 2 in the St. Joseph’s Elementary School annual Christmas pageant. You can find it here. I won’t repeat that story again – not that it isn’t a good story, I just don’t want to go through all the trouble of telling it all over again when I already told it once.

I didn’t tell you about the doll house, though. That was one of those magical Christmases. I was about 4 or 5 years old. My parents and I were living in a one-bedroom apartment behind my maternal grandparents’ gas station, on our little town’s Main Street, which was part of a longer road that extended to nearby towns and to the small city located about three miles away. It was a noisy, busy highway and my parents and grandparents were always watching to make sure I didn’t venture onto it and get myself run over by some passing idiot with a car motorist. The little apartment was cramped and old. A few years later, we would move across Main Street, into a bigger, nicer house, but for the time being we were roughing it.

My parents didn’t have much money. My father was working seasonal jobs as a bricklayer. My mother was not yet working outside the home. Things were tight. Of course, being a little kid, I hardly knew what money was, let alone a lack of it. My parents knew, because they were the ones who had to figure out how to live on nothing. There was never a thought, though, of not having Christmas. Of course, we had a tree. In my memory’s eye (which can be mistaken, because I am 70 years old and this happened back in the very early 1950s) it was a small tree. To my young eyes, it was probably the most beautiful Christmas tree in the whole world. I was easy to please.

That Christmas, I woke up, got up out of bed and walked into the living room. Santa Claus had come! There, by the tree, was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It was a doll house. It was unwrapped, probably because it was too big to wrap with whatever Christmas paper my parents had. There were other presents, too, but the doll house was the centerpiece.

Of course, it was just an inexpensive metal one, but to me it was a miniature palace.

I played with that doll house for years until, eventually, it became dented and worn out. I don’t know how it met its end. It was probably tossed out. But that would be in the future. On that Christmas morning, it was the best present ever.

Another thing I remember from around that time is that I was petrified silly of sitting on Santa Claus’ lap. I was a pathologically shy kid, anyway, and a big, bearded fat man in a red suit with a loud voice could send me hiding behind Mom’s coat. Finally, one day, someone (I think it was Mom) got me to sit on the lap of some Santa or other and tell him what I wanted for Christmas. I did it very well, too. I actually talked to the man and I didn’t cry. Word of my accomplishment got around the family and my parents’ friends, and they must have thought it was cute because some of them laughed.
Real Santa Claus carrying big bag full of gifts
Fast forward to my high school years. By then, everyone knew I could sing and I had ambitions to become an opera singer. One Christmas, I found myself part of a small choir rehearsing to sing at the Midnight Mass at our Catholic parish church. Our temporary choir director was a man whose desire to serve was admirable, but whose musical ability was minuscule. He couldn’t even carry a tune, which should be a basic requirement for conducting music. The choir consisted of two men and three females: my younger sister, another soprano and myself. We three females all had good soprano voices. The two men, on the other hand, were even more tone-deaf than the director. This made for an interesting sound. My sister was the youngest of the female participants, so the other soprano and I were the ones who ended up trying to make sure the whole thing wasn’t a disaster.

Somehow, we got through the mass, and that particular singing group disbanded for good. Nobody was sorry about that.

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