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  • My earliest memory about Christmas is from when my older brother Chris sat me down to tell me the truth about Santa Claus. I was 6 at the time. I can remember exactly where we were when he told me, and how it felt. Even though a myth had been shattered, I wound up feeling privileged, like I had been let in on a secret society. I thought it was pretty cool, actually. I felt like a big boy. Many of my friends still believed, and Chris had been very clear that I shouldn’t ruin it for anyone else – everyone learned the truth when the time was right, and it wasn’t my job to straighten them out. So, I always felt secretly more mature and “in the know” with friends who still believed.

    I’m not sure why it was deemed important to bring me up to speed on the truth about Santa at that point, but after putting up a strong defense of my belief in Santa, which Chris handled very deftly and was able to let me down from my beliefs very gently but firmly, I had an ace in the hole. When I finally accepted what he was saying, Chris seemed to be relieved that he’d gotten through the talk without me completely losing my mind. Then, I pulled out my ace – “at least, there’s still the Easter Bunny!” Chris just looked at me, sighed, and got a puzzled look on his face. He didn’t have the heart nor werewithal to take that one on after my hard-fought defense of the Santa myth. That would have to be dealt with on another day. He let it go.

    But I do have very fond memories of Christmas growing up, nonetheless. They usually begin with just how very joyful a time it was for my little sister Maryrose (now goes by Mary). I had been the 6th child born in 8 years in my family, and my early years were just a wild, raucous affair, that I don’t have a whole lot of specific memories of, just the occasional incident that stands out in my mind, and the family stories that I’ve heard from those years that have created pseudo-memories – things I know happened because I’ve heard about them so often.

    Getting a little sister at the age of 5 ½ seemed like a miraculous thing. She always seemed special to me. After being the baby of the big family my whole life (all 5 ½ years of it), being a big brother was a very big deal to me. She was always clearly a kid you couldn’t help but love. She just got such a kick out of everything, and she was so smart. She figured things out quickly – I always thought she was way smarter than me, but I never had a problem with that. She always deferred to me as her big brother, and always looked up to me. What wasn’t to like about that?

    (Pictured above - Maryrose in the dining room, with the tree in the background, looking pleased with her toys)

  • Maryrose was especially fun at Christmas time. She just got such a kick out of the whole thing. We would take her out on Christmas Eve, after dinner, to look at the lights around the neighborhood. Sometimes, after my older brothers started to drive, someone would drive and we’d go all over Brookline and Dormont looking at the lights. Mom and Dad would stay behind to handle things, andwhen we got back from looking at the lights, they would excitedly announce that Santa had come while we were out! Maryrose’s eyes would just light up as she’d run into the dining room, where the tree was set up in the corner, and look in awe at the pile of presents scattered all about under and around the tree. With 7 children, that was one big pile of presents. Maryrose’s pile was always the biggest. This wasn’t because Santa brought her more presents than anyone else. She had all the presents from Santa, plus all the presents from all of her siblings, on top of it. We all loved to give her presents. We all worked – some of us had paper routes, some earned money baby-sitting, some of the older boys had restaurant jobs. Mary was the happy beneficiary of our collective incomes at Christmas time.

    By age 8, I had my own paper route, consisting of 65 customers. Christmas-time was a glorious time of year to have a paper route. Beginning a couple weeks before Christmas, customers began to give you your Christmas Tips when you collected for the money they owed you for the week’s paper deliveries. After a couple of weeks of collecting Christmas Tips, which could be anything from $5 to $10 per customer, I would just be rolling in the dough. That’s a lot of money for an 8 year old to have at his disposal! This would require numerous trips to downtown Pittsburgh on the streetcar or bus, whichever came first, to roam the aisles of Gimbel’s and Kaufmann’s Department Stores, up and down the escalators, to find presents for the whole family. I would always wind up getting more than it seemed possible to carry back home on the bus or the trolley car. People going home from work always looked at me funny, wondering what an 8 or 9 year old was doing with all those bags.

    I really loved it when Dad would declare me “the last of the big-time spenders”. I always wanted to make sure everyone got something from me. Mom was always the hardest person to find something for, and it sometimes took 2 or 3 trips into town before I found what I considered to be that perfect present for her. She always at least acted like it was the perfect present, too. That was the best feeling of Christmas, that and little Maryrose’s sheer joy at the whole affair.

    After the opening of the presents, we usually played some games, more often than not a game of “Bug-a-Rum” or maybe Mah Johng, or played around with any new presents. I really didn’t get many “toys”, per se, as I was never much of a “toy” player. I was always into sports and games, so I usually got things like a baseball glove, a bat, a football, a basketball, or maybe a pair of ice skates, or a cool game.

    The other thing I remember about Christmases growing up were the electric trains and plasticville. We had 3 different electric train sets, and a whole town’s worth of plasticville houses and stores and people and vehicles, and Dad built a 3 tiered platform to set it all up on. Each tier had train tracks running around the outside of it, then the top tier had the whole Plasticville town set up inside the train tracks. This was the coolest thing in the world.

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