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Silver trees, bubbling lights and peppermint candy

December 6, 2009

Does anyone make those metal silver Christmas trees anymore?  Invented in 1959, the shimmering silver Christmas trees started showing up in homes in the 60s, greeted alternately by amazement and chagrin.

We had a neighbor who invited everyone up and down the street to see his glorious aluminum tree–the first of its kind in our small burg.  The tree was accompanied by a multi-colored light wheel that rotated and illuminated the silver tree in a repetitive, dizzying array of green, blue, red, yellow . . . green, blue, red, yellow . . .

Some of the women in the  neighborhood pursed their lips and proclaimed the trees as tacky, and opined that “Only Floridians buy those ugly trees” and “That looks like a big silver toilet scrubber.”  But the kids were in awe of the metallic tree,  despite the adult disapproval.

I suspect some of the women tsk-ing their disapproval were just envious, because in the following few years, several of them managed to get their own silver trees, which for some reason, seemed to always be adorned with big blue glass balls and royal blue ribbons.

So much for the trees being bought only by folks living in Florida.

And the bubbling tree lights.  I envied one of our neighbors because their tree was covered with those bubbling lights.  They were probably hazardous and eventually banned from the planet, but at the time, my sister and I would sit in front of our neighbor’s tree, mesmerized, for long periods of time.

Someone got tired of their bubbling lights and gave us a strand someplace along the line, but by then, I was past my fascination with bubbling lights.  I think I had moved on to being transfixed by lava lamps by that point in time.

And then there were the pixies.  I have wondered about those elves and pixies for a long time.  Why was there suddenly this interest in pixies and elves around 1960?  I remember seeing ceramic pixies on shelves, coffee tables, pianos, and in curio cabinets.  And at Christmas, there would be all sorts of pixie and elf ornaments.  Some were flocked and fuzzy; some were papier mache or ceramic with delicately painted faces.  Some looked like what we would later come to know as Vulcans.  But why the popularity?

One year, all the kids in the neighborhood asked for Dale Evans or Roy Rogers outfits, along with cap guns and holsters.  Yep.  And somehow, Santa managed to wrangle up enough of those outfits, comprised of chaps and vests for the boys and fringed skirts and vests for the girls, so that all the kids in the neighborhood could put on their western gear and sit in front of someone’s television to watch Dale and Roy and Trigger.

Along the way, we kids also asked for Gumby, Betsy Wetsy dolls, Duncan yo-yos and hula hoops.  I lucked out.  I didn’t get the Gumby, Betsy Wetsy or a Duncan yo-yo, but I did get a hula hoop.  Even though I received my hula hoop later than the other kids as a birthday present,  my parents found one on sale that had a bell in it.  So when I gyrated, there was a little percussion going on, which made me feel special, indeed.

My grandmother asked for  handkerchiefs and Tangee lipstick every year.  Tangee was a most intriguing lipstick as it was a bright orange in the tube, was clear when applied, and after a few moments, would suddenly become a color.  It would be a different shade of pinkish coral or red on each person.  I discovered only a few years ago that this was a very popular lipstick in the ’40s and I guess my grandmother got hooked on it at that time.

At church, we would each receive a bag of goodies, consisting of fruit, nuts and perhaps some peppermint candies.  I can remember people working hard to make sure every child in the neighborhood received a brown paper bag filled with those items.  One year, I recall that we received several different types of nuts, something one of the men in the church was especially proud of, because he had found someone who donated walnuts to go along with the pecans.  I didn’t think a lot about it at the time, but in looking back, I realize the folks who worked hard so we would each have a bag brimming with fruit and nuts had probably only rarely been fortunate enough themselves, as children, to have received such a gift.

To this day, one of my favorite Christmas traditions is to enjoy some old-fashioned peppermint candy, as it reminds me of the paper bags full of fruits, nuts and candy we children received after the Christmas Eve service each year.  To my knowledge, those generous folks who donated their money and time to fill the bags are gone now.  But they are remembered when I once again pop a piece of peppermint stick into my mouth.

In the end . . . isn’t that what this season is about?  It’s the time of year we really work at making things special so that we can create a memory.  Although we will remember at least some of the gifts as years go by, it will be the personal relationships, the family outings, the community activities that will be indelibly etched in our memories.

So while we are frantically putting together the parties and searching for the “perfect Christmas gift,” perhaps the greatest gift we could give ourselves, our children and our community would be a few moments of doing something selfless for someone else.  Like peppermint candy, it’s the small things that somehow seem to forever remain in our memories.

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