Say the word “Christmas” and it sets off a rapid slide show in my mind:
1936, Underwood, Washington--The determined five-year-old girl who was certain she could catch Santa this year and insisted on sleeping on the living room couch to make it easier. The fresh-cut Christmas tree, decorated with glass balls, icicles and little twisted wax candles in metal clip-on holders was right across the room. Santa couldn’t possibly tiptoe past this little guard. Of course, she failed. Waking in the dimmest of morning light my first thought was “aha! It’s o.k. I only nodded off for a moment.” But, as my eyes adjusted to the almost-dark room, I could just make out a beautiful little green-painted tea party table and four chairs--those definitely hadn’t been there when I perched on the couch earlier in the evening! It’s easy to be philosophical at five--there were all sorts of tantalizing toys to investigate under the tree, and next year, for sure, I’d catch Santa Claus.
1939, Seattle, Washington--Every afternoon during the month of December, I hurried home from school, plopped down in front of the radio and eagerly followed that day’s adventures of “the Cinnamon Bear.” I can’t remember the plot of this radio tale, but it built up to some grand finale just before Christmas and helped fuel the fire of anticipation for Christmas and all it might bring. The big department stores in Seattle, the Bon Marche and even tonier Frederick and Nelson, put on Christmas displays in their huge corner display windows that were truly wondrous. My family always made a pilgrimage to view these Christmas cornucopias--revolving dolls and elves, Lionel and American Flyer trains whizzing all through the other Christmas toys, teddy bears and presiding over it all, a Santa Claus that could have stepped right off the pages of “'Twas the Night Before Christmas.” Equally as wonderful were the huge “toy lands” of the department stores. They took up an entire floor of these block-wide emporiums and a child could get up close to all those toys that had been behind the plate glass windows on the ground floor. In 1939 King George VI of England made a goodwill tour to the U.S. Probably inspired by this, the doll manufacturers had come up with exquisite dolls of George’s two young daughters, the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. Frederick and Nelson had a huge table displaying these gorgeous dolls--why, they even wore little sparkling tiaras! Oh, I how wanted one of those princess dolls! But, alas, it was not to be. The store must have wanted more for royalty than my parents’ Christmas budget could afford. I got a doll that Christmas, and yes, she was a nice doll--but there’s an unrequited desire deep in my heart for a doll with deep royal blue velvet gown and rhinestone tiara.
Barbara Halliday, December 8, 2013