I Remember… (Part Two)

Ann Swanson

Once my great-grandparents died our Christmas customs changed. We still decorated the tree at great-grandpa’s because my great aunt lived there. It was during this period that I was allowed to bring home the tramp art pieces I found in the attic.

My grandfather refinished the two pieces. I got the knickknack shelf with the mirror in the center and I think my cousin got the one with the horseshoe. If you do not know what tramp art is, it is made from carved wooden cigar boxes. The carving is very intricate. As soon as I had a house I hung up my tramp art shelf.

I started getting an allowance about this time. I chose to have my own Christmas club that I kept at home in a little money box that my mother had. That meant that I had $12.50 to spend on gifts for my mom, my grandfather, and my grandmother by the time Christmas came.

One year I found a pin with all color stones that I wanted for my grandmother. If I bought it I had to scrimp on my mother’s and grandfather’s gifts. I remember I looked at it and looked at it at a store in Buffalo as we shopped. I splurged and bought it. Today I have that pin although it is missing a stone. Grandma wore it every time she went out all winter long on her coat. I had the clasp repaired a couple years ago so I can wear it.

One special Christmas eve I planned a service for us to have at home. My aunt and uncle joined us that evening since they planned to spend Christmas Day with her family. After the service, I wore my new scarf to the candlelight service at church.

Christmas pageants were not very elaborate in my day. We sang a few songs and some of us recited pieces. I always got a new dress for this event, however.

One very snowy night many people did not make it to the candlelight service. Two of us lit the candles then we joined the choir in the choir loft. Our chorus was to sing, but there were only two of us. When it was time we stood and proudly sang our song.

My mom belonged to a pinochle club. When they had their Christmas party they asked my aunt’s sister and I to serve and clean up. We got paid to do it. It was fun. We got to stay up late. We also got to play Santa Claus when it was time for a gift exchange.

Finally, I was old enough to get a job. I only applied at one store, Sidey’s Department store. I got the job and worked through the Christmas season. I worked in the gift-wrapping department. I made hundreds of bows, the old-fashioned way by rolling the ribbon around my fingers. Although I like to wrap gifts, by the time I was finished at the store my own gifts suffered a bit.

I kept my part-time job until I went to college. My senior year in high school we were on split sessions so I worked every afternoon. I moved all over in the store and worked in several departments. I especially liked the jewelry counter because it was at the front of the store. I saw every customer who came in. They were very nice to work for. I remember attending a Christmas party at the boss’s house.

I had a couple friends who chose to continue working. After work the one fella drove so he always picked me up to go to the football and basketball games. We became very good friends. He worked at a private store that was called Ludlum’s Variety store. I think the friendship blossomed because we both worked.

I remember eating chili at the West Drugstore. I think it cost twenty-five cents and I got crackers with it. Sometimes I ate at the lunch counter in Kresge’s. There I always ordered a lemon coke – they put lemon syrup in the coke.

In those days the downtown was hopping. There were many stores to choose from. I remember the overhead money tubes from Penney’s. The money went into a tube and was whisked up to the office and the change came back. At Sidey’s we had a tube system also. It went down then up to the office. We kept no money in a register on the floor.

One year when I was working there I found a wallet with a lot of money in it as well as some personal identification items. I turned it into the girl in the office. I saw the lady come to claim it. She never even said thank you although I know the girl in the office told her I found it. That made a big impression on me. I was honest but received nothing in return. I could have been dishonest and kept some of the money.

One year I asked for this teddy bear. That was my only hope of getting one since I did not play games at any of the carnivals. I had quite a collection of stuffed animals that I kept on my bed. I was so happy when I got it. I remember it had an alphabet print on the front of it. I think that teddy bear is still around somewhere. My children played with it. In fact, my son used it to get himself out of the playpen by stepping on it.

The store I worked in while I went to college was different. I had to join the union to be able to work there. I took the bus to work after my last class. They had a Santa Claus – it so happened that he was Jewish. It did not matter. He did an excellent job with the children as he listened to their wish list and handed out candy canes.

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, PA. Contact at hickoryheights1@verizon.net.

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