Fuzzy Christmas Memories

1-Mike Staton

This Christmastime post is by Mike Staton.

I’ve been 64 for exactly one month. As I look at my photo folders on my HP’s hard drive, I realize something that’s a bit alarming. My memories of Christmases revolve around the photographs Dad took of us after we opened our presents. Normally, we’re standing or sitting in front of the Christmas tree, Jody holding a toy or doll, me with my hand in a baseball glove or holding a basketball against my hip. Dad didn’t seem to grasp that he could take off-the-cuff photos of us opening our gifts.

 

Another thing: I no longer remember specific events from those past Christmases, both at our houses in Rialto and Corona, California, and at relatives’ houses in Ohio. My memories are getting fuzzy. One time, maybe twenty-five years ago, I asked Mom about an episode from her childhood, and she said she could no longer recall specific details from her childhood years. Oh, my goodness! I’ve become just like my mother.

Christmas 1959 Rialto

It was an obviously busy Christmas morning in 1959 for my sister Jody and me. I just don’t remember much about it.

When in my twenties and thirties, I could sit on the couch in my Mom’s house in Beverly, Ohio, peruse the family scrapbooks… the photos would spur hundreds of precious memories. They still do, but they’re not quite as plentiful. The earlier the Christmases, the deeper they hide in the recesses of my mind. It takes a bit of coaxing to get them to converse with me.

 

See the photo from Christmas 1959 at our house in Rialto, California… of eight-year-old Mike and his two-year-old sister Jody? Mike’s sitting on the couch, Jody’s standing beside him. Next to her is an open camera case. Before Jody and I could leave our bedrooms to see what Santa had brought us, we had to wait until Dad attached the lights to his 16-millimeter movie camera. Then we’d walk through the hallway into the living room, which on Christmas morning was always ablaze with light cast by the camera’s auxiliary light bulbs. We couldn’t see a thing. Even when Dad stopped filming, we couldn’t see for excruciating seconds – until our pupils decided it was safe to open again.

Christmas 2007

It’s Christmas 2007 at the Beverly, Ohio, house. That’s my youngest niece Vanessa showing off her new boots. Behind her is her mom, who happens to be my sister Jody. As Jody’s girls get older and have families of their own, they’re starting to get an appreciation for family history.

Dad’s home movie camera… that’s one of my memories. Jody and I have those home movies on CD/DVD now. For years we watched them on Dad’s projector that almost always suffered a blown light halfway through a showing. Dad usually had trouble threading the film. He’d always get sputtering mad. In the ‘90s, I took the film to a VCR repair man, who converted it to a videocassette tape. Then, about 2007, we put the home movies on DVDs. Mine’s packed away in one of the boxes I have stacked in the closet. One time Jody wanted to show the movies when I was at the house, but her girls were not really interested. All three are in their thirties. One – Quinn – has two kids, Griffin and Grayson. I think Jody’s daughters are starting to have a much better appreciation for family history. Thanks to my cousin John Snyder we have photos of relatives that go back several generations, some who were actually born in the mid-19th century. John’s father Harold, who passed away this year, called them Precious Memories.

 

Christmas Rittman 1958

That’s our Southern California family celebrating Christmas in 1958 at my maternal grandparent’s house in Rittman, Ohio. I’m not sure who took the photo. Maybe Uncle Raymond Snyder? I’m also not sure about what I’m wearing. The shirt’s definitely weird. Only my sister Jody, me and our Uncle Denny are still living. That’s what makes these old photos so precious.

We moved from Ohio to Southern California in 1957. We took alternated celebrating Christmas with my maternal grandparents. In 1958, we traveled by train to Ohio to spend Christmas with them and Dad’s parents. Then in 1959, my maternal grandparents – Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid – came by train to San Bernardino and spent Christmas with us at the Rialto house. We continued to take turns until 1965 when we moved back to Ohio. We have photographs of Christmas 1958 snapped at Grandpa Frog’s house, 27 South Fourth Street in Rittman. I really don’t remember too much from that time. One photo shows me with my first record player, and I do remember playing records on it. My first record? A Disney recording that featured When You Wish Upon A Star. To this day, I do have memories of my Uncle Denny’s Lionel Train. Grandpa Frog would set up the track so the train would chug around the real Christmas tree.

