Recollections of a Little Hunky’s Christmas

t_3832_jpg_1As we all rush around busily preparing for Christmas celebrations, I believe it’s refreshing to take a moment or two to just relax and recall treasured memories about the holidays from your youth. Somewhat like a bowl of Christmas hard tack candy, the memories come in all shapes, sizes and colors, and each one is as sweet as the next.

A few of the moments or special treasures I recall are:

– Mom had a small collection of milk glass candy dishes. Each Christmas, her twt_b36f7510-1a6d-11e2-b2d7-c1d4df500005o favorite would make their way to the end tables in our living room with one being full of hard tack candy, and the second containing streams of ribbon candy. If any remained uneaten by the end of the holidays, they would have become stuck to one another due to many days of humidity and little hands rummaging through to find their favorite flavor! (Who? ME?!?!?)

– Each window in our house was decorated with a cluster of three silver bells, made from a heavy aluminum foil and suspended from red ribbons. I don’t know what ever happened to those bells, but I have never been able to find reproductions of them.

– Each December, Mom would unpack the Christmas decorations in order to prepare for trimming the tree. Among the boxes of lights, balls and window decorations were two ssanta_mugpecial mugs that were carefully wrapped and tucked inside a box. The mugs were in the shape of Santa with a candy cane handle. My brother, Steve, and I used these mugs throughout the Christmas season for our milk, hot chocolate, Mission Orange or any other beverage that we might be enjoying. I still have the mugs and they have survived over 55 or more years of seasonal use. My Santa had a small chip on his cheek, so I was always careful to now let it get any worse, and knock on wood, have managed to keep him safe and unharmed for years.

– I was always a sucker for Christmas specials on TV. Of course, the specials were limited to a few variety shows such as Red Skelton or Ed Sullivan, but they were always magical in my eyes. Mom and I would park ourselves on the sofa across from the Crosley B&W TV and enjoy the show together. Even if it was a repeat from previous Christmases, we’d enjoy it as if it was the first time we were seeing it! As a result of modern technology, some of the Christmas sow gems are still around for us to enjoy. Take a few moments are enjoy some of the vintage shows below. You’ll feel as if you’ve been wisped back in time!

– One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Silver Bells.” Whenever I hear it, I immediatelyGreetings think of Duquesne. As they sing “It’s Christmastime in the city,” I think about the countless strands of multicolored lights that spanned across Grant Avenue, North 1st Street and South 2nd Street. The strands of lights either had a wreath-like circle of lights in the middle or a set of brightly lit and blinking red bells. City Hall always boasted a huge tree to the left of the Fire Department doors, and the entire building was trimmed in multicolored lights as well. I remember Christmas music and bells being played from large speakers that were positioned near the tree. After a Christmas snow, the music became that much more enjoyable as the sound took on a serene, soft and comforting tone.

– A special treat during the holidays was a shopping trip to McKeesport with my mom and Aunt Mary. As a child, my favorite places to shop were either H.L.Greens or G.C.Murphys for obvious reasons. I remember how warm and inviting each of the stores felt after walking several blocks in the freezing weather. The windows were always sweating due to the warmth of the interior and the lights were always so bright and welcoming versus the gray-toned snowy skies above.

– After Mom received a portable stereo from my dad in the early 60’s, we began collecting aFirestoneVolume1Front new Christmas album each year that was available at Firestone Tire Stores. I think they were only a few dollars at the time. The albums featured different vocalists each year, but always were packed full of Christmas songs and carols that we’d play over and over again. Those albums became a very important part of Christmas for me, and I still drag them out every year and enjoy the memories they evoke.

Christmas Clubs– Although I have written about it before, I still think one of the most vivid memories of Christmas that I have is the excitement that I felt when I received my Christmas Club check from the Duquesne City Bank. After Mom deposited 25¢ each week, both my brother and I would receive our checks for $12.50 to begin our Christmas shopping. To me, this was an ENORMOUS amount of money and opened up countless opportunities to be able to purchase the PERFECT gift for Mom, Dad and Steve. Unlike our government, I was able to come in on budget with no deficit!

These are but a few of the special pieces that comprise my Christmas memories. There are dozens and dozens of others, all of which come together to create that warm and comforting feeling of the holidays. The simplicity of the times and the honesty of the spirit of the season will probably never be seen or felt again. That in itself is sad. However, it is with sincere and heartfelt honesty that I extend to all of you, BEST WISHES for a fantastic and memorable Christmas for all of you, my friends and neighbors. MERRY CHRISTMAS!



This entry was posted in Christmas Memories, Duquesne Buildings, McKeesport, Parents, Stores and Businesses. Bookmark the permalink.

