I was born in 1940 in such different times from now. Life seemed so simple but I realize now it was not so for many. We did not have a lot of money but my mother was a genius at stretching a dollar and lucky for me, I inherited that trait! In the early 50s, my Mom would put 25 cents here and there into one of those old metal quarter banks which looked like a cash register. Anyone remember those? She would accumulate $25 for me each Christmas so I could buy presents for the family. She knew I loved buying presents, making cookies, decorating – anything having to do with Christmas.
My best friend Irma and I would make our traditional trip BY TRAIN (25 cents each way) to the next big town – Paterson, New Jersey. This was such a big deal to us. We did this for about 5 or 6 years. We always ate lunch at a Chinese restaurant there. It cost 80 cents for Chicken Chow Mein with egg roll and tea! We left 20 cents for a tip each. $1 for a wonderful lunch. I was always so excited and wound-up that one year I lost my Chinese lunch in a nearby waste can.
I always bought the same things. I allotted $4 person (Mom, Dad, Sister, Brother, Irma). A new housedress for my mom ($2), special gifts for my siblings and you could get a lot of nice things for $4! I also spent $1 on each parent for their stockings which I had bought for them. Since I shopped in the 5 & 10 cent stores, you could actually fill a stocking with 10 cent items plus 5 cent candy bars. I always put the new Superman Comic Book in my Dad’s. I never bought my Dad’s gift on that trip. For him I always went to our local men’s shop in town and bought a very nice shirt for $3! The 5 & 10 shop shirts just weren’t good enough for me. Once I bought him a red flannel shirt which he would not have been caught dead in but he did wear it anyway!
Irma and I would spend so much time wrapping our precious gifts and always with Hallmark paper. We bought our cards for each other in a local Hallmark store – only the best for us. They had parchment cards and what could be classier than that!
Because of problems with alcohol, our Christmases were often very traumatic but I wanted to keep it story-like for the family. I was the oldest and felt responsible for taking on the Christmas Fairy role. Decorating the tree was very important and I recently reminded my brother how he would throw the tinsel on the tree, infuriating me every time. He doesn’t remember that. I was very careful with the tinsel! On our traditional shopping trip, I always bought a new box of ornaments for us and then you could buy 12 for under 50 cents.
When I had been younger, my Mom would take the three of us to Paterson to visit each Santa Claus in the 5 & 10 stores, Kresge’s, McCrory’s and Woodworth’s. Each gift from Santa would be 25 cents and she treated us to lunch at Woolworth’s which was such a big treat for us! How did she do it? We lived in a small flat in the city in a lower middle class area and yet she did things for us that the other kids in the neighborhood never got to do.
I hope this brings back happy memories for you!
Written by: June Kent