Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Christmas was an exciting time of the year, especially for an only child. There were always plenty of presents. There wasn’t any competition. We always exchanged gifts on Christmas Eve. I’m not entirely sure how that tradition got started, but I would imagine I had something to do with it, not wanting to wait for Christmas morning.  And the fact that we always spent Christmas day at my grandmothers.

Christmas dinner. That I can remember. It was always a surprise as to what we might have. My grandparents were first generation German immigrants. One of the dishes I remember best was sauerbraten, which I later learned is a German technique to sour anything. Usually, for our Christmas dinner, it was sour rabbit, which my grandfather had recently shot. A squirrel or two may have occasionally been thrown in, but when things are soured, it all pretty much tastes the same. Always served with noodles. I did learn the art of souring things, and do practice it from time to time. I prefer soured, tame rabbit. I don’t do any hunting.

Iced sugar cookies were another treat at Christmas and Easter. My grandmother could make the best iced cookies I’ve ever had, and believe me, I’ve had a few. The secret was another German baking trick, sour cream. I did inherit her recipe when my mother died and will be have made one batch already this holiday season. They are not for dieters.

Postage stamps on the Christmas cards would have been 3 cents in 1953. A gallon of gas to get to grandma’s would have been around 22 cents. A brand new Ford to ride in would have been $1600-$2400. The average price of a new home was $17,400. Sugar for the sugar cookies, 89 cents for ten lbs. But to put it all into perspective, the average salary per year was $4000. The rabbit and squirrel were free.

Dwight Eisenhower was President, the Yankees won the World Series, and Dark Star won the Kentucky Derby. One of my favorite all-time writers, Ernest Hemingway, won the Pulitzer Prize for his fiction novel, “The Old Man and the Sea.”

Waiting for dinner to be served, we might have listened to songs on the radio sung by Fats Domino, Hank Williams, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Patti Page, Perry Como, Nat King Cole, Dinah Shore, Dean Martin, Doris Day, and Bing Crosby. Two of the most popular Christmas songs in 1953 were Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song-Chestnuts Roasting by an Open Fire,” and “The Hippopotamus Song,” song by a ten year old girl from Oklahoma, Gayla Peevey. She sang it to raise money for the first hippopotamus at the Oklahoma City Zoo. Things were much simpler then.

Those watching television in the living room might have seen such classics as “I Love Lucy,” “What’s My Line,” “Truth or Consequences,” “The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet,” “The Life of Riley,” “The Jack Benny Show,” or “Dragnet.” You remember Joe Friday? “Just the facts, Ma’am.” One of my personal favorites was “You Bet Your Life.,” a game show hosted by Groucho Marx. I always liked the Marx Brothers. This was definitely a classic, featuring a cigar smoking Groucho asking such difficult questions as, “What color is the White House?” or “When did the War of 1812 start?” or “What color is an orange?” The most remembered question was, “Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb?” Ends up it was a trick question. Both Grand and his wife are buried there. The highlight of the program was if the contestant mentioned the secret word. A duck, looking like Groucho, with cigar, glasses, and mustache, would swing down from the rafters. You talk about excitement. TV hasn’t been the same without Groucho. Or the duck.

So that gives you some idea of Christmas in 1953. I left out the part where the guys usually drank too much, and the women played bunco, a dice game, for money. That wouldn’t be very Christmas like.

Have a Merry Christmas.

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