The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

December 15, 2012

As Time Goes By: It's that time of year -- time for Christmas memories

The Daily Star

---- — “Christmas is coming the goose is getting fat — please put a penny in the old man’s hat.” With those words my mother would herald the season of gift-giving which usually started a few weeks before the 25th of December.

Hearing Christmas music right after Halloween simply did not occur. Nowadays we have ads for summer wear right after Christmas and I think that this is regulated by the depth of snow and wishful thinking.

In our house, the Christmas season is dictated by our daughter Kathleen who, as the Christmas fever starts to take hold, begins playing Christmas DVDs over and over and over. After a while New Years Eve can’t come soon enough.

Katie starts with “White Christmas,” both the black-and-white version and the one in color. Bing Crosby will sing “White Christmas” until he starts losing his voice, Vera Ellen will dance her long legs off and the smiling face of Rosemary Clooney will be burned forever on the retinas of your eyes.

Things have changed slightly over the past few years. “White Christmas” has been replaced with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s rendition of “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve.”

The first time we played it we were stunned — the music was traditional but it had a new beat. We sat mesmerized until the end where yes, we had tears in our eyes.

The second time we played it we really cranked up the volume loud enough to shake the fillings out of your teeth. Magnificent! This is the way Christmas music should be played — heralding the new-born King.

When we lived near Philadelphia the Wanamaker’s Department Store would have a “Christmas Show” which showcased a huge pipe organ with some pipes two stories high.

We took the kids shopping for Christmas gifts and ended up in time for the show. The mezzanine was packed with bodies waiting for the show to start. If you passed out there was no room to fall.

The crowd was hushed as a low rumble started in what appeared to be the floor we were standing on. Then faintly a tune started and built to an overwhelming crescendo. The floor vibrated with the sound of the bass notes while the soprano notes fell around us like gentle flakes of snow. My eldest son Jay tugged at my sleeve and asked “Did we just die? Are we in heaven?” I replied “No, it just sounds that way.” It was “heavenly” music.

As a family gift we purchased an oil painting that was 2- by-4 feet depicting a pond and pine trees. It is very pastoral and soothing. It was painted by an artist V.D. Brandt. We always joked that he was Rem’s brother. (Rembrandt) With frame it cost $110. It hangs in a place of honor in our bedroom.

Our adventure of the day continued on as we had to get on a very crowded train to get home. Our children hung onto parts of our clothing lest they get lost.

When I was 4 years-old I recall that we had real candles on the tree — the candle sat in a glass do-hinkey that clipped onto a branch.

My father warned me to never touch a candle because the tree might burst into flames. This did not sink in until well after Christmas and on New Year’s Day we removed the tree and brought it out into our backyard.

My father lit a piece of paper and gingerly placed it near a branch. Whoosh, the tree was nothing but ash and some burning tree trunk — the branches were gone in an instant. 

The next year we got electric lights.

It never bothered me that Santa had to slide down a very small stovepipe in some homes. We had no fireplace in our house so Santa came in through the front door.

While we were upstairs on the second floor landing, the door bell would ring and Santa was welcomed into our home by my father. Then my father would carry on a conversation with Santa regarding our behavior for the past year.

My father was very good at playing it out and you never knew if you would get top billing or be relegated to shame and derision with a lump of coal.

It is always amusing to see how family pets take to seeing a Christmas tree for the first time. We had a dog that saw the tree for the first time and we knew he wasn’t happy by the way he stood with all four legs splayed out and the hackles standing on end around his neck. He would bark at the tree every time he passed it.

We could always tell when the family cat was about because we would hear a breaking ball on the floor and know she was batting around playing with it. Her definition of Christmas was different than ours.

There are many celebrations this time of year. Whether it be Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or what have you it, all boils down to love, peace on earth and glad tidings to mankind.

In closing I want to state that there is no truth to rumor that the Magi’s wandering was because they didn’t want to ask for directions.

For my friends out there may all your memories be special and a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. This will suffice for a card that wasn’t sent because stamps cost 45 cents. (Do you remember when they were 3 cents?) 

Henry Geerken is a three-time NYSUT award-winner writing humorous articles addressing retiree and senior citizen concerns. Geerken also writes for Sail-World, World Cruising Newsletter, regarding his many humorous sailing episodes through the years. He can be reached by email at ‘Senior Scene’ columns can be found at