 

Kim, Candy & Gloria's back - Christmas Eve 1974

This is a photo from the mid-1970s. By then we were back in Northeast Ohio and celebrating on Christmas Eve with dad’s side of the family. That’s my cousin Kim showing off her sock. Behind her is another cousin, Candy.

I’ve also watched Dad’s home movies of a Christmas spent at Sharon Center, Ohio, with my fraternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. In the film, Grandpa Bud is admiring his new power saw. He pretends to saw a board. He died less than two years later. I was just eight, so my memories of him are grainy. When I see that Christmas day snippet of him and his new saw, I can’t summon the detailed memories of that Christmas get-together. They’re so buried in my head I just can’t get at them.

 

I do recall some ancillary memories surrounding the Rialto Christmases of the late 1950s and early 1960s when I was in elementary school. My best friend, Bobby Benza, lived a block away. We spent hours at school and at home gabbing about TV Christmas specials. When Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Tale premiered in 1962, we were introduced to Charles Dickens’ classic tale of a greedy businessman taught the error of his ways by ghosts. Bobby and I dissected that animated movie for days and days. When we were in sixth grade, Bobby got the role of a wise man in Meyers Elementary’s Christmas pageant. He told me all about the rehearsals, had me enthused for his upcoming debut. Here’s what’s funny: I can’t actually remember watching the pageant. That’s probably because my head’s filled with pageants from movies I’ve seen on TV. Can a head get so cluttered with memories that some of the older ones get squeezed out and vanish in the ether?

Christmas 1961 in Rialto

This is Christmas 1961 in Rialto, California. That’s the Christmas my Grandpa Frog showed me the present-arms drill. I actually remember that doll of Jody’s as well as the tiny dresser at the foot of the silver Christmas tree.

Those Christmas Day memories from Rialto and Corona are sketchy. One stands out, though. It’s a Christmas in the early 1960s in Rialto. Grandma Mid and Grandpa Frog were visiting. I had a toy rifle, and Grandpa showed me how to do the present-arms drill. He’d been in the Ohio National Guard back in the 1920s. He told me he’d been a member of the Honor Guard for President Warren Harding’s funeral.

 

In the autumn of 1965 Dad got a new job with the tire division of B.F. Goodrich in Akron, and we moved back to Ohio. The first snow flurries fell in Wadsworth in late October, and in early December Mother Nature dumped a foot of snow on Wadsworth, Rittman, Sharon Center and Hackney. The snows were harbingers of the kinds of Christmases my family would have during my teenage years. Each December through junior high, high school and college, the Christmases were three-prong Christmases.

Kim and Jody Rittman Christmas 1976

That’s Christmas 1976 at our house in Beverly. I was going to say my Uncle Denny’s house, but that couch looks like ours. I could be wrong; we started having the Rittman Christmas celebration at Uncle Denny’s house. The two girls in the photo? My sister Jody on the left and cousin Kim. Yep, I have two cousins named Kim. Honestly.

Each Christmas Eve we piled into the family car and drove the 12 miles to my Aunt Gloria and Uncle Jack’s house in Granger. The celebration resembled a reunion, except it wasn’t as large. Besides my family, we had my dad’s mother and her two sisters, Avis and Hortense, and Dad’s Down’s syndrome brother Steven; Gloria, Hortense’s daughter, and her husband Jack and their two kids, Gloria and Jack; Jack’s mother, and starting in 1966, Dad’s sister Emmy, her husband Bill and their children, Billy, Kim, Ken and Brian. Emmy and her family had lived in the LA area since the mid-1950s and moved back to Ohio shortly after we made the trip eastward.

 

We ate dinner, the adults at the big table and the kids including the teenagers at the smaller one; in the evening, Jack motored to Akron to do his Christmas shopping. Christmas Eve was jam packed with tradition. I’d wait, fidgeting, eyeing my wristwatch, waiting for Jack to return with his arms full of sacks of concealed gifts. Even after he came through the front door, we had to wait until he went upstairs and wrapped his gifts. I’d look wistfully at the huge Christmas tree in the rec room, oodles of wrapped presents arrayed all around the tree. Oh, how I wanted to open presents, but I was one of Jack’s hostages.

