BY CHARLOTTE AND ‘DOC' CRONIN
December 21, 2012
When Harford County changed from farmlands to enclaves for suburban communities, it left an impact on many old families, and subsequently the way we spend our Christmases has changed.
Long ago, candy and oranges, seldom eaten during the rest of the year for many families, were plentiful for Christmas. There was always an orange in the Christmas stocking.
Even in larger families, parents usually manage to scrape enough together to buy new clothes for the children, and maybe a special toy.
Jimmy Eustace, who is not around anymore to tell his stories, always remembered the hard candy in barrels at Crooks' Grocery Store on West Bel Air Avenue in Aberdeen - 9 cents per pound!
The Town Square would be the scene of fun and festivities with Police Chief Ben Ray playing the drums and giving candy to the children. Some years, the children would invite to come to the movie theater and sing on stage before they received their candy.
Many of us remember homemade decorations of crayon-colored paper-loop chains or popcorn strung on Christmas trees at the old elementary school. We can still smell the dried paste on our fingers!
Before 1973, when the old elementary school in Aberdeen no longer resounded with the voices of school children, Jim Lindsey remembers the auditorium would be the scene of a tremendous Christmas program where there wouldn't be standing room left for all the parents.
Obtaining Christmas trees meant tramping the woods hunting for the perfect tree. The trees we brought home sometimes were bigger than the doorway of the house, and some cutting had to be done to fit. Traumatic, but fun!
Preparing for the garden under the tree took days. Villages would be made of small homemade houses, maybe a few buildings saved from year to year. Hunting in the storage room the other day, we found a few we had made. We still have reindeer and cattle from gardens of yesteryear. Old trains and track, and white picket fences completed the scene.
There always seemed to be snow for Christmas. The blizzard of 1898 was always recalled by our father. That was one of the best Christmases he ever had, despite the weather!
Younger generations also recall snow for Christmas. Our children say that they knew that Santa Claus was on his sleigh, and they could actually hear the bells.
After being confronted with the question, "Is there a Santa or not" by one of his children, George Baker remembered meeting the challenge honestly by explaining the real meaning of the benevolent gift-giver in spirit, if not in body.
Children seemed to be grateful for whatever gifts they received, because there was no TV to condition them to outer space monstrosities, or computers or video games. A quarter in a Christmas stocking made us feel like rich kids!
How about that special gift? A small washtub she saw in the A&P store was just what Ruth Duguid wanted, and she was so delighted when she received one.
Families visited together because they usually lived close together. Going to Baltimore County for one day to see relatives over the holidays was a ritual for our little family, but Christmas dinner as a child would be eaten at Aunt Bertie Osborn's on Broadway (now North Philadelphia Boulevard).
A trip to Baltimore on the train to see Santa, and watch the moving characters in the store windows on Howard and Lexington streets, was a real treat! We saw our first Shirley Temple dolls in a beautifully decorated window in Hutzlers.
Our first Christmas Day after we were married meant going to the old Cronin farmhouse on Royal Exchange Farm off Paradise Road (now Twin Oaks). It was a real experience to see long tables extending from one room to the other to a accommodate 50 or more relatives. Mashed potatoes would be made in a washtub.
The picture of such a large gathering was overwhelming for one who came from a small family. The turkey was so big it took almost a day to toast it, and a barrel of potatoes would be peeled for the mashed potatoes, because everyone brought a good appetite with them.
Some families celebrated by giving presents on Christmas Eve, but not Chuck Baker's family. One year he asked if he could receive his gifts on Christmas Eve. His parents agreed, but the next morning there was only a pocket watch for him under the tree. No double gifts as he had hooped.
Christmas was stretched beyond the first of the year in many homes, maybe as late as Easter. The tree was quite dry by then, and it was sad to see it go. Prolonging the holiday was something we all wanted to do, and religion always played a large part. Commercial objectives played a lesser role.
This year, whenever you may be, as you prepare for the holiday, remember back when it was a simpler time, and try to appreciate our friends and family as they relate some of their memories.
A Merry Christmas to all!
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