Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas 1953 Style

Merry Christmas to All!
Please let me share a family photo with you. Hands down, this is
not only one of my favorite holiday photos, it is one of my all time favorite childhood pictures.

No, it isn't the album cover for A 1950's Christmas, or commentary on the Sputnik inspired tree; but rather the one with my siblings and me. Dad took it on his "box" camera, then manually advanced the film, on Christmas Day 1953.

Go ahead and try imagining you don't notice the magnolia blossom fabric draperies, that are in the backdrop, working overtime to swallow your attention in one bite. Okay, so that isn't at all possible. Even though they have some incredible decorating powers, I loved those draperies. They always said HOME to me. It was in a loud shout, but they still said HOME.

This picture was taken on December 25, 1953. I clearly remember the second it was taken as if I just watched a documentary about when it was snapped.

  • Baby Patrick is only 6 months old. Even in this post-baptism-before-altar-boy snap shot, he is channeling the essence of the Infant of Prague without any prompting. "The Littlest Roman of Them All", as Dad called him, is so amused his wee baby toes are splayed and displayed.

  • Little Scoop is thrilled to have finally arrived in this world by sporting her OWN brand new ride. Sure, there is a stand on the back where someone can surely share the breeze riding along, but for that day and age, I was strictly in "Easy Rider" mode.

  • Mike was happily considering the question What Would Hop-Along Cassidy Do? Nattily dressed even back then, his hair in the precise styling of the Princeton cut, and leg posed so to deliberately flaunt the flannel lining of his custom made blue jeans Grandma had sewn.

  • Kathy is doing what she always did best: taking care of the rest of us. She's only holding Baby Patty at this point, but it is clearly emblematic of her familial role. She always thought of the details that mattered without a special request. As a young girl, she would save her money and every year made sure we had a Lifesavers candy Christmas book that was just for each of us. What a special treat it was in a house where sharing was the rule of the day. It is good knowing I have you shining down on us now, although I'd give anything to not have you as an angel quite this soon.

My maternal grandmother, Marie Gordon, created those famous draperies for our living and dining room windows. Martha Stewart is chilly in Gramma's shadow as she could out crafty anyone. Gram was a buyer for Gimbel's Department Store's Arts Department. Stories of her creativity and resourcefulness are nuclear enriched fodder for a blog entry all on its own.

She's the season's reason my parents could put bikes together earlier in the day as she'd drag us all to downtown Pittsburgh for a turkey lunch. Following that, we'd pay a special visit to Santa all day on Christmas Eve. Depositing us home dog-tired, she'd call a cab and head home quite pleased that we'd go to bed early that night. Yeah, sure. As if that EVER happened.

The week or so before Christmas, Morgan, our dad, would take leave from the police force and engage in full-time Christmas holiday prep. He'd polish wooden flooring with old fashioned paste wax, scrub area carpets, paint whatever looked like it could stand a coat, dismantle chandeliers for cleaning, "bleed" t
he old radiator heating system so winters would be toasty for us and the underwear we'd hang on them at night for the next morning. Several months before the magic day, he'd work a part-time job driving a package delivery truck for a local department store to have his own gift giving fund which was totally unaccountable to Mom. He'd drive nuns places they needed to go on a minutes notice. Not any nuns, mind you, nuns who had taught him as a child at Sacred Heart School. Sister Ferdinand and Sister Mary Alban. Christmas night he'd put a Santa hat on his head, drink the better part of a Canadian Club whiskey bottle, sing World War II songs channeling Bing Crosby, try to get Mom to dance with him (it worked for about 5 steps before she would swat-hit him and walk away). Then he'd spend the entire day after cooking a feast.

Mom would clean in her own fashion getting the crystal glasses and serving pieces ready for heavy duty. She'd dance the ballet between my two grandmothers who could not stand being in each other's company. Come to think of it, I never saw them on the same day, let alone in the same place. When asked why they didn't get along Mom would change the subject; Grandma would say she thought my dad's mother, Grieg Gar, was wonderful, but they were both busy; Grieg Gar, well, I just won't repeat it for the sake of this holiday greeting.

This year, like most, traditions are followed in nearly every household. Last ni
ght, after arriving from a lengthy, but enjoyable, train trip to my daughter, Jessica's, home in Louisiana, she showed me the Lifesavers Christmas book she found for her daughter. A calm, satisfying smile blossomed on my face. Memories of Christmas past flooded my mind. This picture landed on the marquee display in my mind with such prominence that I had to share it with all of you.

If you have a family tradition, please take the time to explain it to your children or whomever is in your home. Pass the reason for your actions and items displayed. Keep those memories active at least through the story telling tradition if you aren't someone who would write them down. Do you love aluminum ice cycles on your tree? Do you hang them in prim order, one at a time, like my Dad did or are you a free-form kinda person tossing them in the air allowing the to float downward landing wherever God intended them to rest?

Memories are, in the end, the final and greatest gift we have to offer each other. They are what lives on, year after year, if we play our cards right, even after we are gone. At this point, please excuse me from the world of blogging while I attempt to build a few traditions with Zelda, the best grandchild in my life.

Merry Christmas to all. My wish is for us all to receive everything we need and most of what we want.

PS: Take pictures too.


  1. What a beautiful, funny post, Ruthie! Have a very Merry Christmas and all the best in ’09! Enjoy your time with your grandbaby do for, as we both know, they are indeed grand!

    Ginny Ann

  2. Thats quite a picture of your siblings. Even at an early age you were a ham for the paparazzi. Thats a great picture.

    Have a Merry X-mas and a Happy New Year
    p.s. Isabella loves the knitted hat you made; thats the only hat she lets us put on her head for cold days. The other hats she shoves off her head.


  3. Ruth,

    I loved your Christmas story about your family and especially the family picture. You are so cute as all of you are but you are the cutest! I loved stories about family traditions and how we carry them thought-out our lives.

    We always read the Nativity before going to Midnight Mass at St. Rita's on Russell Road in Alexandria. Then home to bed!
    Love, Tuck

  4. My dear Ruthie.

    This is a wonderful way to catch-up with you. Thank you for sharing all of it with me.
    You will hear from me soon. Love ya,

  5. I love that picture of you and your siblings in front of the tree!! Ahhhh, the good old days.