Base Camp

This was the only photo I could find online of what our little tents looked like, but you get the idea.

Philadelphia, PA – 1976

One of the things we used to like to do was to make tents in our backyard. This was accomplished by finding some large sheets and old blankets.

Back then many people had a washer in their basement but not a dryer. My mom would hang our clothes to dry on lines strung across the front of the basement, and in nicer weather, she’d hang them on the line in the backyard.

The clotheslines were always up in the backyard in the warmer months. I don’t remember who came up with the idea of fabricating our little tent out there. We located a few old raggedy sheets and blankets and went to work. We hung the edge of one sheet to the clothesline and clipped it in place with clothespins. Then we did the same thing on the other side with another sheet. Now with both securely fastened to the overhead line, we spread them out and drove broken wooden clothespins into the corners on the sheets into the ground. Once tacked down securely we had ourselves a tent. We spread a couple of blankets on the grass on the tent floor, and we were good to go.

Like the forts, we used to build back the tracks and in the woods nearby, I think we just liked having our little places to hideaway. Kids like getting into little shelters and dens. I think it’s almost instinctual for humans to find and build shelters.

I brought out a transistor radio and we were all set. We just hung out in there, listening to the radio and smoking cigarettes.

My friend Michael and I asked our moms if we could sleep out there all night. The yard was fenced in, but anybody could come along and open it at any time. But the idea of sleeping outside all night intrigued us.

When you’re a kid you always have guidelines put forth by your parents regarding the clock. You always had to be home at a certain time for dinner, and if you were out at night you had to be in by the time the streetlights came on.

But this was an opportunity to not go inside that night. We would be free when the whole neighborhood was inside their homes asleep in bed. We’d be outside all night and didn’t have to go to bed if we didn’t want to. We could stay up all night if we wanted to.

Everybody enjoyed listening to the radio back then. Especially the two rock stations in Philly. WYSP 94 and WMMR 93.3. FM was king and other than having an older sibling it was the only way we found new music back then. I think anyone from that era can attest to the fact that they found their favorite bands and songs on FM radio on one of the aforementioned radio stations.

But kids and teens mostly listen to the radio during the day. What sort of music was played on those stations late at night? Well, whatever the overnight DJ wanted to play. So we discovered some new music that night but one struck us a little harder than any of the others.

The late-night DJ had said they were going to play an entire album by a band called Pink Floyd. We had only heard the song, “Money” on the radio. We didn’t know much else about the band. But now we were going to hear the whole Dark Side of the Moon album at midnight.

It was really quiet at night being outside, and frankly, it was a little spooky. Just the sound of crickets chirping and the occasional bark from some lonesome canine in the distance.

The DJ started the record at midnight and we were amped to hear some Floyd. If you’ve ever heard that record, and I’m assuming you have, it starts very quietly. So we turned up the radio to hear the song a bit better. It starts to build and build until it’s that rotating metallic sound and then that scream happens.

Well, that completely caught us off guard and terrified us. We were already spooked by the general vibe of the night and our imaginations were running a bit wild. But then the song settles down into the song, “Breathe” and we chilled out. It turned out to be an amazing experience even though neither of us had ever smoked marijuana and wouldn’t even try it for another year or so.

We were out there for hours through the night and really couldn’t and didn’t want to fall asleep. It was just fun to be up and doing what we wanted with zero parents or rules.

But then we heard some strange noises coming from the east. It sounded like something crunching or being broken, and it appeared to be coming from somewhere up the block from us. Then we heard some voices. We put our sneakers on and went to investigate. By now it was around 4 am.

We quietly exited the tent and opened the gate. We crept down the driveway and out to the street. It was eerie to be standing out on the sidewalk in front of my house at this hour. The whole neighborhood was as quiet as a morgue.

We heard the noise again and started to walk up the block towards Oakley Street. By the time we got up there, we saw the fire department had arrived and it looked like the Zerbach’s garage was on fire. They were putting it out and I wondered why I never heard any sirens. But I figured they addressed the problem and didn’t want to wake the whole neighborhood.

