“Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays . . . I met a man who lived in Tennessee and he was looking for Pennsylvania and some homemade pumpkin pie . . . For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home.”
I heard Perry Como sing those words for the first time. Did you know that Perry was a barber from Pennsylvania? I miss going home for the holidays.
It’s been 18 years since I spent a Christmas in Pennsylvania, yet the memories are still clear.
I grew up with four sisters, one brother, a mom and a dad. We lived in a three-story row house a few blocks from the downtown square. Our home was built around 1870.
The first floor had a living room, dining room and kitchen. On the second floor, we had four bedrooms and one bathroom with a footed tub. There was no shower.
There were two front and two back bedrooms. I preferred sleeping in the front bedroom next to my parent’s room.
The front room had three long windows, which faced the street. You could hear the traffic and see the car lights reflecting on the windows at night.
Our row house had a cement sidewalk. From the front door to the street was about seven feet. There was no lawn, it was all sidewalk. The street was made of bricks. The houses were made of bricks
My parents worked hard to make ends meet. My father had his own business and my mom baby-sat kids when they needed extra money. We had everything that we needed, including love.
When I think about Christmas and how my parents provided for a family of eight, I am amazed at their thriftiness. My dad made $55 a week, and we lived comfortably.
The holidays were sweet memories from Thanksgiving to Christmas Day.
Sometime after Thanksgiving, my mom and dad would hang the Christmas lights. They were electric lights. (That tidbit is for my children who think I lived before electricity was discovered.) I think the light bulbs were C-9s but they may have been C-7s.
Most years my dad would hang the lights using a ladder. When the weather was really bad, he’d reach from inside the window and hook the lights outside, onto the window trim. Our house glowed at Christmas time.
We always had plump, fresh trees. Every other Christmas, dad would drag out a huge piece of plywood, set it on blocks, and place the tree on top of it. He would then build a mini-city with a train track, on the plywood. My dad could do anything.
You see, my dad’s business was amusement games. He was experienced with pinball machines. He’d use his creativity to construct this little city, under the tree. He would lay out an entire community with homes, gas stations, banks, city parks and schools.
Everything would light up, including the streetlights and buildings, and blink on and off just like a pinball machine. The train track wrapped around the city. When the train ran, different lights would come on, when the train whistled.
Of course, this huge train track filled our living room. It didn’t bother any of us, though. The tree and track were part of our family.
Christmas Eve was pretty exciting around our house. We’d put cookies, milk and a note out for Santa. With great anticipation, we’d climb the stairs to bed, five girls and one little boy.
Once in bed, falling asleep was nearly impossible. I could hear my mom cutting wrapping paper and tearing tape. I was so excited for Christmas morning.
The best part was lying in bed, looking out the windows. The beautiful colored lights melted the frost off the windowpane, and softened my heart. Those lights invited the warm feelings of Christmas.
On a freezing winter night, the colored lights embodied everything that was good, the birth of the Christ child and wonderful parents, just as in Bethlehem.
Diane Mack is coordinator of Putting Families First, Jackson County's Family Week Foundation. Email her at Director@jacksoncountyfamilyweek.org.