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Precious Christmas memories of yesteryear never forgotten

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I can still remember that special excitement as a child waiting for Christmas morning. When I was about six or seven years old, I got a much-wanted Erector Set.

The thoughts of constructing a drawbridge that actually moved or even a small car with a working motor. My anticipation was delayed, though. My Dad, Bill Sr., and my older brother, Bill Jr., were as interested as I. They began tinkering with my Erector Set, leaving me to just watch and cry.

Looking back on that day, I smile. The experience showed me that even adults can have a child-like enjoyment on Christmas morning. My Dad died a couple years later.

After his death, we moved from the farm to a bungalow on Glassboro Road in Wenonah, New Jersey. At the next Christmas, my sister, Jeanne, two years older, woke me up at two o’clock in the morning saying “Come on! Get up! It’s Christmas morning!”

We opened all our presents as fast as we could. I wanted a Mickey Mouse wristwatch more than anything, but there was no wristwatch. My mother came down, fussed, and made us go back to bed. Later that morning I said I was sad that there was no wristwatch. My mother said, “Are you sure? Did you check all the packages?”

Sure enough, I looked again, and I had missed a small package in the back. And there it was! My Mickey Mouse wristwatch! I was so proud.

Not only was I excited to wear it to school, I was also thrilled to always know the time. Even now at age 90, I am never without my wristwatch.

Christmas is a special time for children, and for the child in all of us. That sense of wonderment opens your eyes. I love every bit of it. It makes you realize how special it is to have family with you. We missed my Dad so much. He worked day and night during the Great Depression. I hardly got to know him. Later in life I realized what I missed by not having both parents to give help in life. I have tried to remember that for my four sons — to be caring and helpful as they are forming their opinions of things for their lives.

When we moved to Glassboro Road to the bungalow my grandfather built, we were in the middle of three houses between two roads. There lived a guy named Dick Maynard who was close to my age in the house on the corner of Glassboro Road and Cattel Road. He was five or six years older than me, and he was so talented in certain things, including storytelling. He made up elaborate stories about a model bus with balloon tires and tire pumps, and would tell me that when his mother returned home from work every evening, she’d have that magic bus with the balloon tires and tire pump with her. But she never did.

By 1939, I was enamored with whitewall tires. My brother, Bill, and his friend, Bill Stein, were operating a bicycle repair shop in our garage, and they had given me a used bike. I always painted my bicycle tires white to make them look like whitewalls. One year for Christmas I got a new bicycle that came from the Firestone store in Woodbury, three miles north of our bungalow. I loved my bicycle, even though it had blackwall tires. Dick Maynard had real whitewall tires on his bicycle, so I convinced him to trade me his two whitewall tires for three blackwall tires. I was able to get an extra blackwall from my brother’s shop. I thought that was a pretty good deal.

Living in New Jersey, we always made an annual trip to Philadelphia the Saturday before Christmas to do our major shopping in the big department stores. We didn’t have money for the train, and mother didn’t drive, so it was an hour-long ride on the bus past Woodbury, through Westville, and then Camden, across the Delaware River Bridge (that was the only bridge back then), to get off at Market Street. We’d go to Gimbel’s, Lit Bros., Strawbridge & Clothier, and Wannamaker’s.

It was always so crowded on Market Street on the Saturday before Christmas. I can still remember pushing my way through the people to better see the electric trains in the windows. Again, the wonderment of a child at Christmas is precious. May we always remember.

Bob Allen, publisher emeritus of The Wake Weekly, invites comments at 984-235-7294 or