The authorities were really surprised to see a couple of boys out there at that hour of the night. We told them we had been sleeping in a tent out in my backyard, heard the commotion, and came to check it out. We told the firemen what we had heard but I don’t think we were much help. (When I think about this now, I’m glad we weren’t blamed for whatever happened!)

We eventually went back to our tent and laid down inside, talking about the events of the night. We never found out what or who caused the fire but it was the topic of conversation around the neighborhood for about a week after that.

I don’t think we ever slept the entire night. Mike went home at daybreak and I went into my house too. (My mom left the backdoor unlocked in case we bailed during the night and I wanted to come in.)

My mother was awake and in the kitchen. I told her what had happened and she asked me if I wanted to go up to my room and sleep. That was exactly what I wanted to do because I was exhausted from staying up all night.

We pitched a few more tents like that through the Spring and even made one in Mike’s neighbor’s yard one night. (We couldn’t do it in his yard because they had a big above ground pool) His neighbor Mr. Hersch was nice enough to let us camp in his yard for the night.

I went to Wildwood for the Summer and we didn’t make any more tents in the yard anymore after that, but I’m glad we had the experience.

Just stuff you do as a kid that’s all part of experiencing life.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. 

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

There’s Clarity in the Truth

It’s been a helluva year coming through another year of covid. We were all quarantined for months and had little freedom. Some couples grew closer, and some broke apart. A guy I used to work with told me back on March 14, 2020, that he had just broken up with his girlfriend because she was an alcoholic. Months later I saw on Instagram that they had gotten engaged! I have another friend who had been in a relationship for 7 years and wanted to break up with his girlfriend for a while, but then covid hit. Keeping them together for another year. He dumped her a month or so ago and has finally been freed from an unhappy union.

I’ve been helping him with all of his dating app profiles and even hopped back on Tinder myself for a minute. I’m glad he’s getting back out there after 7 years because he’s obviously been unhappy for some time, and now he can live the life he wants. He’s been going out on some interesting dates in the last few weeks and it looks like he’s well on his way to getting back in the game. He’s only 34 years old and has plenty of time to figure out what he wants in his life going forward.

On the other hand, I deleted the Tinder app from my phone after 2 weeks because it just doesn’t seem like something I want to be bothered with anymore. At my age and experience, it feels like all that dating app nonsense is just filled with a bunch of leftovers and losers.

I’m not saying everyone on there is a loser, but it just seems silly for someone of my age and level of the game should waste time swiping on a bunch of old ladies wishing they could recapture what they lost in their collective divorces. The profile all read the same to me. I’ve covered this subject extensively in previous posts, so I’m not going to go into it here.

I’ve decided that at 59 years old I’d rather just be alone and live my life here in Rittenhouse and not be responsible for anyone else’s happiness anymore. I don’t answer to anyone, and come and go as I please. I don’t think it’s fair to anyone that I get their hopes up and for them to think that they could maybe have a future with me. I’m just over it.

That could change, but for me being in a relationship is exhausting. If you’ve read this blog and my books you’ll know I’m a spectacular date, but a lousy boyfriend and an even worse husband. I just like being single and living my life on my schedule and pace. I’ve been in several relationships and fallen in love a bunch of times, and there’s nothing like that feeling when the dopamine drops and I fall in love. (or the idea of love and not the actual person) As I said, it’s not fair to any woman to have to deal with me.

This may all seem surprising coming from the guy who used to write a dating and relationship blog every day, but it’s how I feel now. My life has had so many interesting chapters and decades. But I’m not in my 30s or 40s anymore. I’m not even in my 50s anymore! Turning 59 in August might as well be turning 60. Who cares at this point.

But I’m not dead and the old horse can still get up and run and pull the plow if needed!

