Saturday, November 26, 2011

An Acre Christmas Memory - Part I

A Christmas Memory
by David McKean

When the skies turn grey and dry leaves do their winter dance, thoughts return of another time.  A time of simple pleasures and innocent wishes.  They come to me like Dicken’s ghost of Christmas past, haunting in a way that invites you to return.  Sometimes it is the notes of a song that lives in the recesses of my mind.  Other times a whiff of cinnamon or an orange peel.  My soul has passed through five decades and four Christmases.  Each leaving its impression upon me and building in my collective memory.  How much is true and how much is dream has become blurred over time.  The expectations  of a young boy becomes the memories of an aging man.  Christmas.  Just the word makes me think of putting on black rubber boots with those impossible metal clips before going outside into snow mounds made by the passing plows.

The tenement I grew up in was located at
761 Broadway Street
in Lowell, Massachusetts.  Weeks before the holiday preparations began.  Dostaler’s Market next door would start stocking walnuts and Gorton (pork scrap sold in cardboard tubs), would once again be found in the cooler where the meats were kept.  In the back large pieces of beef would hang where Paul the butcher would cut the meat to the various needs of the neighborhood mothers.  The Dostalers’ sons would be busy delivering the groceries to the neighborhood.  Cans of SS Pierce vegetables would fly off the shelf.  Don’t forget the Bradt’s crackers and be sure to include some bread that would be left out to stale for the stuffing.  Mr. “Ovie” (Ovid Dostaler) was a kind soul who along with his wife would offer credit to his patrons.  To a six year old the sight of the glass enclosed wooden case filled with penny candy was a feast awaiting.  Armed with the nickel my memere gave me for carrying her laundry I would have to choose between the peach pits, which were such a bargain at three for a penny, or maybe a black licorice record, which was as strip of rich chewy delight with the little red bead at the center at the end.  But oh there were so many other choices, squirrel nuts, mint juleps, malt balls, flying saucer, which we used to give make-believe communion to each other.  Don’t forget the candy necklaces, wax bottles filled with sugar water, and straws filled with colored sugars which would make our tongues turn colors.  God only knows the chemicals we ingested.  If I was dutiful perhaps I saved 2 nickels and was able to get a package of Stoddard’s Twins, better known as black moons.  Two delicious, decadent, delightful, delicacies of chocolate cake with icing equal to the nectar of the gods inbetween.   But I digress. 

Years later I learned that Mr. Ovie was often the voice of Santa on the telephone.  With the constant threat of Santa not coming to our home that year, my mother would swear she would call Santa if we did not behave.  Since our apartment was on the first floor and the Dostalers lived on the second floor across the street, Mr. Ovie could see directly into out kitchen.  Upon my mother’s cue the phone would ring and Santa would begin the litany of faults my mother had previously snitched.  Santa even knew what we were wearing and where we were standing.  There really was a Santa!  We were convinced and well into junior high I knew that though my peers laughed at the absurdity of such a folly, he did exist.

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