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Christmas memories include Santa, sauerkraut and ginger ale | GUEST COLUMN
BY BOB SEABY
I am a baby boomer, born in 1946. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, like most mom's of that era, and my dad worked for Western Electric in Baltimore, until he retired after 35 years at the age of 55. My brother and I attended St. Rita's Parochial School along with approximately 750 other kids in the suburban community of Dundalk, outside the city of Baltimore, Md.
Attending a parochial school along with reading, writing and arithmetic we received a heavy dose of religion. It was a different time and place compared to today and calls to mind many fond memories. Spending our third Christmas here on Bainbridge Island, after 30 years living in the community of Kings Mountain in California's Santa Cruz mountains, brought those childhood memories into sharp focus.
Christmas was a big deal at St. Rita's with numerous secular and religious activities.
Sometime after Thanksgiving the entire school assembled in the parish auditorium and we watched "Miracle on 34th Street." We also practiced Christmas Carols which we would sing at the 9 a.m. children's Mass on Christmas morning.
In the '50s and '60s St Rita's was a big parish. Sunday Masses were held at 6:30 a.m., 7:15, 8:15, 9 (the children's Mass) 10, 11 and 12:15 p.m. We were expected to sit with our class and the nun who taught us for the 9 a.m children's Mass as attendance was taken!
Sometime before school let out for the winter holidays the entire school would walk to the Dundalk Fire Station to see the Holiday Winter Train Garden the firemen had set up in the firehouse basement. It was a spectacular display with a dozen or more trains running and a village scene loosely depicting the Dundalk community complete with lights and other visual effects.
Unlike today with the Christmas season starting after Halloween our Christmas season began after Thanksgiving and it was a slow start.
My family put Christmas lights in the windows and hung a wreath on the front door; but the tree was a different story. I think my brother and I truly believed, as did all our friends, in Santa Claus until probably the third grade.
Prior to Christmas my mom would be busy baking cookies; but the house was not really decorated. However; on Christmas morning my brother and I woke up to a decorated house. There was the tree trimmed and sparkling with lights and tinsel and our own Christmas Holiday Train Garden with our American Flyer trains and of course, piles of presents. How did Santa accomplish all this in one night?
Years later our parents shared with us how "Santa" accomplished so much in one night. On Christmas Eve after my brother and I hung our stockings and put out milk and cookies for Santa we promptly went to bed. Santa did not visit homes where children were still awake. This was when our parents went to work. The Christmas Garden, a 4-foot-by-8 winter village scene complete with houses, snow and American Flyer trains was assembled, wired and set up by my father. My mother trimmed the tree and wrapped all the presents.
My parents shared that on some Christmas Eves they would just be finishing everything and it would almost be daylight. On one Christmas morning they heard me and my brother about to emerge from our bedroom and they told us that Santa had not yet been to our house and we better go back to bed. Hearing these stories I understood why my parents liked to just sit around on Christmas Day and relax — they were exhausted having gotten little or no sleep on Christmas Eve!
After Christmas morning Mass my brother and I spent the day emptying our Christmas stockings and playing with our gifts and trains. By early evening we enjoyed Christmas dinner. Since we always had a roast turkey for Thanksgiving, on Christmas we would have a baked ham with mashed potatoes, vegetable side dishes, sauerkraut (a Baltimore tradition) and dinner rolls. Of course desert would be an assortment of Christmas cookies that my mom had baked and maybe a homemade fruit cake. It was always a most enjoyable day.
The evenings immediately after Christmas we visited family, especially our grandparents. My brother and I always enjoyed these visits because it meant more presents and more cookies and candy. My paternal grandmother made excellent Russian Tea cookies and kept our glasses filled to the brim with Pepsi Cola. My maternal grandfather introduced us to the tangy taste of ginger ale as he loved bourbon with ginger ale. These visits also gave my brother and me the opportunity to visit with aunts, uncles and our cousins.
At my grandmother's, the adults would sit around the dining room table and the kids would gather in the living room and watch television, share comic books and stuff ourselves with treats and sweets.
These were good times enjoyed in the simple and uncomplicated days of my youth that I will always remember.
Bob Seaby is a retired public school teacher from California and a Bainbridge Island resident.