We never forget those special Christmas mornings, both our own and those of our children. I’m no exception and I’ve written about them often. Unfortunately, my early years were spent with my bronchitis problems, but once I hit my teen years, that changed. The holidays became a lot better.
My sons remember getting their first bikes, something I decided they would all have because I’d never been fortunate enough to own one, depression baby that I was. Having sons made buying Lionel trains a must. Of course, their mother and father played with that particular toy probably more than the boys.
My in-laws always showed up early to watch the children open their toys. To be honest it drove me crazy. I wanted our “family” to just be “us.” It never happened. When I became a grandmother, I decided not to follow in my in-laws footsteps, so I headed out of town one special holiday season. I bought a plane ticket to Jackson Hole, Wyo. and had a ball.
Being an elk lover, I heard about a restaurant that sold that particular “goodie” and made a reservation for Christmas Eve. I’m always early everywhere, and arrived to find this establishment to be a tiny hole-in-the-wall kind of place and very exclusive. The waiter said dinner would not be served for another hour, so I ordered my usual, a martini. I watched as the bartender pour gin — measuring like it was gold — and put down a glass in front of me that was ridiculously small.
He waited while I paid for my drink, and I decided that then and there this girl wasn’t waiting around to see what the “elk” looked like. I left. Of course, I was disappointed, and suddenly I felt terribly alone and headed toward the center of town. Passing a hotel, I heard voices and thought, what the heck, and I entered. The place was jammed. There was one seat vacant at the bar, and I sat down.
The bartender came right over to me and inquired what I wanted. However, I asked him what was going on? He explained they had a buffet by reservation only.
“Gee,” I replied, “I’m all alone and would love to join the crowd.”
He smiled and $25 later, I was a member of the group. To make a long story short, I ended up at a table with people from all over.
Some were internationals from Germany and South Africa. We had fun trying to figure out what each of us was saying. And then we ate! I’ve seen a lot of buffets, but folks this beat anything I’d ever seen, and my appetite for raw oysters on the half shell, prime rib, and shrimp knew no bounds. My Christmas Eve was a howling success.
I remember another Christmas Eve that happened in the very early 1940s. Then we did not have suburban stores — you shopped downtown Philadelphia. People came from Wilmington, Del., Atlantic City, N.J., Harrisburg, Pa., and elsewhere. This was just the way it happened. Market Street in downtown Philly had many big department stores and everybody shopped there.
We had John Wanamaker’s store, famous for the “eagle” on the first floor, and their huge pipe organ on the top floor. During the holidays choir and choral groups came and sang, and the sound of music filled the air for blocks around. I remember so well working on the first floor of Strawbridge and Clothier selling stationary. Back in those days there were no computers, people wrote letters and I was busy.
That first floor with its tile floors and fancy chandeliers was beautiful. Counters sold silk stockings — ladies didn’t wear pants back then, just dresses — other employees sold cosmetics, beautiful jewelry, gourmet goodies and candy. I remember leaving work Christmas eve and walking in the dark down Market Street to the Reading Terminal Market for the train to go home. I passed stores and streets brightly shining with millions of lights and decorations, while softly falling snow gently met my face.
Many years have passed between that walk down Market Street and my walk into that hotel in Jackson Hole, Wyo. There were some in Pennsylvania, Calif., too, and special ones in Athens, W.Va., particularity in Lowman, Idaho, when a dozen deer grazed just outside of our window as we sat down to eat turkey with friends. It’s been fun and interesting and blessed. Merry Christmas, and “To all a good night.”
Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.