Looking Back

Christmas in the 1950s

As a young child in the 50s I remember sitting at a pullout-top desk in our living room, writing my letter to Santa. If selected, it would be read at 4 p.m. on a local radio station. Santa would be sure to say that he had received all our letters even if he didn’t have time to read each one on the radio. My letter was chosen and you would think I had reached celebrity status!

When you are a youngster going anywhere at night is pretty exciting. But going downtown at Christmas time to see the displays in all the stores windows was definitely awesome. Lighted garlands were draped over the streets and Santa rode in his sleigh as it hung over Merchants Row. Every year my mother would take me downtown for dinner and then shopping. We ate at Prouse’s Restaurant on Center Street, which to me was a big deal because it was a “grownup restaurant.” There was no shopping center or mall in those days. All the shopping took place in downtown stores.

The store that seemed to have everything was the Economy Store on Merchants Row. It was truly “one-stop shopping.” You could furnish your house, buy clothes for men, women and children, select patterns and material for sewing and, of course, there were toys. Santa was up on the top floor in his “Santa House.” When you left you could select a small toy to bring home along with your candy cane. My friend, Ruthmary, said she furnished her doll house by making several visits to Santa.

Our shopping trip always involved a stop at Woolworth’s. It was considered a variety store and that name truly fits. You could find everything from goldfish and parakeets to clothing, pots and pans and just about any item that was part of daily living. At Christmas time the back section was devoted to cards, ornaments and wrapping paper. They also had a soda fountain, where the women who waited on you wore hair nets.

Wilson Clothing Store was unique because of entrances on both Merchants Row and Center Street. During the holidays young schoolboys, wearing ties, opened the doors for you to enter and exit the store.

People were always lined up by the window of Cinderella Sweets watching candy being made. All the candy makers were dressed in white. A gift of candy from this store was always on the shopping list.

Our mother-daughter visit to downtown happened on a night when my father worked. He was a pharmacist at Carpenter’s Pharmacy on Center Street. We always stopped there last because we were a one-car family and my father needed a ride home! The store had a soda fountain and what better way to end our night than with a sundae?

On a day when we were up for more shopping my mother and I headed to Little’s Lodge and Gift Shop on upper Center Street. I was always warned to be very careful in there as there were many breakable items. It was a perfect place to find that “special gift.” Owner Telma Little always came up with great ideas. For my teachers, who were nuns, “fragrance free” soap from that shop was an annual purchase. I am sure other students gave that same gift to the nuns, so they probably received enough soap to last them until the next Christmas. I remember my mother saw some miniature china teacups and saucers that she liked. I asked my father to take me back to Little’s later so we could get them as a gift for her. Since I am living in my family home, I can still enjoy them on our corner hutch.

The last purchase of the season was our Christmas tree. More houses than commercial places sold trees back then. We always went to a house on the corner of McKinley Avenue and Route 7. The trees were lined against a split rail fence. The owner would patiently twirl around several trees until we found one that was just right. I remember the tree lights back then were much larger than today. A package of silver tinsel icicles was needed every year, as picking off each icicle strand to save was not practical. Every home seemed to be decorated with multi-colored lights. The clear miniature white lights that are popular today were not a part of that time.

As the years go by many of the ornaments that we put on our trees have a story that goes with them. One of the oldest ornaments on our tree has the letter “W” hand-written on a tiny piece of paper and taped to the ornament. My maiden name is Whalen and the “W” was put on the ornament when I was in the first grade. We all brought one ornament to school for our class tree and putting our last initial on it helped to return it to the proper student. My mother, who is no longer living, saved this ornament and it has a special place on our tree each year. Take time to look back on your Christmases past and enjoy remembering the people and traditions from those days.

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