During Christmas week 1967, my sixth grade teacher told me and a few other students to stay after class. Teachers in other classes told select students, including my brothers and sisters, to stay after school. A little later, someone told us we were going to McDonalds. That was when McDonalds’ hamburgers were 20 cents each, and the company advertised you could get a meal for a dollar and get change back.
In spite of McDonalds’ low prices, going there was a rare event for our family of fourteen children. I was excited about going, even though I did not have a clue why I was selected to go while many of my friends were not. When we got to the restaurant, it was packed. Kids were pushing and shoving to get up to the counter and order their free meal. I was afraid my little sister would miss out on the meal, so I put her in front of me and kept pushing her closer and closer to the counter until she got her free meal and toy.
After we finished our meal, the bus dropped us back at school. From there, we walked home. As we neared our house, two of my classmates who had not gone on the trip, were standing on the corner.
“Why did they get to go to McDonalds, and we didn’t?” I overheard Mary Lou ask Judy.
“Because they’re poor,” Judy responded with a mixture of disgust and jealousy.
Being unaware we were poor until then, makes this one of the more powerful Christmas memories I have, although not the most positive. With few exceptions, my Christmas memories are all positive, especially after moving to Amsterdam, NY, getting married and having children. Children make Christmas special, not only because it celebrates the birth of a baby, but also because they get so excited about it. My one son was so eager for Christmas one year, he puked.
In our family, Christmas has always meant watching Christmas movies. In 1989 we got our first VCR and our first VHS tape, It’s A Wonderful Life. My son David reminded me this week of “how big a deal it was to know exactly when Charlie Brown, Rudolph, and Garfield were going to air” prior to having a VCR. In 1990 David, then 8-years old, pointed out to my wife a VHS tape of Pepe Le Pew cartoons at Price Chopper. He received it for Christmas, and that began a life long passion of collecting films.
Christmas always meant the kids got presents labeled “some assembly required.” A photograph from Christmas 1984, shows me putting together a Star Wars Ewok Village while both sons watch. Another year, I put together a M.A.S.K. (Mobile Armour Strike Kommand) Boulder Hill playset, which now sell on eBay for over $200.
Another Christmas tradition was driving around Amsterdam to see all the houses decorated for the contest the city used to hold. On Christmas 1993, my wife decided on the way home from her parents that we hadn’t seen the lights that year. Unfortunately, the streets were a little slick and we got stuck going up Northampton Road. Thankfully, Dick and Lousie Healey were driving by and helped us out.
On Christmas afternoon we always went to the grandparents for lunch and to open more presents. During the evening of Christmas 2002, it began to snow. It fell so rapidly, we were unable to go home. We ended up sleeping in the living room and watching the Jimmy Stewart version of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Every few hours, we went outside to shovel the driveway. That nor’easter dumped anywhere from 21-36” depending on where you lived.
Earlier that evening, my brother-in-law who was recovering from cancer, decided to walk to his house next door. A few of us went with him. He wasn’t quite ready for the walk, however, and part way up his 1/8 mile driveway, he couldn’t go any farther. So we got a tarp and slid him over the snow to his house.
I have 62 years of Christmas memories now: Playing Joseph in church pageants, candlelight church services, my father reading the Christmas story to us, Handel’s Messiah at St. Anne’s Church, my wife making cinnamon buns or sugar cookies on Christmas Eve, Mary Sheridan’s Christmas dinners, the kids waking us up at 6:00 a.m. because it’s not a real Christmas unless you open your presents in the dark.
And this year, we will make new Christmas memories.
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An earlier version of this article appeared in the Recorder when owned by Mcleary Media LLC.