Christmas memories trilogy for 2020

This is the time of the year when memories of past Christmases are vivid. For the past two years, I shared a trilogy of Christmas memories in 2018 and 2019. I am continuing this tradition this year.

Christmas gifts 

Giddy up! Christmas 1858

I bounded down the wide center stairway to the basement toy section of G.C. Murphy. I was on a mission to find the perfect Christmas gift for my brother and sister. It was our annual Christmas shopping trip to downtown Alliance. Pockets burning with cash given by my parents, I was searching for the prefect gifts. A toy china tea set for my sister and green plastic soldiers for my brother found their way under the tree that year..

This excursion was a much-anticipated event. G.C. Murphy and the Jupiter Store next door fit my kid budget. Gifts were predictable, embroidered handkerchiefs, perfumed body powders, and hard candy for my mother and grandmother and keyrings, wallets, and white handkerchiefs for my father.

The best was yet to come. I marveled at the grand M. O’Neill  Department Store decked out in high Christmas glory. Christmas downtown visits included Alliance Hardware with a ride up the elevator to Toyland, a magical once-a-year place, and Alliance’s home away from his North Pole home for Santa. Exhausted and on sugar highs from Heggy’s and the G.C. Murphy candy counters, we made our way home with our treasures in the back seat of the Plymouth.

Hungarian Pastries

My brother, my baby sister, me, and Grandma Bilcze – Christmas 1957

Hungarian pastries are the special foods in my Christmas memories. My fathers’ bar, Jokie’s Café, was in the center of the Alliance Hungarian neighborhood. Hungarian friends, neighbors, and the Hungarian Presbyterian Church ladies gifted us plates of these Eastern European delicacies.

Two pastries represented Christmas in the Alliance Hungarian community, dios kolache (kolache) and kifli. Dios kolache is known by Americans as Hungarian nut roll. Kifli, a flaky pastry filled with a sugary mix of ground walnuts or jam, takes the shape of a crescent or a rectangle. Both are common to other Eastern and Central European cuisines.

I traveled to Cleveland Hungarian markets and bakeries for years to purchase kolache and kifli. I was determined to bake them at home. I am happy to have found excellent recipes that do bring the Cambridge and Webb Hungarian neighborhood aromas and memories into my kitchen at Christmas.

Christmas Tree Lot

20 month old Tom and his mom – Christmas 1955

My childhood home was on busy U.S. 62 west of the Alliance city limits. My father died in early 1970. We were visited many times that year by his friends. One of his friends suggested that my brother and I sell Christmas trees on the main road into Alliance.

My brother Joe and I thought that was a good idea. In 1971, we became Christmas tree sellers. He was a freshman at Kent State, and I was in my senior year at Marlington High School. We found a wholesaler and invested in 300 trees at $.50 with a $.50 delivery fee. We sold them for a whopping $3 your choice.

Thus began my education in how to sell a Christmas tree. We opened the lot the day after Thanksgiving and sat looking out the kitchen window for almost two weeks with virtually no business. It did not look promising.

Three Saturdays before Christmas, my brother left for Kent State to register for winter quarter classes. It left my mother, sister, and I to tend the lot. We were not prepared for what happened that day. It was a constant parade of cars with families buying trees. My brother arrived home to a half full lot and a pile of cash on the kitchen table. We would sell trees for 3 years before selling the farm.

Here are some lessons from an experienced tree salesman to future tree sellers. 90% of Christmas trees are sold on the 2nd and 3rd weekends before Christmas. Almost no one buys a tree midweek. If a tree remains unsold after the weekend before Christmas, you cannot give it away. The person with the smallest car buys the biggest tree. People buy more trees and shop faster on the coldest days. Snow is a tree lot’s gift from God. Even the Charley Brown tree looks magnificent after fresh snow. Speaking of snow, it brings more people to the lot in a festive mood and more willing to spend money.  

I repurposed the 4X8 plywood sheet tree lot signs in 1974. I drew, cutout and painted life-size Christmas Peanuts characters on the back with the front still bearing my red and green lettering of Christmas trees for sale. 46 years have passed and somehow they survived 3 moves across Ohio. I plan on refreshing the paint this summer. The back, remnants of the signs, will remain as a treasured memory.

I hope your holidays are merry and bright in a year when much was not so merry.

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