Notes from Candice Ransom

It’s Coming on Christmas

nativities web

You are ten in 1962 and it’s coming on Christmas.  At W.T. Grant’s you buy a one-inch tall plastic nativity scene for a quarter.  It looks like the nativity your mother has only much smaller.  You don’t think about the religious connotation.  You want to shrink and slip inside the manger scene.

Early 60s nylon and wire package tie-ons
Early 60s nylon and wire package tie-ons

At Drug Fair, you touch patterned holiday paper.  Your mother can’t afford the fancy paper, but she lets you pick out package tie-ons.  Among tiny cotton batting snowmen and pipe cleaner Santa Clauses, you choose nylon angels.  Only special presents deserve those angels springing from red bows.  You learn how to curl the ends of ribbon with the scissors blade.  You get carried away and make spirals two-feet long.

Outside, you go into the woods with one of the angels you took for yourself.  You climb up on the fallen tree that is sometimes a hobby horse.  Winding the wire around your index finger, you make the angel fly.  You whisper secrets.  She is your best friend right then.  It’s coming on Christmas and you have your very own angel.

better clock web

Your mother puts out the coffee table decoration: a slab of Styrofoam with bronze and gold reindeer pulling a plastic sleigh.  You love those reindeer beyond reason and worry their fragile legs will break from being stabbed in Styrofoam year after year.  You let your angel ride on the back of the little silver one.

long mama table web

On payday Fridays your family drives to town.  Sitting alone in the backseat you are swallowed by darkness.  Then the shopping center bursts on your delighted eye.  Peebles has the prettiest windows, everything gold and silver.

parrot web

You feel the tug of Woolworth’s.  As always, you visit the fluttery parakeets first.  A toy bird sings in a brass cage.  You’d like to have that.  And art supplies.  And notebooks!

holiday camera resized

Holiday pins are all the go.  Ladies wear them on their coats.  Big brooches shaped like Christmas trees with rhinestone ornaments.  Your mother has a wreath pin.  At Murphy’s, she lets you get a Santa Claus pin—his nose lights up when you pull its string.  All the way home, you pull the string.  Light.  Dark.  Light.  Dark.  Your mother says you’ll burn up the battery and you wish you could keep the cheerful red nose shining all the time.

huckleberry hound redone

At the kitchen table you color a page in your “Night Before Christmas” coloring book and wonder how a person settles his brain for a long winter’s nap.  You have a new Huckleberry Hound Golden Book, too.  When you were little, seven or so, “Huckleberry Hound” was your favorite show.

Friday night, a brand-new program is on, “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.”  You sit on the floor in front of the TV and watch.  Your mother is in the kitchen.  Your stepfather is still at his second job.  At first you are afraid of those ghosts taking Scrooge around.  Old Scrooge visits his kid self.  He is left in boarding school over Christmas and misses his sister.  Old Scrooge and kid Scrooge sing “I’m All Alone in the World.”  Your sister is gone, too.  The living room feels very lonely and you wish Scrooge would hurry up and visit some other time in his life.

typewriter cards web

Cards arrive in batches every day.  Your mother pegs them to a red-and-white line stretched across the mantle with tiny red clothespins.  Numbers are popular.  “Merry Christmas from the Five of Us!”  “Holiday Greetings from the Four Snowmen!”  The card your mother sends to friends doesn’t have a number.  You receive a card from grandparents you have never seen.  You sign a little snowman card from one of your stuffed animals to another.

frank's card web

In 1954, a Christmas card was sent from Paris, France, to Pennsylvania.  It was read and displayed and then stored in a box of letters that you were given many years later.

house 2 web

You inherited many treasures from your mother-in-law, who died just before you married her son.  The German putz houses are nearly a hundred years old.  When you decorate for Christmas, the putz houses are unpacked first.  The celluloid parrots are hung in places of honor.  Ornaments from your husband’s family are mingled with decorations from your family.

stocking web

As you arrange these old things left in your care, you think about your husband stationed on an army microwave tower in France the Christmas you were two years old.  And how years and miles shrank until you were both in the same scene.

faun picture web

The angel granted your wish. It’s coming on Christmas.

9 thoughts on “It’s Coming on Christmas”

  1. Love this treasure trove of memories and artifacts. I nodded knowingly at Huckleberry Hound and Mr. Magoo and remember wanting to shrink so I could be in those nativity scenes too. And I just looked out the window, trying to picture you sitting on that hobby horse tree trunk all those years ago whispering secrets to your special angel.

    This nostalgic post brought back many fond Christmas memories: when my mother first got one of those silver aluminum trees and decorated it with fuchsia bulbs (my brother and I protested, preferring a real tree that had a real smell), the year we hosted the family Christmas party at our house and went shopping for game prizes at Ben Franklin (found an adorable clown pin cushion; you pulled his nose for the tape measure, and I was SO sad when my boy cousin won this prize and broke it, my mom went back to BF to buy me one for myself but they were sold out), and the year I foolishly tried to construct a cookie castle with ice cream cones as turrets (the thin cardboard I used for the walls buckled under the weight).

    The thing about getting older — you’re still a kid inside only people can’t tell. Thanks for sharing your special vintage treasures. Wishing you and Frank and Atticus a beautiful Christmas and all the best in 2016!

    • Dear Jama: I thought of you last week when I heard Bing Crosby singing “Mele Kalikimaka.” I used to hear this song when I was a kid and always wondered what on earth Christmas was like in Hawaii. Now I know. No difference!

      You had the same stores, the same aluminum trees, the same hopes and dreams and little disappointments. I would kill for a vintage aluminum tree, but have to make do with Walmart tinsel trees. I would have thought your mother’s fuchsia theme was beautiful. The sixties brought bright, modern colors to the holiday.

      I have a 1956 BH&G Christmas special and I couldn’t do any of the projects in it! I love it that you tried to make that cookie castle, most likely from a woman’s magazine, and that you wanted that pin cushion for yourself. And especially that your mother went back to Ben Franklin to find one for you. These are the memories that keep us warm . . . yeah, we still are kids inside.

      Wishing you and Len the very best in 2016 . . . and thanks for taking such good care of my woods. Someday you might catch a glimpse of my ten-year-old self heading for the creek.

  2. You find deep meaning in all of life – and the treasured Christmas decorations and ornaments serve to help keep your memories alive – and your meaning. I read longing in your story, but also hope as there is surely an angel watching over you. I love that you care so deeply.

    • I started off taking photos to remember how I arranged things this year. Then I remembered that tie-on angel and sitting in the woods, and the darkness lit by Christmas lights. I had no idea I was writing a love story until I got to the end. That’s the joy of writing.

  3. Love this! And the vintage book covers are beautiful. I remember the year my father bought a tree sprayed with fake snow. We lived in California and there was no real snow. The fake snow had a peculiar though not unpleasant smell. Little bits of it stuck to the ornaments and every year when we got them out they had that peculiar smell.

    • Hi Caroline! I remember visiting some people who had moved to Virginia from California when I was a kid. They had a deciduous tree, not an evergreen, with cotton batting glued to bare branches and hung with silver and blue balls. I thought it was the strangest thing I’d ever seen and we chalked it up to them being from California. It never occurred to me it didn’t snow there and traditions could be changed! Have a merry one!

  4. What a beautiful post! When I first read it I was overcome with so many emotions and memories I can’t put them into words.

    I felt I was back in time with you traveling the paths of our youth. The Ornaments, the memories, the pictures and the story of you and your husband have raised my spirits and inspired me with Christmas and Angels.

    My Mom died on this day at the age of 62 in 1987 after a long illness.

    Thanks again for lifting me up.


      • Steve, don’t you ever apologize about your mother. I lost my stepfather in 1987, and my mother in 1989. This time of year brings back the good memories but they are mixed with the sad ones. All the songs on the radio are about going home for Christmas. Today I looked out the window at a pileated woodpecker tearing up our star gum tree and thought, You are home for Christmas. That other home has been gone nearly 30 years.

        But that doesn’t mean we can’t relive those days in our minds. That’s why I put out those small, old, cheap decorations. So I can remember. I’m glad you are remembering too.

        A very happy holiday to you and your family,



Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.