Christmas 1959 was also the year I got my silky black haired pony-tailed Barbie. She came in a strapless zebra- printed bathing suit, with sunglasses, and those tiny high-heeled shoes. She had two other outfits: a long sleek black gown, with gathered net, mermaid style, at the bottom, and a strapless gown with a red velvety bodice and satiny white skirt, belted in gold with a matching gold belt.
By Christmas 1960 I’d totally given up any lingering belief in Santa. Weeks before that Christmas Dad had started a new job, in Bluefield, West Virginia, and moved the family there, to a large rambling two story house on East Jefferson Street at the foot of Flat Top Mountain. Mom was very close to giving birth to her sixth child, Christine, born less than two weeks later. I recall a tabletop size tree that year, perched on a cloth-covered box.
Chicago was cold, and windy. I stayed with my Aunt Mary Anne and her family, got to accompany my cousins to school one day, and was introduced to one cousin’s portable record player and records. I recall accompanying my aunt and family to their parish church on Christmas Day, and the gorgeous bank of red poinsettias at the high altar. I recall Grandma and Grandpa Wolinski’s Christmas tree, in the front bay of their home on Monticello Avenue, at that time still a Polish neighborhood within easy walking distance of Saint Hyacinth’s, Grandma and Grandpa's parish.
Second row Bob, me, Dan.Toddler Jimmy must have been elsewhere when this photo was taken. Could that be him on the kitchen floor?
Christmas 1964, when I was in the seventh grade, was fun for us in a new way. The four oldest – me, Bob, Dan, Kathy - decided to set up a surprise Christmas tree for Mom and Dad in the closet of the downstairs bedroom the boys shared. In the fall of September 1963 we had moved into the house on Davis Ave that Mom and Dad had built, a move that occurred basically simultaneously with Susan’s birth. The area has since been fully developed, but for some years the land behind our house was steep and forested with little to middling sized trees. Bob cut a little pine, we made decorations for it, and placed our gifts underneath. After Midnight Mass that Christmas we had our big reveal. Years later Kathy wrote a piece about this tree that was printed in our local paper. The tradition of the “downstairs tree” lasted for most of the years Mom and Dad, and later just Mom, lived on Davis Ave, albeit morphing into a bigger tree, then an artificial tree, with lights and many ornaments, and moving to the family room after Mom and Dad added to the house in 1972.
What I recall about the Christmas of 1968 are some of the gifts I gave. That was the year I made an ivory colored peignoir set for Mom. For my sisters I made dolls, using Joan Walsh Anglund patterns. Kathy, Mary, Chris and Susan each got one of the Little Women. They had tiny shoes and stockings, underclothes, dresses, or pinafores or aprons. For Sharon I made an eskimo doll, with a printed parka, furry pants and little boots. Somehow all but one of these dolls came back to me when my own children were still young, and for many Christmases, on and off, I’ve displayed them in a basket under the tree.