I thought it would be fun to imagine for a moment, that I’m back in Duquesne for Christmas. It’s Monday, December 23, 1957. The temperature is an unseasonal 60° and that crisp cold air is missing. Fortunately, by Christmas Day on Wednesday, the temperature will dip to 31° and it will feel more like Christmas.
The tree is up and Dad did a really great job once again on. It’s huge and covered with a thick coating of aerosol spray snow. The ornaments are almost obscured since they too are wearing a thick coat of the spray snow. It was as if they doned camouflage in order to blend in and not be seen. Interestingly, at the end of the Christmas season when my parents were packing away the decorations, they never took the time to remove the covering of snow that had accumulated on the ornaments. I remember seeing years of “snow drifts” gathered on these decorations, causing them to look more like they were covered in white moss.
At night, when the lights in the house are off and only the tree lights are burning, the tree looks its most beautiful. Dad and Mom always had ONLY blue bulbs burning on the tree. Of course, in 1957, miniature lights like we use today were not invented, so it was only the C7, finger burning, set your tree on fire type that were used. They too were not exempt from carrying a coating of snow either. Fortunately, the snow usually burned off from the heat of the bulbs each year, so the snow was mostly on the wires and on the bulb holder. When I think back, I think one of the smells I associate with Christmas is the smell of the artificial snow itself, AND of it burning on the bulbs. Who needs Fabreeze!?!?
One of my favorite parts of our decorations was the Lionel train set that Dad set-up underneath the tree. He purchased the set in 1950 and set it up every year. He always maintained the integrity of the original oval track layout design. (OK, truth be told, he never had the extra money to buy any extra accessories, so he stuck with what came with the set.) Nonetheless, my brother Steve and I loved the train. I still have it, and I am looking forward to setting it up for my grandson Jackson. Of course, at 5 months of age, he really couldn’t relate to it yet, but give him a year and I’m sure he’ll love it. The moment I complete the set-up and run the train, all of the distinctive sounds I associate with Christmas come flooding back. The sound of the engine, the sound of the whistle and even the smell produced by the small smoke pellets that were dropped into the top of the engine scream out “It’s Christmas time in Duquesne.”
Each year, the Duquesne Times would have a banner headline on their Christmas Edition that wished all of the citizens of Duquesne a Merry Christmas. The 1957 edition was no different as you’ll see from the front page below. The 1957 paper in fact, was crammed full of holiday greetings not only from the Times, but from dozens of area merchants as well. Seeing these mini ads brings a smile to my face as I imagine each one associated with the building and sometimes the person behind it. In 1957, my dad had an ad as well. I think that was the only time he ever advertised during the year. I remember him telling my mom that his customers always told him that they saw his Christmas ad. I think that’s why he repeated it every year.
As I looked through the letters to Santa in that same edition, I recognized that two of my friends had sent letters to Santa that year. The first name I recognized was Bernadette Lucas. Bernadette was a classmate of mine at Holy Name for eight years. We went our separate ways after Holy Name since she attended Duquesne High School and I was sent off to Serra Catholic High School. Bernadette now lives in Dillsburg, PA, about 20 miles north of Gettysburg on Route 15. Bernadette’s requests to Santa at 6 ½ years of age were somewhat benign compared to the other familiar name, Nancy Staisey.
Nancy and I met while we were in high school. I can’t recall the circumstances of our meeting however. Her father, Leonard Staisey, was a major political figure in the city of Duquesne and was a member of the State Senate from 1961 to 1966. He also ran on the Democratic ticket for Lieutenant Governor along with Milton Shapp but was unsuccessful in his bid. Due to his political ties, he was a friend with my uncle, Sam Carr, who was a member of the school board in Duquesne at one time. It may have been through their friendship that I met Nancy.
As I read Nancy’s letter to Santa when she was about 6 years of age, I decided that Nancy was proof that “the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Her letter is the perfect example of a politically correct note to Santa. It covers her own needs, addresses the needs of the world, asks the probing questions of a Senate sub-committee AND deals with the subject of financial responsibility! You go Nancy!! By the way, Nancy has gone on to make quite a name for herself. Currently she is the Managing Director at IBM and resides in London, England along with her husband and children. Nancy, if you’re reading this…. The best and brightest wishes for a wonderful Christmas and a Happy New Year!!
Now, just sit back, get yourself a cup of hot cocoa and open that front page of the Duquesne Times…after all, its 1957 and a stress free Christmas is just around the corner!