I’ve talked to several of my friends and they all think I’ve maybe got one more bullet in the chamber to take a shot at love again. But I don’t think so. Especially after the last year. I’ve become accustomed to being on my own, and just writing my blog and working on my books.

I decided that if I meet someone and it’s random, or we connect in some organic way out in the world, then maybe. But beyond that, I could care less.

My whole life I’ve been driven by my libido and desire. It’s a tiring lifestyle. I don’t regret anything and I’ve had a great time. I’ve done so many things and I now know what’s important in my life. My health, my family and friends, creating stories, and whatever I have to look forward to in the future. I feel good and I just did a nice 5-mile walk today around the city and it felt glorious. Just to feel the sunshine on my face and know that it’s “all systems go.” I just finished a 3-week gruelling binge of writing commercial articles for several businesses. The money’s great and I’m still learning so much about writing and generating good content. It puts food on the table and fills each day with a sense of accomplishment and gives me purpose.

I couldn’t be happier.

I think what happens to people is, they reach maturity or some form of it in their twenties. They get a good job, get married, and crack off a couple of kids. It’s traditional and falls in line with what they know and what their parents did, and what society reflects upon them.

But that’s never been for me. I’ve done all of that and all the stuff, money, and responsibilities that come with that just didn’t suit me. I’m happiest when I’m creating something and growing and evolving as a person. I think you have to always be growing and changing. Not changing like you need to become someone different… just getting better. Always build and refine your soul into the best person you can be.

I see so many people get stuck at a certain age and they just stop growing. This became apparent to me when I would run into one of my old crew before covid. So much has changed in the last year, but most of these people remained the same. All they want to do is the same stuff and haven’t seized this opportunity to look inward and learn something new or change their lives.

Covid and isolation during the last year have taught me so much about myself. I guess I kind of figured all of this out in my 40s and 50s but it’s now more clear to me than ever. I’ve watched so many simply circle the drain of their existence that I can no longer have them in my life.

There was a guy that attached himself to me several years ago when I met him in the hospitality industry. The guy is 53 and is an absolute disaster. It’s so sad. I can’t imagine reaching that age and being so clueless about myself and the world around me. I have an acute sense of the ways of the world and a strong sense of identity… now more than ever.

I had tried to cut that guy loose back in 2018, but he kept contacting me and would show up at my job. I didn’t know what to do with him even after it became clear to me that he suffered from mental illness. But once covid struck, it was easy to pull away and let him go forever. It was a relief that I no longer had to deal with his madness anymore.

There was another guy  I was friends with for many years since my days at the Inquirer back in 2012. He was an interesting character that I saw a few times a year because he lives up in Northeast Philly. But I realized over the last 10 years this guy hasn’t changed or improved himself… or his life at all.

I have nothing in common with him, so after years of grinding disappointment, I cut him off. He’s just not a person I want in my life anymore. He’s a loser and will always be a loser. If he was going to become anything other than a drunk, it would have happened by now. So there won’t be any more stories about Johnny R in Phicklephilly anymore. You can search for his stories on here if you want to read about our former adventures, but he’s gone for good.

It became clear to me that I could no longer waste my precious productive time on some of the detritus in my life. The covid pandemic made this clear to me. You find out who your friends are in a crisis. I haven’t needed anyone, but the people that I value have all shone brightly in my world through this pandemic. And for that, I’m very grateful.

But just like always, I’m a bit long-winded when I tell a story. This post was supposed to be about someone I met recently. (Don’t get excited. Nothing’s happening.)

This post started about how I don’t want to date anymore and how things may go for me in the future. It sort of dissolved into what you just read above. But…did it dissolve, or did I just need to get that out of my system when I sat down to write something new?

You know, you’d figure the last thing I’d want to do after generating a couple of dozen articles over the last few weeks for multiple corporations would be to write on my first day off in weeks.

But here I am, tapping away and spreading the word. But I suppose this all needed to be said. I’ll try again after this to write about the person I recently met. It was the old fashion way, which I like.

