Christmas Eve is my first real memory of the holiday. My mom insisted that my sister Eleanor and I go to bed early. I realized some time ago that we went to bed at dusk and it was probably only 5:00 p.m.! We were too young to tell time and there was no TV.
Our bed was on rollers and easily pushed to the front window of our second floor bedroom. We kept our chenille bathrobes on because storm windows didn’t exist then and it was drafty. We used our breath to melt the ice on the windows and make lopsided peep holes, thus settling into our secret viewing area.
We were going to see Santa and his reindeer land the sleigh this year - for sure. Alas, we never did, the Sandman always came before Santa.
The pile of gifts under the tree the next morning made catching Santa fade in importance. Great gifts under the tree for everyone!
One Christmas we got matching winter coat sets, mine was blue and Eleanor’s was red. They were double-breasted wool coats, each trimmed with a black velvet collar and buttons, and came with matching leggings and a bonnet. People asked if we were twins.
A trip downtown was one of the joyous events of our Christmas vacation from school. We would catch the Lorain Avenue streetcar at the W. 110th St. stop. The route was east along Lorain Ave, a left turn on W. 25th St., and a right turn on Detroit Avenue into the lower level of the Detroit-Superior bridge. It was slow going, with many stops, so it took an hour to get downtown.
As we passed the West Side Market, we saw black-clad immigrants carrying live chickens that peeked out of oilcloth shopping bags. We loved it when they got on the streetcar with the squawking birds. Every one getting on or off the streetcar at that stop spoke in a foreign language. We saw kids not much older than us working the outside vegetable stands and warming themselves at the steel barrels used as fires pits.
When the streetcar emerged on the other side of the bridge, it was a short ride to the sparkling magic of Public Square. We would spin in a circle to take it all in. The four quads each had their own splendors, but the one nearest the terminal had an enormous tree. The department stores’ marquees had tinsel laden trees and the windows were draped with garlands.
What delights those fanciful windows held! Higbee’s and May’s brought the holiday to life, with Santa’s work shop and tinkering elves or snowy Christmas scenes with kids sledding and skating or a giant nutcracker. Further down Euclid Ave. awaited Sterling-Linder-Davis’s breath-taking 50-foot tree and Halle’s Mr. Jingeling. The crowds of people around the windows were three deep, but Eleanor and I would wiggle our way up to the glass windowpane.
Once inside the crowded stores, we headed for Santa Claus and his enormous red and gold throne. After a wait that seemed hours long, we finally climbed up onto his lap and…were over taken by shyness. We were speechless, but somehow he always knew what we wanted for Christmas anyway.
Peggy Calvey Patton
Peggy Calvey Patton is a freelance writer from West Park.