Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas Memories Part 4 ( I think my counting is right?)

Ah ! Christmas morning and its 5 am., but who’s watching the clock? Time to check out the loot! First drag Mom and Dad out of bed - not that they can sleep through the whisperings any way. First we had to have breakfast ( personally I think that this was mom’s punishment for getting her up so early). Then we grouped around the Christmas Tree while Dad, whose job it was, handed out the Christmas presents. The rest of the morning was spent playing with our gifts, and checking out who got the largest haul. In the early sixties I would be found curled up on the sofa reading my latest Hardy Boys’ adventure.

In the afternoon we would be bundled up and hustled over to Grampa and Grandma’s. By the late fifties my grandparents had sold their farm, and relocated to London to be near Aunt Verna who was wheelchair bound. For my family this was a short trip while the rest of the clan drove down from Chatham. Looking back I suspect that the daughters-in-law did not have much of a choice. December 25 was also Grampa’s birthday, and my grandparent’s anniversary. Grandma was the boss.

The grandchildren did not object. There were thirteen of us, and on the whole we got along very well. The oldest kept the youngest entertained. I remember that grandma (ever the farm woman) put on a feast that probably could have fed a 30 man threshing crew with food left over. What I and my siblings remember the most is the hot fresh home made bread. I have tried over the years but never quite duplicated it.

We came home in the evening a very tired bunch.

We were not a church going family. That became, for me, an activity later in life. For us it was the dinners at our grandparents with the entire family of parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, and cousins.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Memories - Part 3 (I’m pretty sure it is !)

What did we want for Christmas in the late 1950’s ? In a ten year olds’ mind a religious holiday be damned this was about the toys ! Of course, it also was about anything else you could haul in. By the 1960’s I was far more interested in girls, dinner, and girls. Pretty much in that order.

This is not an exhaustive list. At this stage I can not remember everything. I did not pay much attention to what my sisters’ got, although I can remember two or three things. I can not remember at all what Mom and Dad got for each other. I do remember that my sisters’ felt it was a huge joke to buy Dad a pair of the wildest boxers that they could find usually two or three sizes too big for him. I wonder what he did with them ? He must have had a half a dozen pair.

The most popular toy that my brother and I played with throughout the fifties was an electric train - Canadian Pacific, of course.

A hit for the whole family was a hockey game. I doubt that any Canadian household at that time did not have one. I was usually the Toronto Maple Leafs, and my brother the Montreal Canadians - sibling rivalry.

Archives of Ontario
Slinky was a must have.
Archives of Ontario
I had a set of Roy Rogers pistols in the early fifties - I would have preferred the Cisco Kid.

Board games were popular. As a family we would sit down and play. Activities that are missing in today’s world. As I remember, my sisters were a heck of a lot more ruthless than either myself or my brother.

As for my sisters, I do remember their first Barbie doll. Probably because they were so hell bent on getting one.

One of my sisters, and I forget now which one, had Mr. Potato Head.

Finally there was the Hula Hoop. Even tried it myself once. I was not very good at it.

Had I known that she was a Hula Hooper I would have practiced.
By 1960 interests changed, and I was into the Hardy Boys. That was what would be found under the tree for several years after. I wonder what ever happened to that collection?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Christmas Memories - Part 2 (I think ?)

It’s the late 1950’s, school is out and it's a week before Christmas. It’s present shopping time ! As far as I can remember I usually had twenty dollars to spend on five gifts (Yes, I am a product of the middle class !). Mom would take me, my brother, and two sisters into downtown London to shop, and see the sights.

London has changed since then. Very few of the stops that we made then are in business today. Downtown was where you went as the shopping malls did not then exist until the 1960’s. It was a vibrant place to be.

First stop Kingsmill’s Department Store (the only department store left in downtown) - the “quiet store”. This was the store where children were seen but not heard. Mother went here for her linens. The elevator to the second floor was operated by what I viewed through the eyes of a 10 year old as an old man (about the age I am now I would think). Money for purchases were fed into a tube which went whizzing through pipes to the offices on the second floor. Fascinating. I could spend hours watching those suckers go.

Kingsmills 1950's. The Regional Room, London Public Library.

Bribery for being good (and quiet) was a visit to Kresge’s a couple to stores to the east of Kingsmill's for a glass of honeydew. As far as I know, the only time in the year a greedy little boy could get it.

The Christmas display in the Simpson's Department Store windows was a must see. The Eaton’s display came later in the 1960’s, but we viewed Simpson’s as much superior. So far I have been unable to get a photo of the Simpson’s Christmas window; however, The Ontario Archives have some of Eaton’s.
Eaton's Christmas window display, 1961. The Archives of Ontario.
The store where I did my Christmas shopping was Woolworth’s (F.W. Woolworth’s), a five and dime store that fit right into my budget. It was located right next to Simpson's.

Lastly, off to Young Canada (This is also where the Easter bunny was to be found. The fact that the Easter Bunny was in fact a very pretty young woman probably explains why Dad took us there.) to meet Santa with our lists in hand, and greedy little minds working at warp speed.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Memories Of Christmas

Under the Christmas tree there would always be Christmas colouring books. Probably not the thing for today’s children. But we had fun. You can get this complete 1950’s era colouring book from the Ontario Archives.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Santa Claus - A Local Look

I thought to start off the Christmas season by looking at that icon for children everywhere - Santa Claus.

How was he portrayed in the local newspapers in times past? What does this say about our ancestors ? (That I will leave up to you) .
Needless to say, I have not gone through every December edition of the local papers; however, one does get the idea that businesses very quickly caught on to the use of the Santa image to sell sell sell.

I am not going to go into a history of the evolution of the Santa Claus as we know him today. But an image that we would recognize came about a lot earlier that I thought. One of the first artists to portray Santa Claus much as we know him was American cartoonist Charles Nast in “Harpers Weekly”, December 29, 1866.

Harper's Weekly, 1881
You can see how Santa evolves in the local papers. Surprisingly, the images are not numerous, and are almost all advertisements.
The London Advertiser, 1892. Caption reads "Something For The Children: Just Look !"
The London Advertiser, December 1901
I always thought that a lump of coal in your stocking meant that you were a BAD BOY. I guess in 1901 you did not look a gift horse in the mouth. Why only one lump when you can get a ton! Boy that must have been some stocking !
The London Advertiser, December 1914
The first Christmas of the First World War, and the only instance where I found that the image of Santa Claus was used to make a statement rather than to sell something. As attitudes harden that will change.
The London Free Press, December 1931
Interesting advertisement during the time of the Great Depression. In spite of rough times they are still selling. You can see where the power centers in the family were even in the 1930's.
The London Free Press employee publication, December 1953
Yes it is moi. That year I had to be on crutches for nine to ten months - oh well - I did get to meet Santa ! I got a swell (50's jargon) gift. It also says something about editorial policy. The crippled boy gets front page.

Now it's 2010 and I have both the belly and the grey beard. It's also GOOD TO BE SANTA !

This is not me - worst luck !