Remembering our old school-style parents at Christmas

Remembering our old school-style parents at Christmas

By Lloyd Marcus

It occurred to me that like millions of lower- to middle-class American families back in the day, my parents did an awesome job at Christmas time.  With little money, they always found a way to give their kids happy Christmases.

As the nine-year-old eldest, I babysat my four siblings.  I knew that Mom and Dad did not have a lot of money.  And yet I never thought we were poor or felt shortchanged at Christmas.  I don’t remember my three brothers and sister ever feeling shortchanged at Christmas.  How awesome is that?  Given their financial challenges, my parents had to be magicians to pull off that trick.  Somehow, they performed their magic every year.  I kind of took it for granted.  Looking back, all I can say is “wow!”

The arrival of the Montgomery Ward catalog was a major exciting event.  Each of us kids circled the toys we wanted for Christmas.

I remember my Roy Rogers pistol and holster.  On Christmas Day, I left my pistol outside for a moment.  When I came back, it was gone.  Mom was extremely annoyed at me.

I felt that my Aunt Bummie and her five sons living on welfare were poor.  Mom, Dad, we five kids, Aunt Bummie, and her five boys sat around a table, feasting on a mountain of fried chicken necks and backs.  They were dirt-cheap to buy.  We laughed, joked, and had a wonderful time.  God has blessed me to travel the world, enjoying numerous five-star dining experiences.  I still love fried chicken necks and backs.

One Christmas, when we were still living in the Baltimore government housing project, I found a used bicycle hidden deep in the closet.  I knew that the bike was my Christmas present.  I was elated because I knew that Mom and Dad could not afford it.  Mom was disappointed that I had seen the bike.  I told her I was a big boy and wanted to help her and dad play Santa, setting up the gifts Christmas Eve for my younger siblings.  She said, “Okay”.

Then there was the Christmas we could have died.  In 1952, the restriction of blacks being allowed to take the test to become Baltimore City firefighters ended.  Dad became a firefighter.  We moved out of the projects.  My parents purchased a home in a small black suburban community, Pumphrey, Maryland.  It was Christmas Eve.  Dad had to work the night shift at the fire house.  Mom decided to paint a room with oil-based paint.  Dad came home 7 A.M. Christmas morning to find us all passed out.  He rescued us by carrying us to the front porch.  We recovered and opened presents.

My wife Mary said her parents were pretty awesome as well.  They always found a way to make room and feed relatives in need.  Mary’s immediate family consisted of her parents and three siblings.  And yet Mary recalls washing dishes for as many as eleven people living in their home.  She has wonderful childhood Christmas memories – although she has been scarred for life regarding washing dishes.  Mary cooks, and I wash the dishes.  Our kitchen remodel will include a dishwasher.

Old-school American parents were awesome.  They were responsible early in their adulthood, doing whatever needed to be done.  My Baby-Boomer generation seems to be pretty spoiled and self-focused.

At 29 years old, my dad had fathered his five kids and tried to be a stand-in father and role model for my Aunt Bummie’s five boys.  They loved my dad and envied me for having him.

I’m getting choked up.

Mom passed away 20 years ago.  I’ll see my 89-year-old dad at our family’s annual Christmas Eve gathering.  I will call for a toast to Dad, thanking him and Mom for all the great Christmases.

Have a very Merry Christmas and a happy and blessed New Year!


TLB published this article from American Thinker with our thanks for making it available. 

About the writer:

Lloyd Marcus, The Unhyphenated American
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1 Comment on Remembering our old school-style parents at Christmas

  1. Dad died in 1988 (smoked since he was 10 or 11, working and bringing money in to help his big family) but as long as I am alive, I will never forget going to the (Mrs.) Garrett’s family farm which had all sizes and shapes of evergreen trees, to fit anyone’s tastes or house; free for the taking if you were not too lazy.

    Dad would then spend HOURS instructing us how and where to hang the icicles and Xmas balls and other ornaments so that it looked ‘just right’ from the outside window (from a passerby’s perspective) and from the front door.

