I grew up on a street three blocks west of downtown Plainwell. My boyhood home is gone now-- in fact, the whole street is just a memory. However, I still recall a very special night--- the Christmas eve of 1957.
We had a large bay window with a wide window sill in our living room. Dad always displayed our Christmas tree in front of this window.
My mother has always been one to go 'all out' with the Christmas decorations! For example, we had this really neat store-bought, bright, red-brick, cardboard fireplace that had a genuine black cardboard mantle. It was such a beautiful thing! It had real cardboard logs with cardboard flames which reflected dancing light from a colored foil tube that slowly turned around a yellow light bulb. (Looking back I can see where this contraption had to be a fire hazard!) It was so beautiful in the eyes of a little boy! I simply could not understand why we didn't leave it up all year around!
Hanging from the cardboard mantle were four stockings that my aunt lovingly knitted. Since I was the oldest, my stocking was the biggest, and believe-you-me, it was big! When I held it up, it went from the floor up to the middle of my chest!
Every window had electric Christmas candles burning. With the regular lamps turned out, the flickering fireplace flames, and colorful tree lights, the whole room seemed so warm and cozy ! It must have been the 'cardboard heat' from the fireplace???
Mom always decorated the window sill with a large cotton snowman, a nativity scene, and Christmas candles. Just outside this window, my father framed the glass with the old-style, big-bulb Christmas lights. Do you remember the type? Each bulb was embossed and shaped like a flame--- you don't see colored bulbs like that anymore! Even the window glass itself had stenciled snowmen and snowflakes decorating it.
Whenever we were blessed with good packing snow, Mom or Dad would help us build a large snowman just outside the window. Can you remember all the snow we used to get for Christmas back when we were little? It seemed like it was always over the tops of our boots--- even if it was only four inches deep! If we had 10 inches, it was knee deep! Funny how that worked!
On this Christmas Eve very near bed time (8:00 pm), we arranged home baked chocolate chip cookies and milk for Santa. Then, Mom helped us write a nice note on a small blackboard wishing Santa a "Merry Christmas 1957." Looking back on this, I finally realize the blackboard thing was all for a dated photo! Mom was always full of great ideas!
Quietly, I slipped back into the living room and crawled up onto the big window ledge. There I sat behind the paisley-patterned curtains, and stared out at the crystal clear night.
As I gazed up into the heavens, I wondered what it must have been like for the kings and shepherds to see the brilliant star of Bethlehem? I can clearly remember how beautiful everything was on that night! The sky was full of twinkling stars, and the snow seemed to sparkle back at them as if to send the message, "There is Peace on Earth." The freshly fallen snow looked like a beautiful sea of sparkling diamonds! Everything was right to plant a lifelong memory into a young boy's mind.
Then, in the very place that I was looking, like magic, a shooting star streaked across the sky over Plainwell! But wait! What I had witnessed was certainly not a shooting star! No, sir! This was clearly man's first glimpse of the actual speed of the eight reindeers and their master, Santa Claus! What an amazing speed! Now, for the first time, I could see how Santa got everything done in just one night, and on a global scale!
"Dad, Dad! I saw him! He is on his way here!"
"Oh, my goodness! my father exclaimed." You must get to sleep fast before he gets here! He mustn't see you awake!"
I remember scrambling up the long stairway to my bedroom as fast as my little legs could climb! In those days, I could fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow! On this night, I was even trying to even break that record!
Back then my folks didn't really have very much money, so saving for Christmas was a year-long effort. I remember my mother faithfully tending to her Christmas Club Savings each week, even if it was only a dollar or less. As soon as I could earn some money mowing lawns or going door to door selling garden vegetables out of my wagon, I went to the bank with my grandmother to start a "Christmas Club Account" of my own!