This column was published in the December 2005 Issue of The Business Journal.
Before I reached the ripe old age of 6 or 7, I marveled at how Santa Claus could move all over the world in a sleigh hauled by eight reindeer and, in less than a night, convert our living room into a Christmas Wonderland. He always ate the cookies and milk I left for him. Little did I know that Dad and Mother stayed up most of the night to put up and trim the tree and lay the presents out underneath
along with the little train and village.
I remember what downtown Youngstown and Central Square were like in those days. The square was the focal point for the city’s Christmas decorations. Up and down Federal Street, people crowded the sidewalks, scurrying from one store to another to do their Christmas shopping.
A popular place for lunch was Petrakos restaurant. So was Jay’s Hot Dogs and the grill inside McCrory’s. Cars cruised up and down, their drivers looking for parking places. Cannons from the Civil War guarded the statue of the Man on the Monument in the middle of the square. Christmas lights strung from pole to pole glowed and sparkled.
McKelvey’s department store had the most interesting Christmas window displays, but Strouss-Hirshberg’s wasn’t far behind. At the east end of Federal Street, The Central Store and Kline’s Department Store offered beautiful merchandise at more moderate prices. As I remember, there were no vacant storefronts anywhere on Federal.
Homes weren’t decorated as elaborately and extensively as they are today. Our house had small lighted wreaths in the living room and dining room windows and that was it. The fir tree stood in the front comer of the living room with its string of large bulbs shining brightly. If one went out, they all went out, and you couldn’t handle the string to locate the burnt out bulb until it had cooled.
I remember Roxbury Avenue hill, a popular place to ride sleds. The adults built cozy fires at the top and bottom. You belly slammed to the bottom and there was Mr. Mellinger with a knotted rope tied to the back bumper of his car. We would grab the rope and he would haul us back up the hill. Then he would go back down and bring up another group.
We traveled to Pittsburgh one Christmas to visit my aunts Alice and Grace. I loved that trip. We didn’t have a car so we had to take the old, loud, smelly, rickety gas-powered bus to get the train at the old Erie Terminal, now an office building.
We usually took a night train to Pittsburgh. As we pulled out of the station behind Strouss and headed east toward Pittsburgh the night before Christmas Eve, we passed the steel mills that had their own Christmas glow. The bright yellow splash from the Bessemer converters by the South Avenue bridge lit the sky and created a beautiful background for the whole scene.
We arrived in Pittsburgh at the old Union Station (since converted to the beautiful upscale Station Square restaurant) where Aunt Alice and Aunt Grace waited to meet us. Then we rode the incline up to Mount Washington – the inclines are still there – where Alice and Grace lived. While they didn’t have a tree, there were plenty of presents for everyone. On Christmas Eve day, we went to downtown Pittsburgh to inspect the display window decorations for which Pittsburgh’s downtown merchants were famous. Joseph Horne’s, Kaufmann’s, Gimbel’s, Boggs and Buhl – all strived to outdo the others. And the decorated streets were amazing!
Christmas Day arrived and with it all the presents and the food! Aunt Flo brought and served her famous plum pudding. The adults had a special liquorized sauce on theirs but the other kids and I had to get by with just plain plum pudding topped with some kind of tepid sauce.
Aunt Alice roasted the turkey stuffed with her mouth-watering stuffing. My mom was the mashed potato and sweet potato specialist. Aunt Grace took care of all the other fixin’s. Dad was the unofficial supervisor whose suggestions were seldom, if ever, heeded.
We stuffed ourselves into a stupor and left the table to rest and groan a while. Then it came time to leave. Laden with presents in suitcases and shopping bags, we boarded the train for home Christmas night.
We arrived at the Erie station and walked silently down North Phelps Street to West Federal Street and took the South Avenue bus home.
Another Christmas had come and gone for a small boy.
It wasn’t until years later that the small boy, by that time a father with two sons of his own, came to appreciate the full extent of his parents’ love.
Six days later came New Year’s Day when all the trimming was removed, the tree came down and a young boy was left with warm memories of another wonderful, merry Christmas.