Thanksgiving circa mid-60s

Sometimes we’d have Christmas Day dinner at the South Fourth Street house — Grandpa Frog and Grandma Mid’s house in Rittman. You can see they were big affairs. This looks to be sometime in the late 1950s. The woman on the far right is my Aunt Ethel. My Uncle Raymond built the Fourth Street house for her in 1915 after their wedding. Some of you may remember the short story I wrote about them.

Sometimes, we kids would put on our coats and gambol outside. Snow invariably covered the yard, and I swear that year in and year out the white gleamed under a full or near-full moon. Yes, I realize it was probably cloudy some nights… I just don’t remember those nights. Granger sat on the edge of Cleveland’s Snowbelt. While Wadsworth, just twelve miles away, had no snow on the ground, Granger was a snowy paradise for lovers of wintertime. Towns and cities downwind of Lake Erie received more snow due to the interaction of cold air and the lake’s warm water.

 

Mom Mike Xmas 1976 Beverly

The Christmases at our houses in Wadsworth and Beverly are blurs to me. I remember the Christmases in Rittman and Granger much more distinctly. This is me and mom in 1976.

We’d have our family Christmas on Christmas morning at the Wadsworth house and later the Beverly house in Southeast Ohio north of Marietta and the Ohio River. After opening presents, we’d eat breakfast and fruitcake that Grandma Nan always bought for us. By ’65 we’d dispensed with the silver tree and its rotating color wheel. We had a green artificial tree. I really didn’t miss a real tree; after all, Jack had one and on Christmas Eve I could enjoy its pine-needle fragrance. I really don’t remember much about our home Christmases in Wadsworth and Beverly. It’s the Christmases at Granger and Rittman that stayed with me through the years.

 

We had a fairly large turnout for our get-togethers in Rittman – the four of us, Grandma Mid, Grandpa Frog, my Uncle Denny and his then wife Dee, and their kids Kim and Kevin. Sometimes Aunt Ethel would join us, if one or both of her sons and their families weren’t in town. Grandpa Frog would drive his Ford (he’d bought nothing but Fords since the 1920s) to Aunt Ethel’s downtown apartment and pick her up. Her late husband Raymond had built the house on Fourth Street for his new bride. Now her sister Mid and Frog lived in the tidy house. It’d been in the family for more than 50 years. By the mid-1960s Grandpa had shifted to an artificial Christmas tree and Denny’s Lionel train no longer came out of its storage box in the walk-in storage closet. But it remained a house where the doorbell rang constantly throughout Christmas day. Grandma Mid was one of thirteen children. And the children of Grandma’s brothers and sisters – my Mom’s cousins – made sure to visit if they were in town.

Christmas 2005 Dad

As I moved in my 30s, 40s and 50s, I spent many Christmas Eves with my dad and Linda at their house in Grantsville. These photos are precious memories for me… dad passed away in January.

At Grandpa Frog’s house, we always ate a huge meal on Christmas day. With this post is a photograph of one of Grandma Mid’s sumptuous meals. I think it’s at Christmas, not Thanksgiving… I don’t see a turkey on the dinner table. Nothing compares to the food she cooked and baked for us. Her applesauce was unique, made from Early Transparent apples picked off two backyard trees. The store-bought kind is a pale imitation. Notice how she and my Mom are standing while the rest of us sit in our chairs? Grandma preferred to stand as the rest of us ate. I sometimes thought the apron was a key part of her dress.

 

One memory of those teenage years sticks with me. For Christmas 1967, I asked for cash, no gifts. I wanted to buy a high-quality telescope. You’ve heard of me speak of my cousin John Snyder and his father, Harold, one of Aunt Ethel’s sons. A college professor, Harold built telescopes as a hobby. In ’68, before we moved to Beverly, Harold, his wife Juanita and their two sons, Ron and John, stopped at our Wadsworth house to deliver my new telescope. I used that telescope for years; finally, in 1989, I gave it to a friend’s nephew.

Mom and Quinn Xmas 1999

I love this photo of mom and my middle niece Quinn, now married with two boys of her own. It’s Christmas 1999 at Jody’s house on Ferry Hill in Beverly. Mom loved wearing Christmas sweaters. She passed away in November 2003, five weeks before Christmas.