32 Responses to Recollections of a Little Hunky’s Christmas

  1. Lori D. Achtzehn says:

    Oh how I remember Christmas in the same way. We made the silver bells that you talked about. You took styrofoam cups and covered them with aluminum foil, poked holes in the tops and strung ribbon through them. You always left a string hang down the inside of the cup and made an aluminum foil ball at the end to make it look like real bells. We always hung them in our house. Our windows had the bottle brush wreaths and Santa put the tree up after we went to bed on Christmas Eve. We also had the Santa mugs (I still have one) and the Firestone Albums (I have all of them). They had the best Christmas music ever!!!! I remember the tall trees that City Hall used to have. They needed the fire trucks to put them up and decorate them. I keep trying to get them to put them up again. I also remember the lights that were strung across W Grant Ave that made the City look so festive. Oh the wonderful, magical memories of Christmas in the early 60’s.

  2. Denise Hudak Ventura says:

    Hi Jim,

    Thank you for writing about our wonderful city of Duquesne passed. Your postings just stimulate my memory and brings back such great and happy details of my childhood. Especially the Christmas decorations of the city and the Fire Department. Thanks again.
    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and your family.


  3. John (Jack) Berta says:

    It’s like you are a tour bus driver and you take us on a trip down Memory Lane pointing out the sights along the way. Always enjoy them.
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
    Vesele Vianoce a St’astny Novy Rok!

  4. cheryl says:

    WOW Such great memories & the way it was years ago. I remember i think it was the last time Duquesne City Hall had a Christmas tree it came from my Grandfather Joe Tomovcsik’s front yard where we lived. i remember them cutting it down & taking it to City Hall that yr .Can’t remember the year but if anyone else does let me know. lol Thanks so much for all your stories Jim they are great to read…Merry Christmas to you & your Family!!!!

  5. Alice Harris says:

    I have about 30 of the tiniest mugs and several in the larger sizes. Always get them out for Christmas, too 🙂 Thanks for the great post, and Merry Christmas to you, too!!
    Alice Harris

  6. Lou A. says:

    Always had ribbon candy, too; never ate it though, ’cause there was homemade hardtack.

    This story from a recent Pgh PostGazette just about has it right, except we would roll the cooling blob into l-o-n-g thin worms and cut with scissors. Many people here in Elkins, WV, still make it; most pharmacies around here all stock those little bottles of flavoring oils…. Cinnamon is still best seller as lotta folks start making apple butter in late fall too.

    Sretan Božić i blagoslovljen sretna nova godina!

    • Jim says:

      Merry Christmas to you and Sue too! I had to check Google Translator to understand your message at the end. It translated it as “Merry Christmas and a blessed happy new year!” Hopefully I got it right!

  7. Tom Ohrman says:

    Just yesterday I was going through some old issues of the “Echo” that were in some of the things that my Mom had from 1936. Even through the depression, Christmas was a special time in Duquesne. Jim, your postings mean a lot to me, and I’m sure to many others that remember the way it used to be.

  8. Paula Goldman Smith says:

    Jim – I remember those wreath circles with the bulbs that were so faded from years of use. But when they were put up, they signaled the start of the season. And the sledding during the Christmas break was fun. Your father took us to Green Valley driving range. What a time!
    And visiting each Aunt and Uncle – eating ham, stuffed cabbage and potato salad at each home. What great memories.
    Have a wonderful Christmas with your wonderful family. Thanks for the memories.

  9. Joann Kocheran Revak class of '64 says:

    Thank you for these memories. I remember these same exact things – a time we can’t duplicate.
    Merry Christmas.

  10. Shirley Lemak Dilla says:

    Merry Christmas, Jim. Thank you for the many memories that you bring up with your stories. You have super recall and it is such fun to come across someone else who has such fond memories of Duquesne.

  11. Polly Pirl Artuso says:

    Jim…Always enjoy your blogs…I found 2 sets of 3 red bells, silver on the underside at an antique shop in Ligonier, several years ago…they would be smaller than what you would hang in a window, but perhaps too large for a tree…they are also that heavy aluminum…I LOVE them…will look for them in antique stores…if I can find some, they will be for you…Polly Pirl Artuso, DHS ’56

    • Ken Denne says:

      Polly from Aurilles St. Hung out with Fritz at Gallagher;s.. Hope you are doing well….

      • Polly Pirl Artuso says:

        Thank you for asking…I am doing very, very well…am still calling myself the geriatric Cinderalla, after 15 years…say Hi to Jean and the Duquesne crew that lives fairly close to each other…see Arleen every once in a while….Polly

    • Michael Bashista says:

      Polly Pirl Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I remember you and your parents from Auriles St – you lived across the alley from Mann’s store? Iwas younger than you as I graduated DHS 62. My parents had the candy/confectioners store {Helen and Micky’s] next to Smoker Alley. We lived across the street from Morans and McLaughlins.

