Thursday, December 22, 2011

Xmas at Our House (and Ami's)

Our Xmas tree at Williamsburg Apartments (circa 1972)

Dear George,

The Xmas season always elicits a storehouse of memories. Katja and I started doing family celebrations when our son J was three months old. It wasn’t that meaningful for a tiny infant, but his parents were over-flowing with enthusiasm. When J became a toddler, we’d take him over to Johnny’s Toy Store in Greenhills to look over the aisles and aisles of merchandise in order to get some sense of his wishes. These outings would start out thrillingly, but after 30 minutes or so J would break into tears because of the hyper-stimulation. Early on we celebrated eight days of Hannukah gifts topped off with Santa’s Xmas Eve visit, but that became a little excessive, so we trimmed back to just family presents and Santa Claus. I’d start producing tree ornaments in October, and J would add those that he made and brought home from Clifton School. Mostly I’d use acrylics to paint faces onto paper mache or cookie dough heads. One year I painted happy faces on clam shells we’d brought home from the Menominee River bank (see pic above). We saved the ornaments each year and accumulated a sizeable collection (still stored somewhere in a cardboard box in our basement).

Cowboy J at Xmas time (circa 1973)

Around mid-December we’d buy a Xmas tree at the Clifton Methodist church and set it up in a corner of the living room. We’d also build a snowman in the side yard. J assisted, and the older and taller he got, the larger the snowman got. Actually, they weren’t really snowmen. Since we were a rabbit-owning family (Thumper, Sunbeam, etc.), we built snow rabbits. When J reached 12, we used a stepladder and built a snow rabbit that was eight feet tall. It was the wonder of the neighborhood. I used to go out at night when the temperature fell below freezing and sprinkle water on it so it would turn to ice. A passerby saw me one night and started hollering at me from across the street, thinking I was a vandal out to destroy the spirit of Xmas.

Snow rabbit at our Ludlow Ave. house (circa 1977)

We almost never celebrated Xmas at home in Cincinnati. We’d open our family presents four or five days beforehand, then set out on the turnpike for grandparents Buck and Helen’s house on Sherwood Rd. in northwest Philadelphia. J was the first grandchild in their extended family, and Helen and Buck would invite the whole group to come over and ooh and ahh. Xmas itself was pretty irrelevant in their Jewish household, but there would still be an abundance of holiday presents. Buck would take us downtown to the wonderful Italian street market for Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches, and we’d have a family holiday dinner at Horn and Hardart’s, Katja’s childhood favorite. Helen would treat us to pink lemonade and cucumber sandwiches at the Crystal Tea Room on the top floor of Wanamaker’s. Katja, J, and I would tour the Art Museum, the Franklin Institute, Lord & Taylor’s, and the Bala Cynwyd shops. Sometimes we’d go to the zoo and the Japanese pavilion in Fairmont Park. Then, on the morning of the Dec. 24, we would head off for Katja’s sister Ami’s and her brother-in-law Bruce’s home on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Buck at Sherwood Road (circa 1973)

Xmas was a wonderful time to be in New York. Horsedrawn carriages, Santas on the street corners, roasted chestnuts, and the hustle and bustle of holiday crowds. As soon as we arrived, J and I would set off on the subway for Times Square. With all the bright lights and extravagant displays, it was like Xmas there every day of the week. We would accompany Bruce to buy a Xmas tree on Broadway in the 80s. The price always seemed exorbitant to me, but it didn’t phase Bruce. Katja and Ami were enthusiastic, generous present givers, and we would have sort of a potlatch gift exchange on Christmas Eve before sitting down to Ami’s elegant dinner. We’d go to Rockefeller Center to watch the skaters and admire the Xmas tree which had been transported from Vermont or Maine. Then we’d stop in at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We’d head down to see the Xmas windows at Macy’s and tour the Soho galleries. We’d do the Canal Street plastic stores, Chinatown, the Lower East Side, and sometimes the South Street Seaport. Katja would buy tickets for the opera at the Met, and Ami would get us all Broadway theater tickets. She and Bruce would take us out for a night on the town at one of New York’s finest restaurants. Usually Ami and Katja would go to Bloomingdale’s to take advantage of the post-Xmas sales, then have oysters for lunch at the concourse in Grand Central Station. J and I would go off on our own and wander around the city. One of our most memorable experiences occurred on the Upper East Side when J was about 12. We were walking along on the edge of Central Park, talking and laughing, and I noticed an attractive brunette woman in a fur coat smiling at our father-son camaraderie. When I looked more closely, it turned out to be Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. We smiled back to Jackie. That was our heartwarming brush with fame.

Ami (circa 1973)

Our snow rabbit was always waiting for us when we got home, and we’d go to the kennel to pick up our traumatized Bedlington Terrier, Winston. We’d keep our Xmas tree up in the living room for a long time, usually till Valentine’s Day. One January J and I gathered up discarded Xmas trees that our neighbors had put out by the curbside, and soon we had a dense forest of about two dozen trees on our porch. It was difficult to get to the back door. Now it’s 2011, and we’re home for Xmas this year. As has regularly been the case when we’re in town for the holidays, we’ll be “adopted” by our dear friends, the Minkarahs, and we’ll go over and join their family on Xmas eve. Their kids and grandkids come in from the East and West coasts, and they always have a spirited get-together, culminating in a splendid Lebanese feast. We’ll have a good time, though we do miss all our dear family members.

Happy Holidays and Love to All,


G-mail Comments

-Ami G (12-22): It's not too late! Come to NYC! It's all here waiting for you! Merry! Merry! Love. Ami and Bruce

-Gayle C-L (12-22): Ur too much. I am sending you something. U probably will get it after xmas. Talk to u at Xmas.

Love u. :))

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