THE MEMORABLE CHRISTMAS I ALMOST REMEMBER
BACKGROUND ON MY DAD
My dad was born on July 7, 1909. He was one of four children. I never met my grandpa Whitworth because he had died before I was born. When my dad turned 18 he joined the Eagle’s Club. He was working full time as a butcher, but his Eagle’s Club membership enabled him to earn a little extra income. He became acquainted with a man named Bill Lias who was a bootlegger (associate of the Capone mob) during prohibition. Dad helped Mr. Lias by supplying all of West Virginia Eagle’s Clubs with booze during prohibition.
Sometime in the 1930’s my dad and grandpa Whitworth became partners in a family grocery store. They both made a good living in their grocery business. In 1939 grandpa Whitworth had his first heart attack, but he took some time off work and seemed to make a good recovery.
After December 7, 1941 my dad decided he was going to join the Navy to fight the Japanese. He tried to get grandpa Whitworth to shut the store down while he was gone, but grandpa Whitworth was having none of that. He told dad to “Go do what you have to do. The store will still be here when you come back.” At this time dad was 32. My brother was 7 and my sister was 3. In 1944 grandpa Whitworth had a fatal heart attack at the store. Dad always blamed himself for the death of his father.
CHRISTMAS OF 1950
In 1949 my dad became partners in another small grocery store with a man named Bill Alverez. Bill was a first generation natural born American. His parents had emigrated to Moundsville from Mexico in the 1930’s. Dad and Bill never had a written contract. They sealed their deal with a handshake. The B & K Market was only closed three days a year, which were Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day. Since the Alverez family tradition was to have their Christmas celebration dinner on Christmas Eve dad always worked on Christmas Eve. Dad had his own Christmas Eve tradition. He took lots of Christmas cheer to the store to share with his Christmas Eve regulars. All had a cheery time.
As soon as I woke up on Christmas morning of 1950 I knew something was different. My brother and sister came to me and told me not to mention that dad wasn’t home yet. I looked a little peek at my mother, and I could see steam coming out of her ears. I quietly tip toed down the stairs to see what Santa had brought to me. I had been reveling in my bounty for about 15 minutes when I heard a car pull to a stop outside our house. I eagerly ran to the window to see what I was sure was my dad pulling up to the house. My initial reaction turned to disappointment and right back to surprise. I didn’t recognize the brand new Studebaker, but to my surprise dad got out of the unrecognized car. Mom immediately told all of us children to go back upstairs. We all tried to hear what was going on, but in less than a minute we were called to come back down. I was thinking to myself that was a short battle, but imagine my surprise when I got to the living room and saw a HUGE pile of cash on the floor. Dad still had bills sticking out of every pocket. No explanation was offered and at that time I didn’t ask.
CHRISTMAS OF 1964
Here we are and it’s 14 years later and I still had never asked about the mystery of the Christmas of 1950. I was home from WVU on Christmas break, and the plan was for me to be the designated driver for dad on Christmas Eve. We got to the store at 6:00 PM, and we weren’t busy so I finally popped the question. Dad laughed like Santa he couldn’t believe I hadn’t already heard the story. It seems the Christmas Eve of 1950 one of his old acquaintances Bill Lias had paid dad a visit at the store on that Christmas Eve of long ago. At that time Mr. Lias owned Wheeling Downs racetrack and Billy’s Bar in south Wheeling (which had a small casino inside). After closing the store dad rode with Mr. Lias up to Billy’s bar. Dad liked to gamble and he got the urge to try his luck. He got into a heated game of barbooth. He told me after about two hours he could just feel a lucky streak coming on. It turned out he was right the HUGE pile of cash that I had seen 14 years ago had been the result of 23 passes in a row. He won over $18,000 and the new Studebaker that I had seen on that Christmas morning.
I realize this is not exactly the traditional story told at Christmas. It’s not like a movie you would expect to see with Bing Crosby playing his noted roles, but to me it is the most memorable childhood Christmas I almost remember.