I’ve not finished dating. I don’t even care if nothing comes out of this. It’s just nice to know that if this lion spots a nice gazelle, then it’s still game on.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

The Gift of The Magi – By O. Henry – Part 2

At 7 o’clock the coffee was made and the frying-pan was on the back of the stove hot and ready to cook the chops.

Jim was never late. Della doubled the fob chain in her hand and sat on the corner of the table near the door that he always entered. Then she heard his step on the stair away down on the first flight, and she turned white for just a moment. She had a habit of saying little silent prayer about the simplest everyday things, and now she whispered: “Please God, make him think I am still pretty.”

The door opened and Jim stepped in and closed it. He looked thin and very serious. Poor fellow, he was only twenty-two–and to be burdened with a family! He needed a new overcoat and he was without gloves.

Jim stopped inside the door, as immovable as a setter at the scent of quail. His eyes were fixed upon Della, and there was an expression in them that she could not read, and it terrified her. It was not anger, nor surprise, nor disapproval, nor horror, nor any of the sentiments that she had been prepared for. He simply stared at her fixedly with that peculiar expression on his face.

Della wriggled off the table and went for him.

“Jim, darling,” she cried, “don’t look at me that way. I had my hair cut off and sold because I couldn’t have lived through Christmas without giving you a present. It’ll grow out again–you won’t mind, will you? I just had to do it. My hair grows awfully fast. Say `Merry Christmas!’ Jim, and let’s be happy. You don’t know what a nice– what a beautiful, nice gift I’ve got for you.”

“You’ve cut off your hair?” asked Jim, laboriously, as if he had not arrived at that patent fact yet even after the hardest mental labor.

“Cut it off and sold it,” said Della. “Don’t you like me just as well, anyhow? I’m me without my hair, ain’t I?”

Jim looked about the room curiously.

“You say your hair is gone?” he said, with an air almost of idiocy.

“You needn’t look for it,” said Della. “It’s sold, I tell you–sold and gone, too. It’s Christmas Eve, boy. Be good to me, for it went for you. Maybe the hairs of my head were numbered,” she went on with sudden serious sweetness, “but nobody could ever count my love for you. Shall I put the chops on, Jim?”

Out of his trance, Jim seemed quickly to wake. He enfolded his Della. For ten seconds let us regard with discreet scrutiny some inconsequential object in the other direction. Eight dollars a week or a million a year–what is the difference? A mathematician or a wit would give you the wrong answer. The magi brought valuable gifts, but that was not among them. This dark assertion will be illuminated later on.

Jim drew a package from his overcoat pocket and threw it upon the table.

“Don’t make any mistake, Dell,” he said, “about me. I don’t think there’s anything in the way of a haircut or a shave or a shampoo that could make me like my girl any less. But if you’ll unwrap that package you may see why you had me going a while at first.”

White fingers and nimble tore at the string and paper. And then an ecstatic scream of joy; and then, alas! a quick feminine change to hysterical tears and wails, necessitating the immediate employment of all the comforting powers of the lord of the flat.

For there lay The Combs–the set of combs, side, and back, that Della had worshipped long in a Broadway window. Beautiful combs, pure tortoiseshell, with jeweled rims–just the shade to wear in the beautiful vanished hair. They were expensive combs, she knew, and her heart had simply craved and yearned over them without the least hope of possession. And now, they were hers, but the tresses that should have adorned the coveted adornments were gone.

But she hugged them to her bosom, and at length, she was able to look up with dim eyes and a smile and say: “My hair grows so fast, Jim!”

And then Della leaped up like a little singed cat and cried, “Oh, oh!”

Jim had not yet seen his beautiful present. She held it out to him eagerly upon her open palm. The dull precious metal seemed to flash with a reflection of her bright and ardent spirit.

“Isn’t it a dandy, Jim? I hunted all over town to find it. You’ll have to look at the time a hundred times a day now. Give me your watch. I want to see how it looks on it.”

