Our house in Levittown was designed with a fireplace at the end of the wall, dividing the living room from the dining area. White painted brick with several half brick shelves forming a sort of mantle, it could be seen and accessed from three sides. Our winters usually were lived around that fireplace. We popped corn in a wire topped basket that did double duty when we went camping, until Jiffy Pop came out with the foil pans that magically puffed up into a big silver ball full of popcorn.
The houses were all electric; the heat source was actually in the floors so we kids spent most of the time sitting on the warm floor, by the fireplace. Propped up on our elbows or floor pillows, you’d find us coloring, working puzzles, or playing colorful board games. Terry usually won Uncle Wiggily, but I won Go to the Head of the Class. Denis always won Monopoly even if Mom played with us. But none of us ever beat Mom at Scrabble until we were adults. In fact, my sister and I still suspect that when each of us finally got a better score than Mom, it was because she let us win!
Occasionally, a storm would knock out the power, leaving the fireplace the only source of heat. The tile topped concrete floors, rather than providing warmth became ice cold. Mom told Denis, Terry and me to bring out the blankets and area rugs from our bedrooms and we’d create nests on the floor. Mom would put the baby (who would grow up to become Scrabblebuff), in the center so we could play with her. Mom sat in her rocker wrapped in an afghan and we’d take turns, sitting on her foot stool, holding her yarn while she wound it into balls.
The week after Thanksgiving, however, was one of the best times of all. That was the week when we did our homework as quickly as possible because the first one done got to look at the Wish Book first!
We’d sit by the fireplace, get settled in (I’d always use the red corduroy bed pillow with the arms to prop it up) and Mom would give us a crayon. We each had a different colored crayon so that Santa would know which of us was making which wish. We older ones also had to help Lori make her wishes, each chose one thing for her. And then came the lesson in making smart choices because we could only circle three items.
Mom was absolutely positive that we would get one of our wishes. Because she would leave Santa a note to say we could have it. If we were exceptionally good we might...possibly... if we were really lucky... get two of our choices. We knew we wouldn’t get all three because one of our choices would go to a poor child who didn’t have a Wish Book to choose from. Of course, we never knew which one Santa would chose to give to that other girl or boy so we had to be very careful about what we picked.
Years later, when they had become obscenely collectible, Mom and I laughed about how lucky the little girl who got all four of my Madam Alexander Little Women dolls must feel.
(Once I learned that Santa sometimes had to buy certain gifts the elves didn't make enough o,f I learned to hedge my bets. I wished for both
Beth and a Miss Revlon Doll . What do you know,
I found Miss Revlon under the tree!)
Denis and Terry often worked as a team. One asked for the Lionel train set and the other would circle the buildings and layout pieces to go with it. Or Terry circled the Tonka steam shovel while Denis made a bid for the dump truck-pretty smart for little brothers.
Family traditions mean so much to us as we grow up, Attending the 6:00 Children’s Mass on Christmas Eve with our parents, brothers and sister and then later with our own children. Jim and I even do that occasionally now, to watch the little ones sing their carols and try to keep their wings and halos straight. Opening just one present on Christmas Eve…uh.. if we don’t give in to temptation like we did last year.
But it seems the traditions that stay warmest in our memories are usually wrapped in Mom’s afghans beside the fireplace, making wishes.
See ya down the road,