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A Christmas Tradition
Part One of Four
Christmas morning in 1954 was a joyous mixture of giving and receiving along with a little gift score tallying. My family lived in a modest, I would guess about eight hundred square foot, two-bedroom house. It was just like all of the other houses on our street, East Northrup Drive in Midwest City, Oklahoma. The first streets in the new town were named after generals, local VIP’s, airplane companies and other references which somehow linked with the massive air force base just to the south of the small but expanding city. Most residents had some direct connection with Tinker Field. Usually one family member worked there. These were largely lower income families who had the greatest of expectations for their future and the future of the country. Optimism was the norm. There was a sense of oneness that was no doubt based on a rather homogeneous look of the residents. It was a predominantly white Christian population with a strong influence of puritan attitudes, and old-time Oklahoma farmer resilience. Bigotry existed but was kept under the surface, but not far under. Luxury wasn’t normal and more often than not was measured by an abundance of food. Authority was respected and schools were honored. School Christmas plays with a manger and wise men were traditional and well attended. Almost all people went to church on Sundays, whether they believed or not.
For most, Christmas morning meant gifts, often many, many gifts. The feeling of great optimism about the future gave people the courage to over-spend, even though their depression era parents wouldn’t have approved. Within this bubble of innocence and joy there was the score keeping. Which kid on the block, often extending a couple of streets over, got the most and the best gifts. A rating system of sorts had developed. Electric train sets were a ten, apples and oranges a definite one; and of course the dreaded grandmother bag of nuts, a zero. A system devised by little boys, girls weren’t involved.
My particular competitors were Donny, Ernie, Bill, Bobby and Johnny. Sometimes some other kids were involved but this was the core group. Bill was always the hard one to figure. In a fortunate or unfortunate occurrence, Bill was born on December 24th. His birthday and the birthday of Jesus were almost the same. His parents claimed he still received the same number of birthday gifts as any kid born in August, but of course, Bill knew that wasn’t true. They would separate them and mark some birthday and some Christmas, but Bill suspected his mother just divided ‘em in half without much thought. So how to keep score. It was decided after lengthy discussion that Bill could decide which were birthday and which were Christmas, not his mother. Everyone trusted Bill. He was the fat kid in our group, although he wasn’t really all that fat, which somehow to the poorly developed brains of little boys made him a truth teller. Everyone trusted Bill to make a fair division of the gifts. Plus, Bill had a little brother named Timmy, who everyone hated. There was great sympathy for the burdens Bill had to endure.
Everyone else was fairly easy to calculate with some discussion and negotiating, but mostly there was agreement as to value. The other exception was Ernie. Ernie lived several blocks off of the street everyone else lived on. It was perceived that Ernie’s parents were poor. Mostly Ernie got hand-me-down clothes, new socks, new underwear and candy. In kid terms not much value depending on the candy; but because kids have an innate sense of fairness the rating system allowed some higher points for things like gloves and hats. So, if Ernie struck a glove-hat goldmine, he could still win. Ernie was a genius. All the other students knew it and, of course, the teachers knew it. Since he was so smart, he wasn’t allowed to decide much, because he had an unfair advantage. This was the beginning of a formal society structure in which the smart kids stood by and watch the dumb kids mess things up.
My job was clear. I gathered the facts. This was due to my parent’s lenient attitude about me leaving the house and visiting my friends on Christmas Day. Both my mom and dad worked, not the typical family at the time. My dad worked two jobs, one at Tinker and one at a local shoe store. Christmas was a day off for them, and they didn’t have many of those. In addition to their desire for peace and quiet, was the fact that the neighborhood was absolutely safe. Kids were out and about all of the time, without supervision. Parents would have thought it odd to “watch” their kids play.
Next Week: Part Two
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Unless you lived in Oklahoma City in the 1960s this story may not be familiar to you; but much of the circumstances described in this book are true. The newspaper war that is at the center of Tommy Jacks world was actually happening. One of the main characters, Taylor Albright; was based on a real person. He was someone I knew and spent a lot of time discussing all of the important matters of the day. I owned a printing business where he printed his gossip tabloid. Never got paid for any of that, but it's long past now. This, of course, is a book of fiction; although based on some truths.
If you have not yet read this book, you should. Buy it Now!