I had gone down to the YMCA again on the first Saturday in December for a lunch prepared for certain boys who were asked to attend. This was one event I cherished each year at Christmastime. It took me about fifteen minutes to walk from where we lived in the projects. I knew all the short cuts because it was the same route used when us guys would go to town. And between Thanksgiving, after the Christmas Parade all the lights had been put up and the displays were in the windows. We would get together to window shop and see what new toys were available for kids each year. We didn’t have money to shop but we did have the time to look.The Y was near Sears & Roebuck. That place where Santa was seen in the window where kids were lined the length of the front door.
I knew early on that Santa was a fake. My older sister and I from toys and gifts in the clothes closet of our parents when she was five and I was four years old. They kept us out of their room after Thanksgiving. But when they went out to take care of business we would sneek in while the baby sitter went to the bathroom. Besides we didn’t have a chimney at our house and neither did the neighbors in those government tenants.
While downtown, we spent as much time as we could in the stores checking out the differences from store to store. We knew which stores had the best of everything. We knew to visit the department stores and the five and ten stores. We knew which counters to go to where you could get something cheep to eat or a drink. Our goal was to get enough money to buy some carmal corn and a few pieces of candy because we ate at home.
I didn’t know why I was chosen for the Y or who chose me. Altho I lived with my three sisters, I was the only one to get to go.Even my other family cousins and neighboring friends were not part of this event. Each year it was just me.
When I got there other boys were there also but they came from other places. Together, there must have been 50 to 100 of us. We had to wait in the lobby till all was ready. Than the banquet room doors were opened and we were set at these roles of tables with white table clothes and few decorations.
One table was set where people talked while we were getting ready to be served. It was the most formal event I attended in the year. I was glad we had that etiquette lesson one day at school.
After lunch our names were called and we were given boxes of clothes and gift certificates to take to Tom McCann Shoe Store to be fitted for a pair of shoes. In the box was a complete outfit of warm winter clothes and in another room we got winter coats and caps.Apart from starting school in the fall this was the only other time I was outfitted for new clothes throughout the year.
On Christmas Eve, my granddad’s sister (Aunt Blanche) came over to our house and was sorting through bags from the grocery store. She always had her bags and settled where she visited. On occasion sharing snacks and tidbits of knowledge with us kids. she was only person we knew that changed her shoes when she came over. One pair she called them walking shoes. Today she was sorting through fresh fruit and what not. So we excused ourselves and went out to visit other homes in the family.We didn’t live far in any direction from other friends either.
Our tree was bear this year. We really needed a Santa this time. I was going to get up and run my paper route at 430am because Christmas fell on Sunday.
I cannot forget that Christmas. As I carried my bag of CHRISTMAS news, looking into the warm homes of lighted trees and decorations. I was not able to do what I wanted for my sisters this year. I would just have to wait and see. Mom had died in the fall and dad was in Chicago preparing to come back for us after the school year. An uncle had moved in to watch out for us till than. (We learned later, our uncle was only 29 yet he made himself the keeper till that next summer.)
I had to hold back to tears as I thought about mom not being there and greeting me when I finished the route. It took about one and a half hours for delivery that morning because the Sunday paper is the largest and Christmas issue has all the after Christmas sales. I had to make a couple of stops back to my pickup point because I could not carry all at once. It did not snow but the cold was enough this year.
When I returned home my Aunt Clarissa and her husband with uncle Alvin and his girl friend were in the Kitchen trying to assemble some toy for my cousin Teresa,(9 years old) who spent the night with us. I glanced under the tree and noticed one wrapped gift for us and a bag of fruit and candy and nuts.They called me in to help. I figured it out for them than headed upstairs to get a little more sleep. I couldn’t sleep.
(Sunday School was at 10 AM. Granddad had come by in his car and picked us up for years now and since mom passed we were stilled being driven to church every Sunday. My Aunt Verla was our driver now and was old enough to come for us. Granddad was the preacher and picked up another load of church folks.)
Shortly, the others would awaken and we would go downstairs to see what was under the tree….. My three sisters, ages 15, 13, and 12 and my cousin, Teressa and myself. Merry Christmas.