Sunday, December 23, 2012

Back in the Day, Christmas in L.A.

Originally titled "Practically Synonymous", this post was getting  a flurry of page views.  I couldn't remember the subject matter so I investigated.  Ah yes, Christmases of my youth.   Here it is again with some editing.

Anyone who knew my mother knew her favorite time of year was Christmas.  According to my husband, she was Christmas.  For her the fun would begin around Halloween.  That was our deadline to have the gift lists ready.  She did not want to be shopping after Thanksgiving.  She wanted her pick of everything with the least amount of hustle and bustle.  

Mother had a system. Decorating the house occurred 3 weeks prior to Christmas.  This included hanging the exterior lights, big old fashioned ones, under the eaves; a fresh wreath for the front  door.  We had a lovely creche with hand carved, painted wooden figures on a side table in the living room.  We had outside lawn figures that were kinda corny.  One year Dad made a giant Frosty the Snow Man out of plywood and covered it with a cut out Frosty made of paper, just like paper dolls, so it muttst have been a kit.  He put a spotlight on that thing and whenever the wind came up, ole' Frosty would blow down. 

Bullock's Wilshire  street side Wilshire Blvd, LA

Mother set aside a day for us to dress up and go shopping. When I was very young and her  mother still alive, we went downtown to Bullocks' Wilshire, where her mother worked.
I called my grandmother "Manga".


Hinshaw's Whittier, 1960

A few years later,  Manga became head of the children's department at Hinshaw's Dept Store in Glendora and we went there.   We wore dresses, hats, gloves and I carried a purse.  In fact, I remember that purse being stolen one year when I left it in a dressing room.  I can still see it too: pewter grey leather with marcazite studs and soft grey leather trim.  My mother and grandmother had very good taste.

After Manga died, we shopped at the new Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks.  It was the first upscale mall built in the San Fernando Valley.  Lunch in the Bullocks' tea room was special.  We'd order a crab Louis salad and buttered rolls.  It was always the same and I looked forward to this special annual treat.

Tea Room Bullock's Wilshire

Mirro Cookie Press
Cookie baking day coincided with Christmas vacation.  I was Mother's assistant.  She made at least four or five kinds by the dozens:  pure maple cookies with a whole pecan center, iced sugar cookies, snowballs, oatmeal with raisin for my Father and her favorite, cream cheese cookies made with a Mirro cookie press.  I learned to make dough, cut cookies, decorate, ice, etc.  One cookie she felt she couldn't master was Scottish shortbread.  My babysitter/second grandmother from Scotland made those ever year and brought us a big box.  They would melt in your mouth.  

No, not us...It's a representative
pink flocked  Christmas tree in this photo
 taken at a 1955 Alcoa Aluminum party.

We never bought a tree before mid-December.  We lived in Southern California and they didn't last long so perhaps that is why.  Mother always bought 2 trees, one for trimming and one to cut up for pine boughs.  We had two fireplace mantels she would cover with pine boughs and red trim like berries, bows, etc.  They were so beautiful.  On each mantel, she put three large graduated candles.  I remember the white candles she kept from year to year.  They had frosted candle wax on them and were decorated with artificial holly & berries & velvet bows.  She lit the candles each night before Dad came home. 

Every year we discussed whether or not to get a flocked tree.  Mother loved the flocked trees but my father did not.  They were  more expensive and he thought they were phony.  One year, she went all out and bought a pink tree flocked in white.  Sounds horrible but it was pretty.  They used to spray paint trees is colors and flock with a bit of glitter if you wanted it.  It was the one and only time we did that.  As a young child, I always had my own tiny tree in my bedroom.  It sat upon a kid-sized card table and I decorated it myself and was very proud.  It was probably only 2' tall.  I have no idea why my parents were so generous but I cherish the memory.

My mother was a terrible letter writer; she did not like to write.  Yet, she always sent scores of Christmas cards which she addressed and signed by hand.     I would go with her to the local Hallmark ("When you want to send the very best") store to pick out an elegant card.  She didn't follow a theme, i.e. no Santas or Snowmen or what not.  It was rather what she considered the most beautiful card available.   I think, one year,  she had them printed but didn't feel it was personal enough and resumed hand writing ever after.

As I grew older, the intensity of effort ebbed.  But, my mother never stopped writing her cards or baking her cookies or decorating her beautiful tree.  We wrapped her presents for her, put up and took down the ornaments, hung the outside lights.  I often cooked the dinners and my brother and I did the dishes.  But we'd still have stockings and Santy would fill them with necessities and we'd wake up Christmas morning, light the tree, get our cups of coffee and sit and admire it all while enjoying our stuffed-to-the-brim stockings which my mother had filled. 

It never got old. 



Brian Miller said...

ha a flocked tree...we did christmas with my parents this weekend...and getting those stockings never does get old...smiles....dressing up to all go shopping is a pretty cool idea as well...very nice...merry christmas to you and your family

ratatouille's archives said...

Hi! C.G...
Your reminiscence is still heart-warming, an[d] a fond memory that you have decided to re-share about your mother, and [What some people refer to as this wonderful time Of year]...Christmas!

[May yours be peaceful, warm and shared with family and good friends...too!
p.s. I especially, liked the last paragraph [Of your post] too!]
deedee :)

Unknown said...

Now that is a Christmas -event! My goodness, I remember Bullocks - not the one on Wilshire Blvd. though, but in my own (now previous) neighborhood~ thank you for the memories! Wishing you a happy New Year!

California Girl said...

Jesh, what neighborhood & Bullocks? Fashion Square?