    Us boys stood on tables or chairs or occasionally a ladder, to get the wreathing right as well, never too much that no one hooked it around their necks coming in from the kitchen or in the front door. We also did Christmas lights on the outside of the house rafters, sometimes cursing when just one bulb would go out, and it would take HOURS just to find and replace that one bad one! We also piled the porch full of wood on Christams Eve, so no one would have to make a trip to the woodpile on the 25th…

    My younger twin sisters put homemade cards and scented candles (burned once a night for 3-5 minutes, then extinquished and repacked after Christams for next year), and helped Mother with her little Christams village display; she had SO MANY that you could have called it a Christmas MEGAPOLIS by the time she died in 2013!

    (Even now I see some unique piece of Christmas scenery or house, I wonder to myself if Mom didn’t have one of them yet and made a mental note to come back and purchase it; then realize she was no longer with us, then smile and walk on).

    After decorating the living room, Mother would have hot chocolate and some smores or hot fudge or peaut brittle ready for us, and after the break, we would go outside and hang popcorn my late sister Kathern Ann, oldest at home then, had popped over the last few days on all the trees, fence poles, Mom’s rose bushes, and around the fruit trees in the nearby field…looked just as good as snow in our young minds!

    Late at night on Christmas Eve, we would take some carrots to our Shetland ponies, and other vegetables to the dairy cows and such; even the ducks and chickens got some extra grain that evening. Dad told us that at midnight on Christams Eve, all of the stock could ‘talk’ to us where we could understand them, and not knowing any better, we tried to stay awake until after midnight and hear them talk!

    (I don’t remember them ever saying anything that we could understand, though!)

    Christmas Day, there was always something nice under the tree; it may not be new, but it was new to US! We always had a big grocery bag of candy as well; I found out later that Dad hid money in the barn, a little at a time, to make sure this tradition never ended; even if we didn’t like the candy, there were five of us to ‘trade’ amongst, but Dad usually go all the Jawbreakers which no one liked (save for him). What was funny, I got a race track with littel cars to go around the oval track..and my older brothers and Dad tore it up before the end of Christmas Day, revving the controsl up around the corners and sending them FLYING off the track and kitchen table!

    I found out later that Dad also told his friend at the back of Richard Brothers Feed Mill, downtown West Plains, where he was a regular, that the candy was for the ‘church’ and his friend would sell it to him with no tax [LOL!].

    I need to go to West Plains and drive around to see if there are anyone left who decorated the way we did. We were poor, but we didn’t know it, and enjoyed ourselves immensely every holiday. Everyone was poor in our neighborhood, and with only one TV channel, we didn’t have anyone to tell us otherwise!

    Novemeber, 1988 was the last time we got together as a ‘family’: oldest brother Bob and Dad’s birthdays were a week apart in November, so we tried to make it always then: 4 boys and 3 girls plus Mom and Dad. After then, the other older ‘brother’ always finds some excuse never to come Christmas or any other time we try to get together as brothers and sisters and family, although his son and twin daughters, and their families try to make it to scheduled family gatherings. Just so hard for some reason or the other…

    Mother moved off the farm, (she never drove a vehicle) and moved to the top of Coley Drive, Mtn Home AR, close to my oldest brother. He took her to church, to family reunions in Ash Flat, AR, to church, whatever.

    I always visited just a few days before Christmas and hung her Christma bows, wreath, and outside lights up, the kind that didn’t all burn out if just one bulb on the long line did. Christmas afternoon, I would take all the decorations down and place them in her little storage unit on her carport (all us kids parked there when visiting), and then talked about Dad and all the other kids growing up.

    She later moved to a senior citizen village on Highway 201 just from the intersection of Coley Drive and Highway 201. The rent on Coley Drive got to be too much for her check to cover, and she wouldn’t let Bob make up the difference..

    One year, I had lost my job and didn’t have much money to buy the nieces and nephews anything nice, so I sold a few electronic things I really didn’t use anymore and bought each kid a $1 item at the discount store near the KFC in Mtn Home. I really felt bad when my brothers and sisters and their spouses had purchased real expensive toys for my nieces and nephews to open at Moms that year; but felt SO MUCH BETTER when my nieces and nephews played with my dollar gifts the entire time they were there! I got the three young nephews a G.I.Joe, a He Man (Master of the Universe) and a cowboy with chapas and a big cowboy hat; I don’t remember what the nieces got, but I made sure they got something different so the parents could tell who got what back home, and they played with my gifts only as well!

    I really miss the old poor neighborhood where I grew up! Please forgive me, I cannot see good enough to continue this article at present.

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