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Remembrances of early Johnson City Christmases: Part 2

Bob Cox • Dec 17, 2017 at 4:31 PM

This is the second of my two-part column concerning memorable Christmases of yesteryear, most being from the 1940s:

My first electric train

The toy I remember most from my youth was an electric train that ran on a small circular track. Mom and Dad bought me an American Flyer electric train about 1947, consisting of an engine, several cars, track and transformer. I had never owned anything like it before, and I loved it.

I set up the track in the living room along the east wall and played with it for hours. All it did was go around in circles but I didn't care. I am sure Mom and Dad sacrificed to buy me that train. Later, they would give me my second one about 1951, which was a Lionel model. Many years later (around 1980), I got my third train, a Tyco. Actually, it belonged to my son, Brandon.

A cracked blackboard

One year, my parents bought me a blackboard on a folding wooden stand. The word "Sports" was written along the top of it along with pictures and words of “baseball," “football” and “tennis.”

The blackboard had two cracks in it. This didn't bother me one iota. I drew "streets" all over the surface of it and then drew "houses" on each street. I would see how complex a "city" I could make. Once the board got full, I erased it, washed it and started again. I played with this blackboard for hours.

Dad took a picture of Mom and I in front of this board on which was written these words "Merry Christmas from the Cox's." Dad used this photograph the following Christmas season as a Christmas card.

Christmas downtown

Downtown Johnson City always took on a special magic at Christmas. Large decorations were hung between buildings all along Main Street. The town was crowded from the tracks at Fountain Square to the old Post Office at the top of the hill. I especially liked to go downtown at night. It was always cold, but the lights and ringing bells made it seem like Christmas. However, I never liked to confront Santa Claus so Mom and Dad told him what I wanted for Christmas. This seemed to work.

Santa always stood at the elevator on the fifth floor of King's Department Store at the entrance to the Toy Department. I avoided it near Christmas because I would have to confront Santa Claus when I got out of the elevator. Believe it or not, Santa talked to kids without their having to pay to have their picture made with him.

One year, Penny's Department Store across the street had Santa set up in the basement. You could sit on his lap and talk to him while at the same time being broadcast on the radio. Needless to say, I was never heard on the radio.

A Press-Chronicle photo

A memorable event occurred in the late 1950s while nine of us students were at the old downtown Science Hill High School: Frank Moore, Bill Woods, Guy Wilson, Jud Mast, Al Ferguson, Johnny Leach, Joe Biddle, Graham Spurrier and yours truly.

A photographer from the Johnson City Press-Chronicle approached us about posing for a holiday picture for the newspaper. He asked us to sing Christmas carols while he took our picture.

We needed some songbooks; the closest thing we could find were some ROTC training manuals from the Drill Hall. The photographer snapped our picture and we went on our merry "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" way.

Soon, our picture was posted in the newspaper. Our “song books” were decorated with music notes; the background was darkened to give the appearance that we were outside at night; and “snow” was spread over our heavy coats.

The depiction carried this caption: “They sing Christmas carols, and the scene is one that will be repeated many times over within the next fortnight, snow or no snow.”

What memories — too precious to forget. Thank you for allowing me to share them with you. I am sure you have your own personal memories of Christmas.

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

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