It might just be my imagination, but it seems as if there are more homes with Christmas lights this year than there have been for the past few. As a kid I would always look forward to the time when the folks would load us into the car and we would just drive around the town looking at all the lights strung across Broadway in the downtown area as well as the many neighborhoods that were lit up. My wife, Jean, has promised the granddaughters that we will take them around town to look at the lights; this will be a treat for both them and us as it will be like taking a trip down memory lane for both her and I.
While looking back to Christmas as a kid, I can still remember when my dad would put up the lights above the overhang on our front steps. We also had a small evergreen shrub adorning each side of the steps that he would light up for Christmas. His favorite color light was blue and he eventually, over time, did all the outside lights in those large blue bulbs. This had gotten to be a tradition that I looked forward to each year as it was sort of his trademark for Christmas.
My mother took great pride in decorating the inside of the house and she did an excellent job of making our small house look like what you would picture a house at Christmas to be. The decorations she put up were brought down from the attic where they had been carefully packed away after the previous Christmas holiday.
We sometimes had to wait until a day or two before Christmas for the tree to arrive because money wasn’t all that plentiful and you could get a better price on a tree the closer you got to Christmas. Dad was in charge of buying the tree for our house and for that matter, Grandma’s house. I guess he was kind of like the expert on Christmas trees because of the time that he went with Levi Hanson up to Cook, Minnesota to cut trees for Levi’s Christmas tree lot. After that he was deemed qualified to pick out the best tree for the price; I guess we could have called him the Christmas Tree Whisperer if we’d have known what it meant back then.
The Christmas season was the season of excitement for adults as well as children. It was not only a time for kids to anticipate Santa Claus’ coming — Ho! Ho! Ho! — but it was really a time to worship the birth of Jesus and celebrate Christmas. There was and still is nothing more inspiring than the singing of Christmas Carols with the colorful lights shining brightly on the tree.
Spending time downtown during the Christmas season was a celebration in itself and I always knew that Christmas was getting close when that mechanical Santa, in all his glory, would be waving to everyone from the front window of the Skinner Chamberlain department store. The kids would be lined up pressing their noses against the glass of the window with visions of Christmas presents dancing in their heads. Most of the stores that once lined Broadway back then are no longer in existence. The Ben Franklin store, Woolworth’s, JC Penney, Montgomery Ward, Guildner’s Held Drug, Three Sister and St. Paul Clothier’s were just some of the bigger ones and you also had the Broadway and Rivoli Theaters. If you went a block West, there was a Sears and Westrum Outlet with the Piggly Wiggly store. I can’t forget to mention Coast-to-Coast, Gambles and of course Russel’s Toyland.
The stores would display sale items in their front windows and sometimes we would go window shopping after store hours to find items for our wish list. I can remember a year when I would stop and stare at this pair of ice skates in the Gambles window. Oh how I wanted them for Christmas, but as Christmas came and went the skates stayed in the window. Dad told me that we just couldn’t afford them, but that didn’t keep me from looking. I didn’t get those skates for Christmas, but on my birthday in February I was totally surprised when I opened my present and inside was that pair of skates. Even though they couldn’t afford them, they found a way to get them for me and create a memory I will never forget.
This past week Albert Lea lost one of its biggest fans, Ed Shannon. I first met Ed when I worked at the Tribune in the ‘90s and I became a fan of his almost instantly. In my head I can still hear Ed typing his story or the daily records on his typewriter using the two-finger method. He might have been a little old-fashioned when it came to typing, but he always got the job done. I started work at 6 a.m. and Ed would always be there when I came in. During the course of the morning I would ask him, how’s it going today Ed? His reply was always the same; he’d say “actually (long pause) pretty darned good” and this became a ritual of sorts for each of us in the morning. There wasn’t much he didn’t know about the history of this town and if he didn’t know something he would bury his nose in the archives until he found the answer. I always enjoyed reading Ed’s columns and, to be honest, I don’t believe the readers enjoyed them any more than he did writing them.
Until next time; the lakes are frozen over so please exercise caution before venturing out; no fish is worth a life. The early crappie and bluegill fishing has been pretty good on Fountain Lake for those who have chosen to venture out. I would also like to wish everyone a very merry Christmas.
Please take some time to honor those who have sacrificed so much for the freedoms that we enjoy today. Take a little time to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice, those who served and those troops serving today.