At Grandma Mid’s house on Christmas Eve in 1968, just before we headed to Jack and Gloria’s house for the traditional Christmas Eve get-together, we watched astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders describe the lunar surface as they orbited the Moon aboard Apollo 8. They ended their live broadcast by reading the Genesis account of God’s creation of the Universe: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon….” I was 17 years old when Apollo 8 orbited the moon; I’m now 64 and we haven’t been back.

 

This post has meandered a bit, much like my memories. I can’t be sure of which ones I can tease to consciousness. Still, the ones that bloomed, if only for a few moments, they’re good, sweet ones, and I’m glad I could share them. I’ll end this with Charles Dickens’ words in A Christmas Tale: “And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

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I’m an author. Two published fantasy novels – The Emperor’s Mistress and Thief’s Coin. They are the first two books of a trilogy. The third one, Assassins’ Lair, will be released in January. I also have short stories in two anthologies, Boys Will Be Boys and All About the Girls.

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26 Responses to Fuzzy Christmas Memories

  1. Nancy Jardine says:

    Being much the same age as you, Mike, I’d say your memory serves you pretty well, and better than mine. While growing up my Christmas Days tended to be just my family and my maiden aunt, Nana, who was more of a grandmother being 15 years older than my mother. Being traditionally Scottish we celebrated NEW YEAR ( a national holiday) in a big way whereas Christmas Day wasn’t a holiday when I was younger and my dad went to work as usual. I’m quite envious of all of your family photos. I have very few old photos of my family since any cameras we collectively had tended to only be used during the summer and outside. Inside of house photos are rare.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      It’s fascinating how Christmas is observed in various parts of the world. I hadn’t known that New Year’s was a bigger celebration in Scotland than Christmas. I’ve always kind of thought of New Year’s in the U.S. as a nationwide Mardi Gras.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Joe Stephens says:

    I’m the same way when it comes to memories. It’s like I have a fragmented hard drive, with snippets and images that float, often unattached to each other. When the family sits down and talks about events of the past, sometimes clearer, more sustained images emerge, but often not. I feel like a lot of my memories are simply of having heard a given story over and over from someone who actually remembers it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great family memories.
    The ability of memory is a gift all in itself.
    Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Thanks. I like how you say memory is a gift all in itself. When a reporter back in the ’80s, I did several feature stories on how Alzheimer’s ravages the brain. Later, in the early 2000s, when my Mom was still living, her best friend — who has since passed — had Alzheimer’s. Older folks who keep razor-sharp minds are so, so lucky. My Dad had a good mind into his late 80s; of course, he had other problems — bad heart and lungs.

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  4. I enjoyed reading about your memories. Now with grandparents passed away and families scattered across the country, Christmas isn’t as memorable, is it?

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    • Mike Staton says:

      You’re sure right there, Abbie. Middle niece Quinn has two boys, Griffin, 3, and Grayson, just a few months. Right now it would be nice to be back East with a chance to see Griffin open his presents. My sister Jody had great Christmases for her girls, and I know Quinn will be just as doting for her boys.

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  5. Sounds like you have quite a good memory Mike. However, I totally understand how you feel. Bits and pieces of the past flit through my mind and sometimes they are just out of reach and it’s very frustrating. How sad we can’t remember all the special occasions of childhood, but even remembering some is better than remembering none. Merry Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Merry Christmas, Linda. I can remember being a teenager and looking through the scrapbooks. The memories were much fresher then. Now that both parents have passed away, I wish I had thought to sat down with them and look through the scrapbooks together and recorded or written down their memories surrounding the photos of Jody and I as kids.

