Of Bubble Lights, Pointy Plastic Icicles, and Ghost Stories-A Christmas Memory

If you are lucky enough to have had a “normal” childhood, I’m sure you have warm memories of Christmas, Hanukkah, or any of the other dozen or so celebrations that occur this time of the year. I’m not sure what normal means, I just know the Christmas of my childhood was wonderous. I’ve decided to list some of my memories and hope they might trigger some for you. Most are from the Fifties and Sixties before I realized Peter Pan was a myth and I was forced to grow up.

Trapsing through the fields with my father looking for the perfect wild growing cedar tree to chop down and then dragging it home. I remember asking why there were so many cedar trees growing along the fence line and being told birds eat cedar berries and sit on barbed wire fences and poop. The seed that made it through their digestive system germinates and a tree grows. Science and Christmas memories.

Bubble lights strung on a cedar tree that had to warm up before they bubbled.  I remember waiting for them to bubble with anxious anticipation and I can still hear their gurgle in my head. Later they were strung on a fake ‘metal’ Christmas tree waiting to electrocute us all.

Pointy plastic icicles hanging from a tree so sharp they could have stood in for a dagger during a home invasion and silver tinsel hung “oh so” precisely and used Christmas after Christmas…even on the silver, metal Christmas tree.

Helping, you should read, “being in the way.” Helping to hang ornaments and dropping one of my mother’s oldest and most favorite. Seeing the pain in her eyes despite assurances it was okay.

The year Santa brought a full-sized bicycle and a three-day rainstorm that kept me wondering if I would ever get to ride it. It didn’t stop me from riding it back and forth in our small living room until strong orders to do otherwise.

Strange one: Sitting in a dark closet telling ghost stories to my brother and cousins on Christmas Eve as we waited for the family festivities to begin. That may explain a great deal of adult dysfunction on their part…and mine. They always requested my renditions of Thriller’s “Pigeons from Hell.” As our family grew, so did my audience and suddenly a Christmas tradition was born.

A windup metal robot gifted by my Uncle Olin, that walked, sparked, flashed, and smoked. It also reversed when it ran into something. Not very impressive by today’s standards but innovative in 1957 and a glorious gift for a seven-year-old boy.

Billy Vaughn, Andy Williams, and Perry Como singing from the huge cabinet stereo…ad nauseum. How many versions of “Silent Night” are too many versions? Where my mother was concerned, you cannot have too many versions of “Silent Night.”

It wasn’t Christmas until I heard Nat King Cole singing The Christmas Song, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire….”

My church’s Christmas play with shepherds dressed in plaid bathrobes with towels wrapped around their heads tied with bailing twine. Shepherd’s hooks wired to make the hook.

An angel dressed in cheese cloth with wings made with coat hangers for structure and wrapped in tinsel presided over a ‘Betsy Wetsy” doll standing in for Baby Jesus.

Being “promoted” from shepherd to one of the Three Kings. I used the same bathrobe but had a gold scarf wrapped around my head like a turban and carried a foil wrapped cigar box to present to the “Betsy Wetsy’ baby Jesus instead of a shepherd’s hook.

The cookies and mulled cider after the play as we sat around the Christmas tree decorated with construction paper in Sunday school, waiting for Santa to make an appearance to give every child in the church a gift. We were a small church, the gifts inexpensive, and Santa looked and sounded like my Uncle James.  Fun was had by all and appreciated.

My first “date”, an early teen Christmas affair. A “goob” the size Mt. Everest appeared in the middle of my forehead, but it didn’t matter. I was so nervous with anticipation I threw up and wasn’t allowed to go. Later I was so embarrassed I tried to hide every time I saw the young lady.

Playing my drum solo when the school choir sang “Little Drummer Boy” on the last day of school before Christmas break. I was scared to the point of nausea…a recurring theme? It was the last offering, and I had the entire Christmas concert to think about it. I survived it but have always wondered why Mary allowed the Little Drummer Boy to wake up Baby Jesus by pounding on a drum.

Loading up in cars and traveling over our rural area singing Christmas Carols to the “sick and shet in” and shedding tears because we stopped at my home to sing to my mother. “Shet” is how the minister said shut…or it was Lester “Roadhog” Moran.1

Pink coconut caused by my fathers “barked up”, bloody knuckles from grating fresh coconut for Mother’s ambrosia or coconut cake.

Going to the Belk Brothers and Woolworth in Monroe, NC with my father early on Christmas Eve. I remember the press of people and the Christmas scenes in the Belk Brothers’ windows.

The man with no legs sitting in front of Belk’s selling pencils and my father’s tears as he dropped money in the man’s tin cup.

Eating Woolworth’s warm cashew nuts as we drove home, the bags of fruit and nuts he always bought to fill our Christmas stockings lining the backseat. The aroma of tangerines still takes me to Christmas.

The Christmas Eve reading of “Twas the Night Before Christmas.” My vision was not of “sugar plums” but included a Sgt. Sauders “Combat” Thompson machine gun or a “Rifleman” Winchester and a lifetime’s supply of caps to shoot in them.

The annual drive through the community looking at everyone’s Christmas decorations.

Photographs from Christmases past. The family, still intact, sitting around a dining table in my grandmother’s small dining room. A faded one of my grandmother standing behind my seated grandfather. A picture of my brother, little “Stevie Reno”, opening a gift and presenting it to the camera lens along with a broad smile.  

“Little” Donnie dressed like Fred Kirby, a local TV cowboy and Roy Rogers want-to-be. My cowboy hat at a jaunty angle, a western vest over my pajamas, and two silver cap pistols “tied down”, gunslinger style. “Take that Black Bart! Bam, bam, bam.”

I find as I get older my memories have become snatches of events and I hate to admit it, some of those memories are dimming. I’m sure this is a normal occurrence. I hope it is a normal occurrence. I’m writing memories for that reason.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. I hope your Christmas memories are, well, memorable.

1Lester “Roadhog” Moran and the Cadillac Cowboys’ “Alive at the Johnny Mack Brown High School” was a comedic LP by the Statler Brothers that made fun of early country music and radio. It has nothing to do with Christmas except that I was introduced to it and a comely young brunette during a Christmas break somewhere in the dimness of my past. Christmas “spirits” may have been involved and would account for the dimness.

The Old Roadhog and his Cowboys

Don Miller’s newest release is “Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes” and may be downloaded or purchased in paperback at https://www.amazon.com/Pig-Trails-Rabbit-Holes-Southerner/dp/B09GQSNYL2/ref=sr_1_1?crid=1NL4KPTB0R4EY&keywords=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes&qid=1639579530&sprefix=pig+trails+and+rabbit+holes%2Caps%2C224&sr=8-1

9 thoughts on “Of Bubble Lights, Pointy Plastic Icicles, and Ghost Stories-A Christmas Memory

  1. This makes me realize there’s a lot to be said for a small-town (rural or semi-rural) upbringing. It also gave me an inkling of the origins of what I perceive to be your better qualities (sense of humor, compassion). Did you even try to carry on some of these traditions with the next generation in your family, or were they overcome by events and modernity?

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