  12. Ken Denne says:

    Who doesn;t remember Skinny Pastrick .”There will be a fast semi pro baseball game this evening at Nicklee Hollow!!!
    Ken Denne

    • Beth Pastrick Keane says:

      Thanks for remembering, Ken. Skinny was my Dad …he would love that you remember his announcements!

    • John (Jack) Berta says:

      Mr. Denne,
      Had you for a teacher in 59-60. The class was Speech. You took over for a woman who left part way through the year. Loved that class. I knew you played basketball with my uncle, John Alzo. Sorry to say I don’t remember your playing for the Zemps but that brings me to a question I’ve wondered about all these years, Zemps? Why Zemps? This past summer this dumb hunky while visiting Alzo family in Slovakia find out. The region, county, where many of the Slovak immigrants like my grandparents came from is called Zemplin. My grandparents never got a chance to go back. Uncle John never went, but my wife and I went with his daughter. I’m glad we did.

      • Bob Chermonitz says:

        Jack thanks for clearing that up! I never knew what a “Zemp” was or meant. My godfather Happy Magdic was a catcher for them. Also a neighbor named Roscoe Metz played for them in the old Daily News league.

      • Ken Denne says:

        Hi Jack,
        Sure do remember you and Speech Class. Miss Pavlecic got married and it was my first year and I was a permanent sub. She left at semester and Docky Kowallis gave me her class plus a couple of English classes. I remember the fun we had with Parliamentar procedure and Herm Harrison demonstrating “Mashed Potato” John Alzo was one of my idols as I watched him playing with the Duquesne Derricks and I played with him over at the Library. I dated Geri Figlar and I believe she was related to John.. Thanks again for the note have a a Merry Christmas..Ken

      • Beth Pastrick Keane says:

        Jack, I just read your comments about always wondering “why were they called the Zemps”…I thought it came from I was close. I knew it was after a village in “the old country”. Perhaps most of the original team were slovaks. Love readingyour comments, thanks.

      • Laura Kinch Connelly says:

        Anyone have any pictures of the Zemps or Duquesne near Arch Street?

        Laura Kinch Connelly
        Mustard the Bus drivers daughter.

  13. Lou Weber says:

    Jim, Christmas is a magical time and memories always flood back to those carefree days. The mugs you talk about, my wife and I have about nine of them. Four of which we found at a couple flea markets. They are in amazingly good shape. Duquesne was a winter wonderland at Christmas with the snow covered streets, decorations in the windows of stores and almost all the houses. What wonderful memories.

    Lou Weber

  14. Sharyn Kelley Manns says:

    My mum had the 3 silver bells – went in the 2 front windows – she would sing Silver Bells as she put them up….how happy and privileged we were back then! Was Duquesne as beautiful as it is in my memories??? I think so, since your memories are the same as mine. Thanks for all your sharing…..Merry Christmas!

  15. Beth Pastrick Keane says:

    IT was my Dad who played the CHristmas music on the loudspeakers out of the fire station/city hall tower. George “Skinny” Pastrick. My brothers and I would also get to go up the tower and play the records. It warms my heart that you remember the music and the Lights down Grant Ave (we use to live on Grant Ave across from the High School/war Memorial).

    • John (Jack) Berta says:

      was it your dad who had the truck with the loudspeakers on it? Or maybe it was Chuck Petritus (spelling ?), but I’m sure everyone from Duquesne back in the day remembers he and his truck traveling around the streets of Duquesne at election time announcing the political candidates of the day. Other advertisements were also “broadcast”. Back then it was the way to get the word out, no internet, email, facebook etc.

      • Beth Pastrick Keane says:

        Yes, it was my Dad. He would announce the Zemps “fast semi pro baseball game tonight” and he also ran for Council…so he was a city councilman when Frank Kopriver was the mayor. He also use to show movies and cartoons at the playgrounds in the summer. When he passed away in June 2001, the Daily News wrote a really nice article referring to him as “the Voice of Duquesne”. Thanks so much for remembering him.

  16. Janet King says:

    Hi Jim,

    Been following your blog for quite some time, and I look forward to new installments. Had to write you about the silver bells which I vividly remember. My parents had a miniature version that was a Christmas tree ornament. The bell is made of papier mache and covered in a silver paper of some sort. The bell has lost quite a bit of it’s silver coating, but I put it on the tree every year, along with many other ‘vintage’ tree ornaments from my childhood. Whenever I read your posts, I’m transported back in time and I love every minute of the journey.

    Christmas Blessings to you and your family, and all the best for a joyous New Year.

    Janet Luptak King
    DHS Class of 1969

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