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  6. My family Christmases were quite small — I’m an only child and so was my mother, and my dad’s siblings and their kids lived in other states. We rarely traveled at Christmastime because, living in Iowa, weather was a major factor — so was money. So, my childhood Christmas memories are mostly of my parents and maternal grandparents, who lived in the same town. On occasion, my parents and I would venture “down south,” to Arkansas and Louisiana where my dad’s parents and siblings lived. I’m not your age, Mike, but many of my childhood memories have already vanished, at least the details. How wonderful you can recall which family members with whom and where you celebrated your childhood Christmases! You are so right: memories are precious! Merry Christmas to you and your friend Sharon and her dad!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Merry Christmas, Gayle. Interesting seeing how individual families celebrated Christmas. Glad you mentioned the weather factor. I vaguely recall a winter drive in Wadsworth when I was probably 4. The snow was so bad we had to stop at someone’s house and ride it out. I don’t recall if it was Christmas Eve or another night. My earliest memory of Christmas, which I didn’t mention in the post, was Christmas ’56 or ’57 when I got a small school desk and a doll. I wanted a doll; l’ve been told dad didn’t want to get it for me, but mom did anyway. The must have given me the desk because I was just about to enter kindergarten. That was our last Christmas in Wadsworth before we moved to Rialto.

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  7. Wranglers says:

    Mike, no matter what triggers your memories, you at least have them. I think your family took more pictures during that era than most people did. I have a photograph with me and my younger brothers in front of the tree. I have one of my two older brothers and me in the winter inside, maybe close to Christmas. I know a few childhood stories, but nothing ckose to what you remember. I’ve always heard you remember more about your childhood the older you get. Nice memories, thanks for sharing.

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    • Mike Staton says:

      Yep, dad got out the Brownie camera — and a later Polaroid — during the holidays and during visits to the hot tourist spots like Disneyland and Knotts Berry Farm. One year, about 1959, we watched the Rose Parade on TV and then dad and Grandpa Frog decided we’d take a motor trip to Pasadena and take photos of the floats. It was a dismal day, cloudy, a bit cold, maybe even some drizzle. It shows on the movie film dad took.

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  8. katewyland says:

    Fun post. I do agree that memories tend to get combined as the years go by. I’ve got stacks of photos we never dated and have a hard time remembering just when something happened. My folks didn’t take many pictures, but my hubby took masses, so we’ve got lots of Christmas photos. Without the growing kids to date them they all sort of run together.
    Merry Christmas.

    Like

    • Mike Staton says:

      I sat with Mom with while she battled ALS and though she could no longer speak, I had her use a cookie pan and magnetic letters and spell out pertinent information in some of the old, old photos, especially ones where she was little. I agree that the Christmas photos all start to look alike. No spontaneity.

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  9. Doris says:

    Your memories are so full of joy and frustration. I can relate. There are things about the Holidays I remember and others that are just fleeting clouds. Thank you for keeping the memories alive and sharing them with all of us. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Kathy Waller says:

    Good memories, Mike. I’m two months past 64, and I remember the first time Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Tale was aired. It’s still one of my favorite Christmas shows, and I would watch it today I could find it on TV. I remember the posed pictures, too. My mother took the off-the-cuff kind, too, but it’s the “be still and smile” ones that I remember. You’ve inspired to write about Christmases I remember. I think it’s important to record family stories. Funny that I find it so much easier writing them for a blog than just putting them on paper.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Neva Bodin says:

    I believe you definitely have clearer and more memories than many people do, Mike. And you have an easy and interesting way of sharing them. Family was the main structure in those days. And so important in emotional and behavioral development. And producing feelings of security, depending on the situation of course. But it looks like you had a great growing up experience with lots of family interaction over generations even. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      And even though mom and dad ended up divorced in the mid-1970s, I like how things turned out. We have another wonderful woman in our lives… dad’s second wife Linda. And another niece and more nephews, dad’s and Linda’s grandchildren.

      Like

  12. You remember so much more about the holidays than I do, Mike. Perhaps it’s because my Christmas memories tended to be less special and something I didn’t exactly want to remember! And my parents divorced as well when I was a teen. But now I have a wonderful stepmother and stepfather. Both of my parents get along so much better now and we spend time together – all four of us – when my dad comes back to visit. Thank you for a touching post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Staton says:

      Sarah, I’m glad things are better for you during the holidays and other visits. My parents waited until I was in my mid-20s to divorce. Like you, I now have a wonderful stepmother. It’s odd to call Linda a stepmother, since she’s a few weeks younger than me.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. S J Brown says:

    Mike I am playing catch up here. Thanks for sharing your Christmas memories, they sparked a few of my own. Hope you had a great holiday.

    Like

  14. Wranglers says:

    Love all your photos and memories. I think people who look at photos or videos often remember more than people who don’t. Thanks for sharing. Cher’ley

    Like

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