Sometimes it’s not the presents that we receive on Christmas that leave the biggest impressions on our lives, but it may be the small moments and dearest memories from our childhood.
Growing up on the corner of Wilson Avenue and Winter Street, Mary Alexander said she has an abundance of memories from Christmas time as a child.
“When I was a kid, it was always really cold when you had the Christmas parade,” Alexander said. “I can remember bundling up, going to the Christmas parade that came through downtown. It was always a big event for us. My mother would always ... stop us at a little hole in the wall restaurant named Cheap John’s and he sold hot dogs and (hot) chocolate. We’d walk on back to Wilson Avenue eating our hot dogs and our (hot) chocolate.”
She said it was also the smell of her childhood home at 400 Wilson Ave. at Christmas that has stayed with her over the years.
“Of course you have your Christmas trees and your decorations, but it was the smell of the kitchen. The kitchen smelled like Christmas,” Alexander said. “My mother would start almost the week before Christmas cooking for Christmas. She had this cabinet she would put stuff in that she called her space, and it would be all kinds of pies and cake, goodies in there, cookies in there to eat. We ate our way through Christmas.”
She said she can also remember having big bowls of fruit, sweet potato and pumpkin pies, fried chicken and eggnog around the house during the holidays.
“As a kid it was just wonderful for us. We just loved it,” Alexander said.
Alexander remembers shopping in downtown Johnson City with her mother, hitting stores like J.C. Penney, King’s Department Store and Parks-Belk, that are no longer in the downtown area.
Alexander said her mother viewed Christmas like she did birthdays, and would make a lot of food and decorate in celebration of the holiday.
“Christmas was a big deal,” she said.
Longtime Johnson City resident Alan Bridwell said he’s also gathered a few memories from living in the city.
He said one of the big things to do in Johnson City during the holidays was to get in your car and drive around looking at lights.
“There was some of the most ... elaborate exhibits of Christmas decorations,” Bridwell said, remembering homes off Oakland Avenue and the Boones Creek areas with the biggest light displays.
Richard Fields said he grew up in Johnson City and can vividly remember the downtown scene at Christmas, and the day of the Christmas parade.
“My mom worked at Hamilton Bank and my dad would take me and my mom and we would stand usually in front of the bank and wait on the Christmas parade,” Fields said. “It was so crowded downtown because there was no other shopping at the time, so downtown was really alive and well at that time. There would be five- or six-deep (crowds of people), with the street lined all the way as far as you could see. My dad would put me on his shoulders and we would wait on the Christmas parade.”
He said the parade itself would last around 30 or 40 minutes and the parade route would bring it west on Main Street instead of east, because that’s how traffic moved downtown during that time.
Fields said the parade was a lot of fun as a kid.
“I really enjoyed the band. (East Tennessee State University) had a marching band then and, of course, the local high schools, Science Hill and some of the other local schools,” he said.
He said the downtown area had a lot of decorations each Christmas, with lights all up and down the streets.
“Santa Claus had a place that he was established there on Main at King’s Department Store and I can remember them (his family) taking me to see Santa Claus in King’s,” Fields said.
He said he also remembers Sears Roebuck and Co. downtown as well as Parks-Belk and Woolworths.
A fun family memory Fields treasures was the Christmas of 1965.
“I was an only child for a long time. My sister was born in ’64, but Christmas of ’65 ... all (of) my mother’s brothers and sisters and their spouses were able to come to Johnson City,” he said. “We had a large Christmas at my grandmother’s house and that was the last time all of them were all together at one time, so that was a fond memory.”