Zunardo’s Christmas

Hi – I hope you are doing well, and that you are enjoying this holiday season.  As I approach my 58th birthday in the next ten days and count the many blessings that have been given to me, I thought I’d bore you with some personal Christmas memories that I’ve managed to hang on to and treasure:

The earliest Christmas I can remember was probably 1961, when I just about to turn 3.  Two things I remember getting.  One was a toy “doctor’s bag” that had a stethoscope, plastic eyeglass frames (to look more “doctorly”, and candy “pills” to issue to a sick patient during a “house call” (kids, you’ll have to ask your grandparents what a house call is).  The other was a stuffed Pixie mouse, from the Pixie, Dixie, and Jinx cartoon by Hanna-Barbera.  Of the three or four stuffed animals I had as a child, Pixie was definitely my favorite, and I’ve actually managed to hang on to him.  It was a treat to let my two sons play with him when they were little, and then put him back on the shelf for the next generation to enjoy.

1962 was an interesting year. We had just moved from an old apartment to a new housing development, so I was still getting used to the new house, with tile floors instead of hardwood, and a bathtub that didn’t have four claw feet.  My parents took a great picture of me on Christmas morning, with sleepy eyes, standing in the hallway in my pajamas, and pointing to the toys under the tree, as if I didn’t believe they were mine.  There was a child’s drum set (my father had dabbled as a drummer at one time), and a record player complete with a set of Walt Disney 78’s.   Tragically, the drum set was destroyed the next day when my cousins came over to visit.  I never did get to play that thing, and I never did know exactly what happened.   Fortunately, the record player survived, and I spent many hours listening to my record collection until the phonograph speaker finally broke down ten years later.

Something else from that year – Buckeye Potato Chips was a popular snack brand back then, and at Chrismas time they would issue a special large-size bag with a full-length picture of Santa Claus on the front, and a picture of Santa Claus from behind on the back of the bag.  The idea was that after you emptied the bag, you could cut out the two images, sew them together while stuffing with cotton or Kleenex, and you’d have a children’s Santa doll.  I remember Mom telling me she was going to do that, but I didn’t believe her.  When she presented me with the doll, I thought that was just the coolest thing ever.  I don’t know why my parents never hung on to that doll , maybe the plastic bag covering didn’t last too long.  But it was fun to have while it lasted.

When I woke up on Christmas morning in 1963, I went out to the living room to see a model train chugging around the tracks as my father operated the controls.  Of course I was dying to try it out, but for the longest time Dad just kept saying, “Not yet, I’m still testing it to make sure it’s working right.”  He must have tested if for an hour.  Believe me, it was working fine – I think someone was just getting some play time in. 

1964 – ah, the premier broadcast of the “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer” television special.  Wikipedia lists the broadcast date as Sunday, December 6; however, my research of newspaper television listings indicate it was shown in Columbus on Saturday, December 12.   What I do remember is that I had taken a nap, and that my parents woke me up so I could watch the special when it came on.  I already owned a child’s Golden Book that told the story of Rudolph, and I was just fascinated with it, so I was looking forward to it.  When I had rubbed the sleep out of my eyes, Mom fixed me a light supper on a low tray so I could sit on the floor up close and not miss a thing. 

My father worked at nearby Lockbourne Air Force Base  – my mother had worked there for six or seven years before she quit when I entered kindergarten – so it was always a special treat when I got to visit the base.  One long-forgotten item I enjoyed seeing there was an old-fashioned multiple multiple-belt conveyor system for sending documents and folders between offices – the modern-day equivalent of e-mail.  Anyway, sometime around 1965, maybe 1966, Dad came home from work around noon on Christmas Eve to take me and Mom to the base supply Christmas Eve party, where I enjoyed the food and desserts.

As we prepared to leave, Dad walked me around so I could say bashfully say hello to his co-workers, then he took me over to a military teletype machine that was chattering furiously and spitting out fan-fold paper.   He said, “Go ahead and see what it says.”   It turned out be an update from NORAD, saying that satellites were tracking an in-bound unidentified flying object that appeared to have originated from the North Pole region and was being led by eight – no, nine smaller objects.  It went on to say that military intelligence believed this object to be friendly, and that it would continue to be tracked throughout the evening.  When I looked up at my father, I’m sure my mouth was hanging open. 

That’s when I knew the U.S Air Force was the real deal – because they could track Santa!  And his reindeer!  Even Rudolph!  How cool is that?

As you might expect, I’ve believed in Santa Claus for a long time.

One  December tradition my family had was to take a trip to the Lazarus department store downtown.  Going to that store was something special any time of the year, because it was one of those places that had everything, and that everything was geared toward giving shoppers a special experiences.   One of those things walk around the building, and admire the window displays that  the workers would create with wonderful mechanically-animated North Pole scenes. During my elementary school years I made sure I would get to sit on Santa’s lap at Lazarus (I knew in my heart that the Santa Claus here was the real Santa, and that all the others were just his helpers).  After that we would eat lunch at one of the many restaurants in the store, and my parents would let me pick out a tree ornament  for that year – they encouraged me to get something unique – and Mom would take a felt-tip pen and write my name and the year on that ornament.

The first such ornament was in 1965 – a flat-bottomed glass globe with a curled candle-tip top, with a Santa made of wisps of cotton and colored felt, and a tiny sleigh.  In 1967, it was a shiny blue bell with a little clapper.  And in 1969 and 1970, I actually made my own ornament from a kit with a Styrofoam ball, sequins, and pins.

As I got older, I may have lost some of the childhood magic and gotten too big to sit on Santa’s knee, but I still enjoyed the annual December trip to Lazarus with my parents, which I was able to share with my wife after I got married.  And I made sure to take my sons when they were young to see the window displays during the last Christmas season before Lazarus closed its doors.  Ornaments eventually break, as some of mine have (unfortunately), but memories are longer-lasting.

So many years, so many memories, so many magical and miraculous moments.  But we should never forget the reason we wish to create those Christmas moments for ourselves and loved ones:  a  gift to us, God coming to earth in human form.

I hope you have a wonderful Christmas, and  I’ll see you next year.  As always, if you’ve anything like to share on this subject, drop me a reply.  I’d love to hear from you (Warning: NO spam messages or solicitations.  Anyone in violation of this rule will be permanently assigned “Grinch” status, given lumps of coal, and will never EVER be visited by Santa again).

 -Z-

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