Veselé Vianoce! It’s Christmas In Duquesne, PA

Perhaps some of my fondest memories growing up in Duquesne are those associated with the Christmas season. Being part of a HUGE hunky family, Christmas always meant LOTS of celebrating, visiting and fun.

Each day leading up to Christmas brought more and more excitement. Christmas activities and preparations never really began until well after Thanksgiving, quite different than the present day “overkill” that exists. In our house, timing always seemed to be centered around “how long will it be before the tree drops its needles?”

The concept of an artificial was not even in the vocabulary of people in those days. The irony is that my dad, in his own way, created an artificial tree of sorts. You see, he was never satisfied with the shape that the good Lord had bestowed on any Christmas tree he decided to purchase. Instead, he spent at least two days, tucked away in our freezing cold garage sculpting the “perfect tree.” In addition to any “Charlie Brown” tree that he had drug home, he also brought piles of extra greenery. He would spend hours and hours drilling into the tree truck and inserting the extra branches until the tree took on the “perfect” shape! I remember being in the garage with him, coaxing him to hurry, and all the while enjoying the crisp, clean smell of fresh pine needles and pine sap.

Once Dad had completed that transformation of our Christmas tree, he would then begin the next step of the transformation. For the next couple of hours, the garage became an indoor blizzard of sorts as my dad began spraying each and every branch of the tree with artificial snow. Within a short amount of time, a perfectly shaped white Christmas tree stood ready for its entrance into the house. Transformation completed, the last step was to let the tree stand overnight in a bucket of water that had been laced with aspirins. The aspirins apparently had some mystical power to extend the life of the tree. Hey, it works for humans with heart issues, why not trees??

Our white flocked tree was always decorated with blue lights. There was always that special smell the lights had when they were first lit up for the year. The scent may have just been my excited imagination that sensed the smell, or it could have been the hot lights next to the fake snow or the crusty old frayed wires heating up that caused the smell. Fortunately, the magic aspirin always did its job and prevented any smoky result!

The introduction of the tree into the house and then the lights to the tree always seemed to produce the discovery that at least a dozen of the blue lights were burnt out. Of course for some reason, my dad and mom would never anticipate this dilemma, and Dad and I would soon be out and about to buy a few packages. The trip always took us to one of my favorite haunts, a virtual  wonderland in Duquesne, Schink’s Hardware Store on Grant Avenue. As we drove down Grant Ave. on the way to Schink’s, the traditional street decorations shined brightly as we drove under each one. Although they were simple in design by today’s standards, to me they are legendary! Simple straight wires with multicolored standard incandescent light bulbs provided the magic. In the center of the span was a circle of the bulbs that I suppose symbolized a wreath. These light strings were alternated with similar lines of lights which held three oversized illuminated bells. Each bell in the set of three would blink independently in order  to try to created a special effect of sorts. Hey, I was a kid, it worked for me!!

Schink’s always had their Christmas items gathered into one area of the store. Since energy conservation was not a thought in anyone’s head in the 50’s, the lighting area glowed with Christmas lights. There were no mini-lights that are used today virtually everywhere. There were basically light sets in two sizes, small bulbs for indoors and larger bulbs for outdoors. Of course, there were one type of lights that we unfortunately were unable to afford, bubble lights!

After our excursion to Schink’s, Dad and I made our way back home to finish the tree.  The ornaments were the same from year to year. No theme, just tradition. There were drummer boys, angels, Santas and snowmen that were all made of wax, As fragile as they were, somehow my mother always was able to keep them intact from year to year. There were silver colored filigree bells and shiny bright silver balls as well. Our tree top was an angel of course, and when the tree was lit, the blue, silver and white looked magical.

The tree seemed to kick off our holiday season and the holiday preparations! Things seemed to shift into high gear at that point and didn’t stop until well after Christmas Day. Check back later and see what I mean!

Merry Christmas!

Veselé Vianoce

This entry was posted in Christmas Memories, Church and School - Holy Name, Stores and Businesses. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Veselé Vianoce! It’s Christmas In Duquesne, PA

  1. Eileen Thomas Smith says:

    Jim, one of the Holy Name’s cooks was Elizabeth Kucik who lived on Viola Avenue with her husband John and their daughter Mary Keach and her son Eddie Keach.They were good friends of my grandparents, the Rinkacs’s and also went to St.Mary’s Church. Mary taught catechism to the children at the church and was very involved with doings at the church.Please let me know if I have it correctly.Thanks ..Eileen Thomas Smith

    • Michael Bashista says:

      Wow Eileen now you are bringing back memories as Eddie Keach and Bernie Rincas were friends of mine. The next house past Rincas was my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin – John [Bunny] Wasko, Irene and Gloria [my cousin]. I believe Dale Kuremsky lived a couple houses past Keach’s.
      Mike Bashista

  2. Eileen Thomas Smith says:

    Jim,

    I really enjoyed reading your wonderful blog and for me also, it brought back a flood of memories.I lived in Duquesne from 1940 to 1950 with my family on Kahler Street. I walked to Crawford School every day and came home for lunch and walked back to school again and home again at the close of school.We went to church at St. Mary’s Greek Catholic Church on Kennedy Ave.I made my first communion however, at Holy Name in 1948, because our church was not planning a communion class. My parents had to get special permission from our bishop in order for me to do this since I was not baptized Roman Catholic.My both sets of grandparents lived behind St.Mary’s. The Rinkacs’s lived on Karl street and the Thomas’s on Barbara Street.Unfortunately my dad bought a nite club in Meadville, Pa so we moved to Meadville in 1950.We continued to visit the grandparents and our aunts and uncles so Duquesne remained a part of our lives.Thank you for your great blog, Jim. Sincerely, Eileen Thomas Smith

  3. Bob Nelis says:

    Very well done Jim,

    Of course having grown up not too far from you in Wilmerding, you story brings back many fond memories. Our next door neighbor had a huge Christmas Tree lot in our neighborhood where everyone came to purchase their trees each year. He and 3 of his brothers ran the business, and a number of us kids would go up to Indiana, Pa. to cut hundreds of trees, drag them long distances at times to a couple big flat bed trucks and haul them home to be set up in the lots. My back yard, and a few of the neighbors yards were stockpiled with trees to gradually be carried across the street to replenish the two lots for display.
    I believe I told you one time that my Uncle Tom and Aunt Katie Lynch lived on (I believe) 2nd street. I remember there house was on the downside of a hilly street, a couple blocks from downtown Duquesne. As a kid, I used to stay over with them and Aunt Katie would take me shopping or to Kennywood. That was a BIG thing for a youngster in those days. Thanks for the memories. A well done article.

  4. Sue says:

    Jimmy, this brought tears to my eyes. I can just picture your father in your garage working to make the Christmas tree perfect. His youngest brother took after him! Please post a picture if you have one. I remember that your father kept everything in your house in perfect order. I REALLY enjoyed reading your blog!

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