From Humble Beginnings / and some back ground
My earliest recollections of Christmas … was when we lived in the Dixon Street house in Redondo Beach, CA. Little 2 bedroom home 1 bath, a patio off the master bedroom, an unfinished basement, front and back yard. We were two blocks south of Artesia Blvd just off Ford Ave. and Ormond Street. Age 5 puts it at about 1958. Attended Grant Elementary Kindergarten back then you walked to school just following all the other kids in the neighborhood.
My father was a shop helper in a machine shop at Starlite Mfg. In Redondo Beach, my mom painted dishes at Metlox Pottery in Manhattan Beach. Aunt Moana Faifai lived with us back then, Judy Savage was one of her closest friends, who visited often.
My family loves Christmas
Oh where do you begin … as far back as I can remember and I'm sure many of your families did the same as well? We played Christmas music every night, watched every Christmas TV show and special. Checking the newspapers for news as to where and when a Christmas tree lot would announce … Christmas Trees for sale!!!! … Soon after Thanksgiving, my parents planned our night out. Home by 5pm, dinner at 6pm, out the door by 7pm … and off we'd go. In search of that perfect Christmas tree. In the beginning we looked at the less expensive trees. And we would go from lot to lot until he found just the right one, but my dad being the negotiator that he was always got the tree he wanted and at his price.
Over the next few years … Self-discipline and hard work paid off for my parents... My parents moved to the Benhill house... Christmas traditions changed somewhat but the joy and spirit still burned bright and strong. But some things remained the same. Dad still negotiated for the best price for Christmas trees, often time with the flocking thrown in for free, he would never pay full price. I remember one time when working at the OB tree lot. We loaded two trees for McStarlite and a big tree for the Compton Ward, and a big one for the Torrance Stake Center… and a big tree for my dad's home... (The tag on my dad's tree said no charge) and a very good tip as well ...yeah that's my dad. Now days ...Trees are grown on farms and groomed.
Time to Light up the house
Back then we lived in the Dixon Street house in Redondo Beach.
I would help my dad pull out all our old string of lights and we would plug it in and replace the ones that didn't work. My dad was one of those guys that shopped at local stores and the owner or manager knew my dad by sight and name, and after a while they knew me too. Kurt's Hardware Store was such a place. My dad bought all his tools from there both for work and at home. He would take me along and I remember walking up and down each isle looking at all these tools. Thinking about it now I remember the old fashion 5 sided bins stacked 4 high... filled with nails, nuts and bolts. Mr. Kurt and his sons were so very helpful. Again I helped my dad pull out all the string of lights and checked each bulb. Replacing any of the ones that didn't work. Then it was time for my dad to climb up on the roof... We use a big heavy wooden ladder that my dad made. Slowly I made my way up that ladder and on to the roof. We placed all the lights and U shaped nails at the top and center of the roof, as was his go for my dad hung all the lights. After hanging the outdoor Christmas lights with my dad... it always ended with go get your mom and sister... there we would stand out in the yard looking at the house lights. Of course I had to walk all around the house to make sure each light was working. Year after year we did that put them up and then take them down. Those were some great memories.
Time to Deck out the House
Decorating the house … we had the Christmas stencils that you used floor wax as the stenciling agent, now a days you use a can of flock or stencil spray. Every window there was a Christmas decoration. We had a fake fireplace and we hung 4 stockings …every year and to this day my parents always had a bowl of mixed nuts still in the shell and a metal nutcracker. Back in the day the grocery stores had a big display table and you bought them by the pound. Now it's all prepackaged it just isn't the same. The other items my parents always had during Christmas were apples and oranges. These were the staples of our Christmas treats we found them in our stockings come Christmas morning. Once the tree was in the house it was like magic... the air was filled with the smell of the tree, and the Christmas records found their way to the hi-fi stereo set and was played over and over and over (my kids wonder why I have this insane habit of playing the same music for days on end) well it was one way to learns the words by heart. I must admit today when I hear a certain song it just takes me back to a certain time and place. We had one big box with all the Christmas tree decorations in it. Ahhh, I can still remember as it were yesterday... Clear the spot in the living room for the tree, my dad brought in the tree and we mounted it to the stand and quickly filled it with water. Dad and I unraveled all the lights and checked all the bulbs and replaced all the burned out ones. Mom and Sharon opened all the bobble boxes and attached the tree hangers. Dad and I hung the lights on the tree, while the music played we all sang along. Up went the bobbles, we hung them in groups of three red, blue and silver. The finishing touch was the tinsel placed on the tree to give it that frosted ice tinsel effect and of course last item to be placed on the tree was the Christmas Star, years later we replaced it with an Angel.
A time-honored tradition … this is my version of it, as I remembered it
This next part of this story is how it came about … why we wait up till midnight and not Christmas morning, to open our gifts. When Sharon and I were little kids and Christmas Eve finally arrived, family tradition was we had an early dinner watch TV and go to bed. Of course we couldn't sleep. We could hear Christmas music playing and peeking under the door we could see that the lights in the hallway and the living room were on as well. After what seemed like forever we peeked out again and all the lights were off. So I don't remember which one of us sneaked out of the room first, and took a peak at the tree and to take a look at the presents. But we must have made a lot of noise because soon Papa and Tutu were standing there with the light on and said oh all right we may as well have Christmas now … so ever since that night and for the past 50 plus years we have gathered at my parents home and opened our gifts at midnight. Of course things have changed over the years. And have changed for the better ...of course our numbers have gotten bigger and extend families have shared Christmas with us. Last count there close to 80 stockings hung, most of the music is the same … the tree is now plastic, the gifts have improved. Things have improved and changes made. When the grand kids came along the spouse’s advocated common changes and now we start at the dinner hour and instantiated a Christmas program that has improved over the years. As our numbers increased over the years so has our gift exchange ...from family gifts to draw a name out of the hat. Last year we did a White Elephant gift exchange which was a big hit and will probably be repeated this year and I’m sure it will become one of many traditions.
Now for the numbers
From Henry and Shirley. (2nd generation group). Henry Jr., Sharon and Keith.(3rd generation group). Later to be followed by 18 grand kids (4th generation group)… today we have 60 plus and another child due in a few weeks. (5th generation group).
Due to health reasons... I have not attended my family Christmas in a very long time. 2002 was the last Christmas with my dad ...he passed away Feb 2003. My mother now carries on all the old traditions ...the one she and dad started so long ago. From humble beginnings … it was the simple things that carried hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow for my parents and for the generations to come. With each passing year those hope and dreams have been realized from a shop helper to Owner of the company my dad never forgot where he came from. I hope and pray that our families will do likewise and remember their first Christmas as husband and wife form their traditions, hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow and remember the ones Papa and Tutu started long, long ago.
Every year I look back and remember these things… there will always be mixed nuts in the shell in a bowl, there will always be apples and oranges in a bowl, there will always be stockings hung ...these were the gifts of those humble beginnings. This is the Christmas's I cherish and now miss and will always carry in my heart.
Merry Christmas my Mataalii family …. Henry jr.