Yes, it is a wonderful time of the year. As I sit here I can reminisce about holidays from years past when the holidays were really exciting for me. All we kids could think about at that time was no school, presents, decorating the house and the tree, and the fun we would have along with the great meal we were going to have on that big day.
Back then we didn’t have shopping malls. We had a downtown where all of the department stores were located. The holidays would start off with a big parade going down 5th avenue right after Halloween was over. It was a very busy and happy time for most of us, even though we still had some time to go for the big day. So many people would be walking in the downtown area that you could hardly walk down the street in front of the stores. We didn’t have internet shopping at that time, in fact, we didn’t even have internet. We didn’t even have computers. Computers were a foreign term to most of us. Although we did have T.V.s then, they were still pretty rare. Only a couple of families on your block might have one. When the thanksgiving day parade came on T.V. most of us did not get to see it, and we had no idea what it looked like in color.
Being winter in a steel town was quite memorable in many ways. As kids, we didn’t have very much of our own money, but we knew we still had to get Christmas presents to give, especially for our parents if no one else. We had ways to make some money but none were great. One thing we did as young kids to earn money was to shovel coal for people in the neighborhood. Everyone had coal furnaces at that time and very few people could afford to make the switch to gas. Everyone ordered a truckload of coal to be delivered when their supply was getting low. We walked the neighborhood with a coal shovel on our shoulders, knocking on doors and asking people if they needed someone to shovel their coal. Since it was a hard dirty job that no one really wanted to do themselves, they usually let us do the job. We were usually paid a nickel or a dime when the job was complete. Sometimes we were pleasantly surprised and happy when people would give us a whole quarter. Homes at that time all had a basement window that you had to put the coal through. Once you put the coal through the window it fell onto the basement floor and someone had to move it around into a big pile that wouldn’t block the window so we could get more coal in the basement. It was not easy to get the coal through the window either. We would all have a hammer and possibly a chisel in order to break up some of the larger pieces of coal to make it fit through the window. It was not easy work for a kid, but we all did it. Sometimes on a good day after we earned our money we would often take a portion of our earnings and go to the candy store and buy a soda and chips and put the rest of our money in out secret hiding place to save for Christmas presents. We couldn’t wait for it to snow for more than one reason. We all loved to go sled riding and to play in the snow. Another reason we wanted it to snow was so we could earn some money by shoveling peoples walks. Shoveling snow was a routine similar to shoveling coal except there was no window, and you could earn more money because you could get more walks done in the same amount of time and make a little bit more even though many people were only willing to pay a little less for snow shoveling compared to coal shoveling.
There were other things that were different then compared to now. One of my most significant memories about this time of the year were the smells. There were many smells in the air that we almost never smell today, one of them being the smell of coal being burned in almost every house. It was a good smell but also a very bad one. I’m sure all of the coal smoke in the air was not really good for our lungs. Sometimes it would even make you choke and cough when you had to go outside. It was also a very dry heat. We would place aluminum pie pans filled with water in front of our vents just to keep from drying out our skin and bodies. One unforgettable smell for me was the odor that came from the mills, especially the smell of sulfur. Sulfur has an unpleasant odor, and once you smell it you won’t ever forget it. Even though it was not a pleasant smell. I miss it to this day.
Some of the other things I can remember vividly are colors. It seemed that all clouds and snow were not white. Even though we knew most clouds and snow were supposed to be white, but they for the most part were either red or brown. We never seemed to get a lot of sun, and the sky was overcast most of the time, and the clouds were brown. The snow always had a brown coating on top, except for the snow on the streets which was always black and brown. The black came from the cinders that trucks spread out on the streets to make it easier to drive in, and give cars a little traction. You always knew when a vehicle was approaching because you could hear the loud clanking of their tire chains on the brick streets. This was important because we were sledding on the streets. I hope this stirs up some great memories for you.
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