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Fond memories of early city Christmases shared

Bob Cox • Dec 10, 2017 at 10:34 PM

This is the first of my two-part column concerning memorable Christmases of yesteryear, most being from the 1940s and ‘50s. I was an only child and considered spoiled.

I recall a very large evergreen tree located on East Myrtle Avenue near Baxter Street on the Fairview Avenue side that was beautifully decorated for many years at Christmastime. Does anyone recall who owned this tree or where it was relocated? It still resides firmly in my memory.

Tennessee Eastman Co.

During one Christmas while my dad was overseas during the war, he received a black and white Christmas card from Tennessee Eastman. It showed a picture of the plant at night facing the former Building 75 near the Holston River.

The caption contained these words: "The lights are still burning at Tennessee Eastman this Christmas - lights of hope and good cheer - lights of welcome awaiting your safe return. With best wishes from your company."

The two chief officers of the plant, P.J. (Pearly) Wilcox and James C. White (president) both signed the card. I have no idea whether this card actually made it overseas or came directly to our apartment. It was probably the latter. I found it in my Grandma Cox's scrapbook.

Decorating Our Apartment

One of the highlights each year was decorating our small apartment for Christmas. We did not have all the decorations like those used today, but we possessed all the excitement. The tree was usually a pine and we used large colored lights unlike the miniature white ones of today.

Cotton balls were carefully placed all over the tree. Icicles were very methodically hung on the branches. Mom was particular about putting icicles on the tree. You never threw them on; instead, you put them on, one icicle at a time. Everything had to be neat and orderly or Mom would change it.

To this day, I can still smell a Christmas tree and remember those trees from the mid to late 1940's. The tree was placed in the living room along the east wall in the corner adjacent to the kitchen.

I have photographs of those early years showing the tree and some of the gifts under it. Christmas was always a special time for my family. We seemed to go a little extra at Christmas time even thought we could not really afford it.

No Apartment Chimney

I owned a Little Golden Book titled, "The Night Before Christmas," that told about Santa Claus coming down the chimney to deliver toys to youngsters. After putting the toys out, Santa exited through the chimney. I had a major concern with this scenario. How could Santa Claus visit me at the Gardner Apartments when we didn't have a chimney. There wasn't enough time to build one. Although I always seemed to get toys at Christmas, I posed this troublesome question to Mom and Dad.

Their explanation made sense to me. It seemed that Santa used our porch to make his entrance into our living room. He didn't need a chimney. He parked his sleigh on the roof and entered through the porch. The porch door was never locked so there was no problem with this hypothesis.

Early Christmas Toys

As I said, Christmas was always a special time for our family because Mom and Dad always made it that way. One Christmas about 1946, I received a small American Flyer electric train, a Keystone Filling Station, a xylophone, a Gene Autry outfit, and several small cars and trucks.

The Gene Autry outfit was made to be viewed from the front only and did not have a back. It came with two guns and a hat. I wasn't Gene Autry when I turned around; I was Bobby Cox.

Another gift was a blackboard that got cracked during transit. The Keystone Filling Station was unique in that it had an elevator attached to a string that you could use to take cars and trucks to the roof and back, along with several small gas pumps along the front.

Early gifts were never wrapped. They were covered and put under the tree on Christmas Eve. I suppose Santa got credit for most of them. Mom remembered that one Christmas, Dad bought her a bathrobe and hung it over his desk chair.

To be continued next week.

Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

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