No matter the date on the calendar, I always knew Christmas was coming to Summerville when I spied large cedar and spruce trees propped against the walls outside the Piggly Wiggly, the City's employees busily installing the downtown holiday decorations, and the windows at Western Auto, Redford's, and Southern 5 & 10 decked out with garland, fake snow, tinsel, and, best of all, toys. We looked forward to the Christmas parade, but nothing could match our enthusiasm over the Western Auto holiday gift catalog. The receipt of that slim volume was proof that Christmas was almost here, and what wonderful toys and games were found within those pages! Every year my brother, both my sisters, and I spent many happy hours flipping pages, pointing out to each other the objects of our desire, and dreaming wistfully of finding all of them under the tree on Christmas morning.
Glancing through a few old photos from our family album was a poignant reminder of a particular childhood holiday. One shows my brother, striking a pose on his new tricycle while dressed in a tiny football uniform, complete with an official-style helmet. In another, my younger sister was happily decked out in a Suzy Homemaker apron, accessorized by one of Suzy's diminutive dust mops. Mom was captured on film demonstrating how the pump-top syrup bottles worked that accompanied the Sno-Cone maker we received. However, I guess it's only natural that my favorite picture showed the gifts Santa brought for me and my older sister that year: a pair of identical “Bridesmaid Dolls.” Each measured three feet in height and were luxuriously dressed in matching royal blue satin gowns, topped off with white fur cap-sleeve shrugs. Fascinators with coquettish half-veils were perched atop both blonde heads, and each wore white elbow-length gloves. My doll was almost as tall as I was, and I thought she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
No matter the toys and gifts, no matter our ages, the one thing that never changed for us was the pleasure of seeing our hometown merchant's windows all dressed up for the holidays, and the simple beauty of a small town's downtown Christmas decorations. But as the years passed and we grew older, Santa clearly became bored with dolls, tea sets and toy trains, and began leaving Etch-A-Sketches, baseball/basketball equipment, and board games. There were shiny new matching bicycles with tasseled handles, and transistor radios that we soon put to good use for clandestine late-night WLS listening. Evidently good old St. Nick was prone to frequent bouts of ennui, because it was just a year or two later that he began dropping off Polaroid Swingers, and stashing portable stereos under the tree, along with little envelopes of cash to purchase those extra 45's, film, batteries, and the ubiquitous Beatles albums.
I had just turned fifteen when I found that other downtown stores had something to offer in the way of holiday bounty. That Christmas morning, Santa surprised me with two gifts that I had requested, but didn't really expect to get. First, I opened a slender, gold-foil-wrapped package to find a pair of gorgeously feminine and sleek black leather gloves from Richie's (which, when requested, I had been told were too expensive), then opened another that held an iconic black and gold rectangular container that I recognized instantly as a bottle of Chanel No. 5. It had come by way of Jackson's Drugstore, and for which Mom had previously dashed my hopes by explaining that it was too “adult” a fragrance for someone my age. I felt very mature and sophisticated, and it was one of the nicest Christmases I remember.
That same year, thanks to Mom and Fuller Jewelry Company, my sister Marie was delighted when she discovered a portable Smith-Corona typewriter under the tree – the kind not only perfectly suitable for high school homework assignments, but one a girl could also easily pack up and take off to a college dorm room in a few months. We later found out that Mom had put the typewriter on layaway at Fuller's months earlier, and made regular payments on it until the day before Christmas Eve, when, after working all day at Bigelow-Sanford, she hurried in to pay it off and take it home, just in time to hide it before wrapping it and putting it under the tree. Mom is the reason I still believe in Santa Claus – there is no doubt in my mind that only someone who could perform magic could have brought us the nicest mother any family could have.
The following Christmas, I was lucky enough to get a job working part-time at Redford's during the school holiday break. What fun it was for me to be in a 5 & 10 store all day – it was like being a little girl again, only this time I could roam the aisles freely, and for as long as I wanted. Both Sam Redford and his lovely wife were very kind to me, and the money I made working for them, along with two weeks of serious cash from booked-up-well-in-advance holiday babysitting engagements, allowed me to splurge on family gifts for the first time. I shopped carefully, and was proud to make all my purchases at stores in downtown Summerville.
These days, we buy car tags and pay taxes in the same building as the old Western Auto store. Redford's, Jackson's Drug Store, Garnett Furniture, and Fuller Jewelry Company are closed. The buildings that housed Southern 5 & 10 and Richie's are now restaurants. Although I admit this makes the present a little sad, nothing can disrupt the past for me - my cherished memories of these places, and what they represented during the holidays, are intact. Besides, I no longer care about what's under the tree, only about those who gather around it. I was lucky enough to grow up and find that I am blessed with a large and loving circle of family and friends, and to realize that they are my most treasured gifts. Gotta thank Santa for that, and go make him some peanut butter-chocolate chip cookies.
After graduating with the CHS class of 1973, Judy Brooks attended Berry College for a short while before beginning a career that encompassed a number of diverse positions, from bartender and directory assistance operator to assistant grant-writer and office manager. She lived in Rome, Atlanta, and Paducah, KY before returning to Summerville in September of 2010, and is quite content to be back among family and friends.
In January of 2013, she established Pyewacket Publishing, and released Under the Electric Sun, a Kindle edition juvenile/YA science fiction title by local author and former Summerville News sports writer Matthew Curry. She would be thrilled to hear from friends, classmates, and other interested members of the community, and can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/PyewacketPublishing firstname.lastname@example.org or Pyepub1@yahoo.com.