Instead of obeying, Jim tumbled down on the couch and put his hands under the back of his head, and smiled.

“Dell,” said he, “let’s put our Christmas presents away and keep ’em a while. They’re too nice to use just at present. I sold the watch to get the money to buy your combs. And now suppose you put the chops on.”

The magi, as you know, were wise men–wonderfully wise men–who brought gifts to the Babe in the manger. They invented the art of giving Christmas presents. Being wise, their gifts were no doubt wise ones, possibly bearing the privilege of exchange in case of duplication. And here I have lamely related to you the uneventful chronicle of two foolish children in a flat who most unwisely sacrificed for each other the greatest treasures of their house. But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest. O all who give and receive gifts, such as they are wisest. Everywhere they are wisest. They are the magi.

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

The Gift of the Magi – By O. Henry – Part 1

One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies. Pennies saved one and two at a time by bulldozing the grocer and the vegetable man and the butcher until one’s cheeks burned with the silent imputation of parsimony that such close dealing implied. Three times Della counted it. One dollar and eighty-seven cents. And the next day would be Christmas.

There was clearly nothing to do but flop down on the shabby little couch and howl. So Della did it. Which instigates the moral reflection that life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.

While the mistress of the home is gradually subsiding from the first stage to the second, take a look at the home. A furnished flat at $8 per week. It did not exactly beggar description, but it certainly had that word on the lookout for the mendicancy squad.

In the vestibule below was a letter-box into which no letter would go, and an electric button from which no mortal finger could coax a ring. Also appertaining thereunto was a card bearing the name “Mr. James Dillingham Young.”

The “Dillingham” had been flung to the breeze during a former period of prosperity when its possessor was being paid $30 per week. Now, when the income was shrunk to $20, though, they were thinking seriously of contracting to a modest and unassuming D. But whenever Mr. James Dillingham Young came home and reached his flat above he was called “Jim” and greatly hugged by Mrs. James Dillingham Young, already introduced to you as Della. Which is all very good.

Della finished her cry and attended to her cheeks with the powder rag. She stood by the window and looked out dully at a gray cat walking a gray fence in a gray backyard. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and she had only $1.87 with which to buy Jim a present. She had been saving every penny she could for months, with this result. Twenty dollars a week doesn’t go far. Expenses had been greater than she had calculated. They always are. Only $1.87 to buy a present for Jim. Her Jim. Many a happy hour she had spent planning for something nice for him. Something fine and rare and sterling–something just a little bit near to being worthy of the honor of being owned by Jim.

There was a pier-glass between the windows of the room. Perhaps you have seen a pier-glass in an $8 flat. A very thin and very agile person may, by observing his reflection in a rapid sequence of longitudinal strips, obtain a fairly accurate conception of his looks. Della, being slender, had mastered the art.

Suddenly she whirled from the window and stood before the glass. her eyes were shining brilliantly, but her face had lost its color within twenty seconds. Rapidly she pulled down her hair and let it fall to its full length.

Now, there were two possessions of the James Dillingham Youngs in which they both took a mighty pride. One was Jim’s gold watch that had been his father’s and his grandfather’s. The other was Della’s hair. Had the queen of Sheba lived in the flat across the airshaft, Della would have let her hair hang out the window some day to dry just to depreciate Her Majesty’s jewels and gifts. Had King Solomon been the janitor, with all his treasures piled up in the basement, Jim would have pulled out his watch every time he passed, just to see him pluck at his beard from envy.

So now Della’s beautiful hair fell about her rippling and shining like a cascade of brown waters. It reached below her knee and made itself almost a garment for her. And then she did it up again nervously and quickly. Once she faltered for a minute and stood still while a tear or two splashed on the worn red carpet.

On went her old brown jacket; on went her old brown hat. With a whirl of skirts and with the brilliant sparkle still in her eyes, she fluttered out the door and down the stairs to the street.

