The Mountain Times

°F Wed, April 16, 2014

Central Vermont's Most Popular Weekly Newspaper

Memories of Christmases past

I did not shop on Black Friday. I did not partake of any door buster sales. I didn't go to the mall at 4 a.m. I didn't buy the Thanksgiving newspaper even though it was hailed as the year's heaviest paper because of store circulars and advertisements.
I didn't stand on long lines to pay for merchandise and I didn't wrestle anyone over the last remaining Elmo doll. I didn't even buy anything online.
You may be applauding me for being smart enough to not fall for the advertising hype. You may be patting me on the back for attempting to preserve the true meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday. Truth be told, I was sick in bed with a serious cold and could not have survived five minutes of shopping.
That being said, I probably would not have braved the crowds even if I was in tip-top shape. The traffic alone would be enough of a deterrent. But watching the news reports that night did get me thinking about the holidays as a kid and how different they are today. 
Christmas Eve was always celebrated at my grandparent's house in the city. For about nine months leading up to the holiday, my grandmother made a weekly trip to the Ridgewood Savings Bank to make a deposit into her Christmas Club account.
My grandparents did not have a car; I don't think either even knew how to drive. My grandmother walked every place - the butcher, the grocery store, the fish market, church and the Chinese laundry where my grandfather sent his shirts (extra starch in the collars).
I have no idea where grandma got the money that she faithfully put into that account. She was a homemaker, though she would occasionally work behind the counter at the German deli when Mrs. Luger went to visit her daughter and grandchildren. She also sometimes received tips when she checked coats during an event at my grandfather's bar.
When I was visiting, I would make that walk with my grandmother to the bank. We would walk Onderdunk Avenue past the knitting mills, steam wafting out from the open doors. We would walk under the elevated train station, hearing the screeching of brakes bringing the train to a halt. We would walk until we reached Myrtle Avenue where the stores, banks and movie theatre stood.
I remember that sometimes the teller would give my grandmother a gift when she completed her transaction. There was a flat sponge that grew ten times its size when you placed it in water. There were matchbooks that grandma would place near the gas stove to light the pilot. I'm sure I had a few pens with the Ridgewood Savings Bank logo emblazoned on them.
When Christmas Eve arrived, all the aunts, uncles and cousins would congregate in the meeting room adjacent to the bar that my grandfather ran. My mother was one of seven siblings and each one had two to three children, so we were a large group.
The kids would each receive one gift from every aunt and uncle. This still meant six gifts each in addition to our parents and grandparents. With so many cousins, the gifts were certainly not extravagant. It may have been a bag of marbles or a game of jacks. It could have been a puzzle or a small doll. It might have been a card game or a stocking filled with chocolates. No matter the gift, it was special and we savored each one. As we got older, the gifts became a simple card with money inside. Again, it may have only been a few dollars, but we were happy for whatever we got.
Today holiday shoppers map out their strategy for Black Friday deals. They stand in line for hours and then trample each other to get to the door buster deal, typically technology-related. Some lucky kid is going to tear open a present at grandma's on Christmas Eve to find an HD TV or an iSomething.
Then they are going to retreat to a corner texting the news to their friends instead of playing cut-throat canasta with a brood of cousins. They are going to miss hearing Uncle George and Uncle Eddy tell stories about their childhood and growing up in a house of seven kids. They are going to miss Aunt Camille and Aunt Mildred whispering the latest neighborhood gossip. They are going to miss some of the best childhood memories a kid could want.
Today holidays are more about the hoopla than the harmony of family gatherings. Grandparents go overboard on gifts trying to outdo each other as they vie for the title of "favorite". Kids expect more and often show less appreciation.
I long to share those warm holiday memories with my children and grandchildren. But unless you have actually experienced it, it is hard to put into words. I can't explain those walks with grandma to the bank and how special I felt to have that one-on-one time with her when there were 13 of us. I can't explain how much fun it was when I put that sponge in a bowl full of water and it grew before my eyes. Then again, I never would have been able to explain to grandma all about Black Friday.
Cindy Philips is a columnist for The Mountain Times, she can be reached directly at