This year I am reminiscing and sharing more Christmas memories of my youth in Alliance, Ohio. Last year, I shared my first installment of this trip down memory lane. I hope you enjoy and share your personal memories of Christmas past.
Every December, my mother bundled my brother, sister, and I up like Ralphie and Randy from A Christmas Story. She loaded us into the back seat of our Plymouth station wagon for a Sunday drive. Sunday drives in the Plymouth were our family tradition. They were drives through the country on warmer days that included ice cream or farm market stops.
Christmastime brought a new focus to the drives. It was all about lights. Driving into Alliance, we brushed away the frost the Plymouth’s windows to marvel at the bright colors of Christmas. My father wandered through the more prosperous Alliance neighborhoods on our trips to my grandmother’s house. These neighborhood displays were grander with most homes trying to outdo their neighbors.
One of my favorite memories is driving down Main Street on a snowy Sunday evening. My grandmother spent Sundays at our house. My father cruised Main Street when we took her back home. Main Street was lined with businesses and elaborate decorations. The street was quiet on Sunday evening. It was a time when stores closed on Sundays. Streetlight decorations and storefront displays reflected their colors in the snow and ice with no people or cars to distract from the bright lights.
My father was a fan of Christmas and Christmas lights. His theme was simplicity and not Clark Griswold’s megawatt showcase of Christmas luminance. He outlined our roof in blue lights. Northern Ohio was assured of snow cover on Christmas in the 50s and 60s. The soft blue glow was intensified by the white glistening snow. Returning home from our drives, I recall the peacefulness of our house nestled in tall snow-covered oaks.
Downtown Christmas shopping
Shopping was an experience in the 50s and 60s and not from an armchair with the goods arriving at your door in 2 days. Gift shopping in the Bilcze family meant excursions to downtown Alliance. Main Street was home to the expansive and grand M. O’Neil Company, Sears and Roebuck, and JC Penney were also prime destinations. Local storefronts included clothiers, shoe stores, jewelers, and shops where could buy just about everything you needed in life.
Jupiter Store and G.C. Murphy were Christmas central for my siblings and me. My parents gave us modest money to spend on gifts. We wisely shopped to make our money go far. The entrance to G.C. Murphy was heaven on earth with a large candy counter where I could choose from glass bins heaped with chocolates. I still recall the aroma of chocolates that greeted me when I walked into the store.
Alliance Hardware was a favored destination for children not so subtly dropping hints to their parents on what Santa should leave under the tree. Their upstairs was transformed into Toyland, an Alliance child’s vision of the North Pole. The hardware store also happened to be Santa’s home in Alliance. Somehow a downtown Christmas shopping trip ended up with a visit to Santa.
If I was lucky, my mother would take me along on her Christmas shopping trip to Canton. The stores in this larger city were much more adorned in Christmas grandeur. Stern and Mann’s, Canton’s premier retailer had beautiful windows with elegant displays. M. O’Neil’s and Polsky’s were likewise decorated for Christmas. These department stores captured the joy and meaning of Christmas.
Service club parties
The 1950s and 60s saw a very active involvement in community service clubs. The same went for veteran groups and ethnic social clubs. My dad ran a poplar Alliance neighborhood bar, Jokie’s Café. Part of being a business owner in Alliance involved belonging to and supporting these organizations. This involved sponsoring youth and adult baseball and bowling leagues, as well as, fundraisers and events.
My siblings and I reaped the benefits of his membership during the Christmas season. All of these clubs organized Christmas parties for their members’ children. Alliance children heralded the imminent arrival of Christmas through candy, toys, and visits from Santa at these clubs. My mother spent most Saturdays in December carting us from one party to another across town, often several in one day.
One of the constants of these parties was the mesh Christmas stocking filled with candy and fruit. There were always oranges, popcorn balls, and small toys such as a yo-yo tucked in among the loose candy. They also included nuts, something all children quickly discarded as much too healthy. These stockings must have been a crafty marketing ploy by the local dentists and dental society.
Some of the most memorable parties were held at the Glamorgan Castle where the Elks lodge called home in my youth. It was a magical and exotic setting. I explored the cultural diversity of this industrial city with the parties at the Hungarian Hall, Roma Society, Dante Club, and Christopher Columbus Society. The Amvets, American Legion, and VFW parties hosted the children of WW I, WW II and Korean War vets.