Where she stopped the sign read: “Mne. Sofronie. Hair Goods of All Kinds.” One flight up Della ran, and collected herself, panting. Madame, large, too white, chilly, hardly looked the “Sofronie.”

“Will you buy my hair?” asked Della.

“I buy hair,” said Madame. “Take yer hat off and let’s have a sight at the looks of it.”

Down rippled the brown cascade.

“Twenty dollars,” said Madame, lifting the mass with a practiced hand.

“Give it to me quick,” said Della.

Oh, and the next two hours tripped by on rosy wings. Forget the hashed metaphor. She was ransacking the stores for Jim’s present.

She found it at last. It surely had been made for Jim and no one else. There was no other like it in any of the stores, and she had turned all of them inside out. It was a platinum fob chain simple and chaste in design, properly proclaiming its value by substance alone and not by meretricious ornamentation–as all good things should do. It was even worthy of The Watch. As soon as she saw it she knew that it must be Jim’s. It was like him. Quietness and value–the description applied to both. Twenty-one dollars they took from her for it, and she hurried home with the 87 cents. With that chain on his watch, Jim might be properly anxious about the time in any company. Grand as the watch was, he sometimes looked at it on the sly on account of the old leather strap that he used in place of a chain.

When Della reached home her intoxication gave way a little to prudence and reason. She got out her curling irons and lighted the gas and went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends–a mammoth task.

Within forty minutes her head was covered with tiny, close-lying curls that made her look wonderfully like a truant schoolboy. She looked at her reflection in the mirror long, carefully, and critically.

“If Jim doesn’t kill me,” she said to herself, “before he takes a second look at me, he’ll say I look like a Coney Island chorus girl. But what could I do–oh! what could I do with a dollar and eighty-seven cents?”

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

Listen to Phicklephilly LIVE on Spotify!

Home for Christmas

I’m going to begin this piece with a few funny bits I remember from a couple of late-night TV hosts.

“I was driving through LA the other day and I saw an adult book store with a sign on the door. The sign read: Open all day, Christmas day.

“Does anybody ever wake up Christmas morning and say to themselves, ‘I’d love to look at some filthy magazines today. I wonder if anything’s open?” – Jay Leno

“Remember when you first got your Christmas tree home? Don’t put the screws on the stand into the tree too tight. Put a little sugar in the water, and keep it hydrated. Then… the day after Christmas… “Get that fire trap outta here!” – Jay Leno

Okay, last one.

“What does Christmas look like at my house? I’ll tell ya. I get up really early, I get really drunk, knock the tree over, and start a small electrical fire.” – David Letterman

I love those bits!

 

Philadelphia, PA – 1930s

The Christmas season was always a magical time growing up in our house. When my father was a kid he loved Christmas and this carried on throughout his life. He was the architect of the best Christmases any kid could imagine.

But when he was a kid I suspect his Christmases weren’t all that bright. His father was sort of disconnected from his family. Although an honorable man of principles, he was more interested in his work and hanging at the bar with his buddies. Not a drunk, but enjoyed drinking and adult fun instead of spending time with his wife and two sons.

At Christmas, he would hand his wife money and tell her to get the boys whatever they wanted. Not a lot of money, but enough to get maybe a couple of sets of toy trains and some other various trinkets. he just wasn’t that into family or Christmas.

His son on the other hand who would eventually become a father to me and my three sisters was determined to change all of that.

Philadelphia, PA – 1950s

My parents were married for 5 years before any of the kids appeared in their lives. They made a big deal about Christmas. (There is even a home movie somewhere that he shot of them preparing and celebrating Christmas together. We should probably have those videos converted to digital files so they can live online forever.) I remember in this one home movie he shot it was my mom pulling boxes of decorations and goodies out from under a bed.  He edited it so it looked like she was pulling an endless amount of stuff from under the bed. I liked how he didn’t simply document the Christmas season he made a fun little movie about it with his wife.

