The Christmas Visit To Auntie's House
to Auntie's House
The Tiffany Lampshade Gave Off More Warmth Than a Furnace.
The Magical Christmas Visit
by Bill Russo
I don't live in the past, but I get pretty depressed if I don't visit it every once in a while. My favorite destination is December in the 1940s and early 1950s.
Because of the magic of the holidays, I am there now....eight years old again!
It's the most exciting time of the year, Christmas; and the family is getting ready for the holiday ride from all the way from Beverly on the Massachusetts North Shore to Malden, near Boston. It was a long trek some sixty years ago in the snowy winters of the Bay State - made even longer by an old car not much newer than a Henry Ford Model “A”.
My Dad is the pilot of the vehicle, assisted by Mom, and hampered by her impatient sons, Bobby and Billy. Baby sister Marie is not impatient. She sleeps silently.Truly, the distance between these two cities is only about 20 miles, but to small children born during the Second World War, it was a safari of mammoth proportions.
Finally the cranky, black Ford sedan pulls into a driveway and we spot my Aunt and Uncle's huge house. It's a mansion.
It is two full stories high, with four, maybe five bedrooms on the second floor, and it has a grand staircase in the living room at the front entrance and even possesses a second stairwell at the back of the house, by the kitchen.
There's a Brobdingnagian attic that features a great room with a high ceiling and a few smaller spaces, including a secret, finished room – more about this later.
Inside, lived our beloved Aunt, Uncle, and our two fabulous cousins: and there was always a chance of seeing a third cousin - their enigmatic, much older Brother. He didn't live at home. He was said to be in the army.
As we enter the house we are wrapped in the love of our family. We quickly head for the Christmas room. There is an entire room dedicated solely to the Christmas tree. And what a tree it is. My Uncle, who was a respected, downtown Boston furrier, used his skills to weave some white spidery material around the massive conifer, giving the beefy tree a snow covered effect unlike any tree I have seen before or since.
Above the spacious dining room table hangs a shimmering Tiffany lampshade that gives off more warmth than the tons of coal that are stuffed into the massive iron furnace in the basement.
The house is stunning. The most beautiful I have ever seen, but the real beauty of those long ago days, was to be found in the love that the families had for each other. My aunt, perhaps the smartest woman I have ever known; was a radiant and magnetic person.
In a life made far too short by Leukemia, she became a nurse, and eventually the Director of a major Massachusetts hospital school of nursing. She helped to edit & author a series of well known medical text books. Accomplishing many things that were nearly impossible for a woman born in the early 1900s, she also had a sweet smile and disposition.
As her home was invaded by her warlike, rug-rat nephews; who ran literally non-stop for hours from cellar to attic with their cousins - shooting cap guns, firing arrows from plastic bows, donning Superman Capes and flying up the walls – she remained as calm as a warm New Hampshire pond on a sunny, windless day.
"I'm going to tell those kids to stop running around. They are making way too much noise,” (My Mom)
“No you're not,” countered Ruth, her older sister. “Leave them alone. It's Christmas. Let them have fun.” (My Aunt)
We hear that conversation as we run by. We dash up the front stairway to the second floor. We continue running down the wide hallway, pausing and quieting just a little bit when we pass a door, where a lodger; a mysterious man, who was never seen, had his quarters.
Picking up full steam again, we dash to the other end of the hall and tramp down the back stairs. When we get to the bottom we open a door that leads into the kitchen.
Amidst the smell of pies and pastries cooling, and ham and turkey baking; we go into the spacious pantry and we each take an apple from a peach basket on a shelf. We cut our apples into halves and head for Auntie's sugar bowl. Pressing them deep into the snowy granules, we give our apple about a quarter inch of sugar coating. We eat for a while and then double dip into the bowl for more sugar. It's good for us. Gives us the strength to go up to the attic. That's where the real treasures are.
The attic is partly unfinished. It's immense. One section has no floorboards, only exposed beams, so we cross it gingerly, like Woodsmen traversing a fallen log bridging a stream. We tightrope the dangerous timbers and arrive at the attic's only finished room! It's fairly small.
There's a bed, a dresser and a table. This was once the room of the fabled older brother. We don't get to see him too often. He is in the army. The room is all made up for him in case he gets leave and comes home.
One Christmas, to our great happiness, the shadowy older brother did come home for a visit. As soon as we see him, we prepare for war. We battle him with swords, cap guns and tiny fists. The skirmish is short. He is too strong for us.
He overcomes us and picks us up one by one and hangs us on doorknobs by our belts!
We squeal with delight as he walks away, leaving us suspended until our Aunt rescues us and fortifies us with cookies and eggnog.
We go to the Christmas room. The glowing tree with its white snowy mantle fashioned by my Uncle is fantastic. We open presents. They are the greatest presents any kid ever got.
We eat a dinner that a billionaire would envy. It's late, we pack into the old Ford and make our way down the interminable, ice covered road for the long, twenty mile ride back to Beverly.
After what seems like many hours, we fall asleep.
“Wake up boys,” says Mom. “We're home.”
“Carry me,” I say.
“You're a big boy now, you can walk yourself,” Mom says. “Besides, I have to carry your baby sister.”
“I have a question, Mom.”
“What is it?” she asks.
“When can we go back and visit Auntie again?”
Typical car of 1950---it's a 1939 Ford ! ! ! !
Go Home for Christmas - If Only in Your Dreams
Same Song Sixty Years Later
The car that my Dad drove in 1950 was practically a Henry Ford "Model A".
It was a black 1939 Ford. Most Fords were still black in the 1930s, tracing back to the early days of the company when Henry Ford reportedly said, "Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it is black".
Dad was doing pretty well after the war. He used his G.I. benefits to buy a house and he had a steady job. So why was he driving us around in an 11 year old rattletrap?
It was the war. Production of automobiles was stopped early in 1942 and no passenger cars were made until 1946. Due to a variety of factors, including shortages of materials, only about 3 million new units were made in the U.S. during the first year the government allowed the auto makers to resume production.
In 1947 and 1948 things were not much better as about three or four million vehicles were made each year - the inventory was too small for the number of people who wanted new wheels.
Hence, during the mid 1940s into the 1950s, most Americans were riding in ramshackle 11 or 12 year old wrecks that were literally falling apart.
If my memory serves me right, my Dad did not get a modern car until about 1958 when he purchased a five year old Mercury. He loved that car and so did the rest of the family. But for me, the fondest remembrances are of the old Ford and the long drive to Auntie's house.