The Christmas Lion
Christmas was white when I was a kid. It was rare for Northeast Ohio to not be blanketed with a coat of snow. I as probably 5 or 6 years old when a heavy snow descended on Alliance leaving our family homebound. There was to be no Christmas Eve church service or visit to my grandmother’s house.
My father owned Jokie’s Café, a family bar in the industrial heart of the city. He closed the doors early on Christmas Eve to spend Christmas with us. My siblings and I worried that he would not make it home through the snowy roads on that Christmas Eve. Imagine our delight as my snow-covered dad opened the back door and stepped in that night.
The next morning, we hurried to the living room to see what Santa had brought us. Under that tree were three oversized stuffed animals. Mine was a lion that I used for many years as a pillow while watching TV. Several years later I learned the real story of that evening.
After a harrowing 3-mile drive home on snow chocked, icy streets, he turned into our driveway where he got stuck in the deep unplowed snow. He made several trips up that 500-foot driveway to carry those stuffed animals and other gifts to the house. He had to be happy to see our expressions that Christmas morning.
There is always a must-have toy at Christmas. That was true in 1961 when I was 7 years old. Mr. Machine, a walking mechanical robot that boys disassembled and reassembled, was number 1 on my list. Like Ralphie’s rifle in The Christmas Story, I know I pestered my parents mercilessly for Mr. Machine.
Christmas Eve started with Christmas Eve family service at St. Paul’s Eve. Lutheran Church followed by a visit to my grandmother’s house. My dad’s bar, Jokie’s Café, was attached to her house. My siblings and I visited our grandmother while my father said goodbye to the final customers.
It was just about time to leave for home. My sister, brother, and I were running through the empty bar as my father closed for the evening. I ran behind the bar and straight ahead under the grill was a Mr. Machine box. I was overjoyed. My dad explained that he was holding it for a friend.
Joe, Cindy, and I were shooed back to grandma Bilcze’s’ house. That Mr. Machine discovery was on my mind. I snuck a look out my grandmother’s living room window only to see my father put the Mr. Machine in the trunk of our car. The next morning, I awoke to a Mr. Machine under the tree. That is how I learned that there was no Santa. My mother made me promise to not tell my little sister.
Spray snow master
There is no doubt I inherited my love of decorating for Christmas from my father. He was very artistic. He did not have many opportunities to show his artistic side in his profession as a tavern owner and bartender. It was a different story at home, especially at Christmas time.
I grew up in a typical 50s two-bedroom, one bath ranch. How did we manage as a family of 5! Our living room was graced by a large picture window overlooking our 10 wooded acres. A fireplace flanked by oak bookcases and built in TV shelf was the centerpiece of the room.
My dad was a Picasso of the spray snow in a can. He would pull out the stencils and fill the window with snowflakes, Santa, and just about anything Christmas that was on those stencils. A large mirror over the fireplace was likewise decked out in Christmas spender. It was like Christmas exploded in our house.
Our house was always outlined in blue lights that cast a blue shadow on the snow-covered ground and trees. I fondly treasure those times looking out that picture window at the winter wonderland in our backyard. This is a side of my father that made him very happy. It is one of my fondest memories of my dad.
Merry Christmas! Treasure your family and memories.