Philadelphia, PA – 1960s-Present

One of my earliest memories of Christmas was my sisters and I as little kids standing at the top of the steps in our pajamas. My mom would give the signal and we’d all slowly descend the steps carrying our stockings. What you couldn’t see was my father filming the whole thing in 8mm. He had a rack of really bright lights set up so he could get a quality shot. (All of the cameras and film were low lux back then)

Here we all come down the stairs squinting because the lights were so incredibly light. It was like something out of the film Close Encounters! We’d walk across the living room and try in earnest to get up on our tiptoes to hang our stockings over the fireplace on the mantle. We’d all smile and wave still squinting like mad. My mother would be holding my youngest sister in her arms and hang her little stocking for her.

This went on for years. My dad loved to document all the holidays with his trusty movie camera. I don’t think any of the other kids in the neighborhood have the massive catalog of films that my family has about family events.

(That’s me in 1966)

One of the main components of the Christmas season was putting the toy trains up. My father had a wooden platform in the basement with tracks nailed to it. He would gather some old orange crates out of the garage and set them up in the corner of the living room. The platform would sit upon it and then the Christmas tree would be placed on it in the corner.

Then he’d bring up a couple of his model trains and we’d play with them and run them around the platform. He had little houses, cars, and people to complete the village. It was great because you only got to play with these specific toys the month before Christmas. So it was a cool pre-holiday treat. My sisters and I would run the trains and play for hours with these little people in their town in the days leading up to the big day.

Christmas carols and holiday music would play throughout the house, relatives would visit and usually, my grandmom would come and stay for the week leading up to Christmas. They would give her my room and I’d sleep on a cot in my sister’s room. This was fine because this way the kids were all together as Christmas approached and we could all talk about it. What we had on our lists, stuff we hoped we’d get, and just vibe with the season.

My mother would bake these glorious butter cookies from a recipe she found in a magazine. To this day they are my favorite cookies on earth. Thankfully my middle sister has been able to replicate that recipe and make cookies that look and taste exactly like mom used to make. I love them. each year she gives me a Tupperware container full of them and it takes me three months to slowly consume them all.

I remember as we got a little older we’d help my mom make the cookies. I think my older sister would help my mother mix the batter, my middle sister would roll them out, I would cut them into shapes and my baby sister would decorate them with sprinkles. I know my youngest sister is going to read this but I’m going to say it anyway. Once when she was maybe 2 years old I remember her standing on the chair at the end of the table and decorating the cookies and she suddenly sneezed.

“Good job! You just decorated the cookies!”

“Ewww!”

Poor kid. She was just a baby and didn’t even know what she did! That story still circulates the table at annual holiday gatherings.

As usual, I was a disaster in school. So my dad had taken it upon himself to sort of home school me during the early 70s. I still went to school, but he would give me books and make me read them and then test me on the subjects. It was torture for me back then, but I learned so much about so many aspects of the world that many of my peers don’t know even to this day. He even would assign me poetry to memorize and recite to him after I’d learn it. You’d think verse would be a little easier for me to memorize word for word but try to read, and understand, The Tyger by William Blake!

One Christmas one of his assignments was for me to read and memorize “A Vist from St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, and I did it! I memorized the whole thing and recited it word for word for him. Even though this felt like some sort of extended punishment from my everyday life, it wasn’t. He was exposing me to great literary works and building the neurons in my brain for better recall. He knew I had a good mind, he just didn’t want me to waste it.

Anyway, Christmas was always a magical time in our home each year. The anticipation was nearly unbearable. My middle sister and I would conspire to figure out ways to sneak downstairs early Christmas morning with a flashlight and take a look at what Santa had left for us. This was always met with inquiries from my other sister, “Well, what did you see down there?”

My father and sisters and I would trim the tree and my mom would sit in her chair and direct us as to where each ornament should go. My grandmom would be there giggling and sipping eggnog.

