My formative years were spent in Manhattan. And as soon as I say that, images of sky scrapers, yellow taxis flying down long boulevards, and Central Park are likely to pop into your mind’s eye. Apartment living, the hustle and bustle of busy streets, 5th Avenue thronged with shoppers!
Not for my family. My father owned a small marina on the northern tip of the island, close to the Cloisters and in an inlet of the Harlem River. Part of the property was a small house, complete with narrow yard, cindered driveway, trees, hedges, and a tiny skating rink my father had made for us kids.
Both my parents were northern European, so we participated in many traditions from the ‘Old Country.’ This included exchanging gifts on Christmas Eve. My parents would usually throw a big party, and my godfather, Uncle Arnie, would mysteriously disappear at some point during the evening. Imagine our youthful surprise when Saint NIck came through the door, carrying a sack of presents! (I fell for it, every time!)
There were several family traditions that led up to the big night. One of my favorites was when my sisters and I got decked out in our holiday best, along with my parents. We’d cram into the Oldsmobile, and head downtown, to spend the day strolling along 5th Avenue, admiring the highly decorated windows of Macy’s, Saks, and Gimbells. We would, of course, head into that child’s heaven of FAO Schwarz, where I, in particular, would admire and long for a fuzzy rocking horse, complete with a horse-hair tail. We’d end up at Rockefeller Center, watching the skaters and marveling at the enormous, bedecked tree.
My sibs and I would also plant ourselves in front of the telly for the Christmas time favorites — Frosty the Snowman and Rudolf. I abashedly admit that for a (long) number of years, I’d cry in terror every time the Abominable Snowman appeared. From my two or three year old perspective, that massive monster of fur was terrifying! Either that, or I was a wimpy kid!
I do remember this anomaly about Yukon Jack’s dog team quite clearly. They weren’t sled dogs! I seem to recall a poodle, a collie,a Dachshund, and a a St. Bernard, with a few other breeds mixed in.
And of course there were the other classics – Miracle on 34th Street, Bing’s White Christmas, Jimmy Stewart in his iconic role as George Bailey, and the fabulous, lush 1938 version of A Christmas Carol (so very much better than the modern day remakes!)
Christmas Day Mom would literally – as the cliche goes – slave over a hot stove to produce a fabulous turkey dinner, complete with all the trimmings. I recall her purchasing 28 to 30 pound turkeys – enough to feed our horde and the friends who visited. The kids would play with their new toys, and eventually, someone would end up crying…. time for a nap!
A simpler era. Less consumerism, and more focus on what is truly important. Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!