Christmas 1959 Part 1
It was a simple enough history question, what caused Mexico to invade Texas and attack the Alamo? But Mr Grubbaker my history teacher wanted a five hundred word essay on the subject and I was faced with that horror of all horrors every writer faces, a blank sheet of paper. I knew the facts I just didn’t know how to begin. My mind swirled because of the distractions around me. All my school work was done in our small kitchen right before dinner. And it was that wonderful aroma of roast beef, oh so slowly cooking in the oven, that had me drooling like a baby and not thinking about my schoolwork. My mother in her kitchen was as efficient as a military officer in battle. She moved about the kitchen with the grace of a dancer, adding seasoning, readying the vegetables and mashing the potatoes. All this done with one eye on me and the other on the clock. It was the 50’s and in this household when my dad came home from work it was dinner time.
The row home we lived in was nice, but not large and the kitchen was small. Made smaller by the kitchen table and my mother preparing dinner. The smells drifted through the air like some ambrosia of delight, taking my mind away from Davey Crocket and the Alamo and directing it to my now rumbling stomach. I am sure every kid has felt this way, but my mom could cook with the best of them and when she made a roast like tonight, your mouth was watering as soon as the aroma hit you. I gave up worrying about the school project when my mother said ‘its almost dinner time’, our secret saying for dad will be walking in the door almost any second. And don’t you know it, the minute I had the table cleared and was getting the silverware and plates out, I heard a noise from the living room.
The front door opened slowly and a spray of snow flew in on the cold winters wind. My father, in his always present gray fedora, walked through and as he shook off the snow from his coat and hat, a wisp of steam lightly lifted from his shoulders. Hey I am a teenager, and in the 1950’s my dad seemed like a viking coming back from battle as he strode through the living room. My father was a Linotype operator for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a newspaper located in center city. It took a long bus ride and a longer train ride to get to get to work and back. This was compounded by the fact that it was snowing and cold outside add to this it was the day before Christmas with all the shoppers on the buss and it did not bode well for dad being in a great frame of mind. As usual when he walked in he kissed my mom and went straight to the refrigerator, pulling out an ice cold Esslinger beer. He went back to the living room hung up his coat, eased into his favorite chair and popped the cap on his beer. Opening the evening paper he raised the bottle and sipped the brew as if he was a wine taster savoring a rare vintage. Being only a kid not mature enough to understand I always wondered why an ice cold beer would give him such great pleasure on cold days like this. This ritual played out every evening was a prelude to him asking me if my homework was done and was the dinner ready. We knew that was our cue for mom to serve the dinner.
I was going to say jokingly it was Christmas vacation and my school work was not due until next year, but I knew from experience that cracking wise was not advisable right before he had his dinner. Even as I said I was done he was already heading to the table, no doubt being drawn by the wonderfully delicious aromas. In our home we were I guess it could be called religious. We went to mass every Sunday and all the holy days and we only ate fish on Fridays, but at our evening meals we said no formal prayer. For some reason that was reserved for holidays meals.
Anyway we did share a moment of silence, sometimes I thought it was so we could decide what part of our dinner we would attack first, and then we dug in. During the meal he would ask my mother how her day was and then he would question me about my school work or weather my chores were being done. It was the one time of the day that we all shared together regularly as a family, that I really looked forward to.
When we were done we all joined together to clear the table, then dad asked me the question I had been waiting a year for. Would I help him finish the work on the platform. A year…..it had been a whole year since I last heard those words. I had long ago given up believing in Santa Clause but even now in the eighth grade I still got excited at the anticipation of what those words truly meant. I was being asked to make the final electrical connections on our train platform and I would get to be the first one to operate the trains. It was then I knew Christmas was almost here.