When some of us were old enough to realize the truth about Santa Claus we took it upon themselves to do something my father referred to as “rooting”. This was when one of the kids would look under the pool table or in a closet for potential future Christmas presents. My dad quickly caught on to this practice and make sure everything was gift-wrapped immediately upon acquisition of the gift.

Once he even stuck a little postcard between the door of a closet and the molding near the upper hinge of the door. If anyone opened the door, the card would fall and he would know some little elf was “rooting”. So he would simply move the presents to another secret location.

Watching all the great Christmas shows on TV only added to the excitement of the season. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy, Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is coming to town were all wonderful, just to name a few!

Christmas morning would finally arrive and we’d all head downstairs to see the bounty of gifts that old St. Nick had dropped off. Each child had a designated area for their presents around the living room. Each kid went to their spot and started to rip into the wrapping paper. My parents would sit back, sip their coffee, and just smile.

You had to take a break after the main presents and stop and eat breakfast before ripping into your stocking. There were more goodies in each one of those! Sometimes something wonderful, like a watch or a piece of jewelry for the girls.

What set my parents apart from many families is, they shopped for Christmas all year round. So they never had to stress about the hustle and bustle associated with any last-minute shopping issues. They were done and wrapped months before Christmas day ever arrived. They were so organized and such great planners.

Thanks to my mom and dad every Christmas was unique and incredible in its own right. There were always some special gifts that you really wanted and some unexpected delights that appeared each year. This family tradition continued on into our twenties down the shore in Wildwood, NJ when we moved there in 1979.

Christmas was bigger and better than ever. He had not one but two completely decorated trees in the house. One downstairs in the dining room and the other one upstairs in the front window of the house. The trees always had to be Fraser firs because they were the bushiest and smelliest trees money could buy. (No dropped needles on the floor!)

My father would have mini lights running along the ceiling down the hallway just to keep the Christmas vibe going throughout the house.

It would be a couple of days before Christmas and he’d suddenly make this statement each year. “You know what today is?”

“What?”

“It’s the eve… of Christmas Eve.”

This became part of our mythology through the years and someone would always say, about a week before Christmas… “You know what today is?”

“What?”

“It’s the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the eve, of the eve of Christmas Eve!”

Yea…we’re a Christmas crazy family.

We would exchange gifts between the kids and my parents on Christmas eve. I don’t remember when this started, but it added to the holiday energy because you got that extra night of opening presents even before the main Christmas day event! We would stack them on a card table in the living room and sometimes one of the kids would be sniffing around them wondering what was in them.

My mom put up a sign and rested a whiffle ball bat against the table. The sign stated that if you were caught touching the presents on the table you’d get “the bat”. (This was all in fun, but we had that thing there every year)

Even though by then my dad was into his 60s, he’d be sitting on the sofa next to me with his finger under the wrapping paper on one of his gifts. “Is it my turn yet?” he’d exclaim. He loved Christmas so much!

My first sister picked up the torch of the Christmas spirit in the 90s. She still hosts a holiday party every December at her house and it’s wonderful! The food is great and the company is always amazing. I remember going to her house back in the 90s and my parents were still alive and there could be a few uncles and aunts there, and the rest of us. They were the oldest people in the room. The senior members of our tribe. But as time has passed, I looked around the room and saw my daughter and all the nephews and nieces, and now my sisters and I are the old people in the room!

Time slips away so fast.

This is another one of those instances where it’s difficult to put into words what our Christmases were really like. It was more of a feeling.

You just had to be there.

My mother and father have been gone for many years, but Christmas continues to live on in the hearts of my sisters and me. My first sister has continued to have her annual holiday party every year for decades and we are all so grateful for her.

Here we all are now!

Merry Christmas, Everyone!

 

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly. I publish every day.

You can check out my books here: https://www.amazon.com/s?k=charles+wiedenmann&ref=nb_sb_noss_1

%d bloggers like this: