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!