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War couldn’t take magic away from seeing Santa

It was the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 27, 1942. I had just turned 7 years old. It wasn’t called Black Friday back then, but if you’ve lived around good old Warren long enough, you’d know that Gray Friday would apply. World War II was just about in full swing.

Before going downtown to see the arrival of Santa Claus, Mom, Sis and I each had a turkey sandwich — one of many we would have until the last morsel of that Thanksgiving turkey was gone. Dad was at work.

As usual, Thanksgiving dinner was at our house. Grandma, Aunt Jessie, Aunt Mabel and Uncle Harry, and their just-grown-up boys Robert, Walter, Neil and James were there. The childless Aunt Elnora and Uncle Andy, and newlyweds Mike and Kay joined Mom, Dad, Sis and me.

I was told that the turkey, which was supplied by Dad’s boss, who had a turkey farm in Maryland, had been raised on wire. I couldn’t imagine how a 25- or 30-pound turkey could balance on a wire, like a sparrow, until it was explained to me that the floors of the turkeys’ cages were chicken wire for cleanliness.

Robert, Walter and Neil had all enlisted in the U.S. Army — James was too young. Only Robert was accepted because the Army doctors found that Walter and Neil had hernias. However, they were accepted a few months later because of manpower shortages and had their hernias fixed, compliments of the U.S. Army. Aunt Jessie joined the WAVES. Newlywed Mike joined the Army shortly thereafter.

On that gray Friday, Mom drove the gas-rationed Buick with Sis and me aboard downtown to the Santa parade. We found a parking spot on Harmon Avenue. We walked to the YMCA and stationed ourselves on the Y’s steps, which gave us a good view of the parade route on High Street. In no time, there was Santa on a raised chair in the back of a pickup truck. He just waved. He didn’t say, “Ho, ho, ho!” back then — that came years later — things were pretty serious because of the war.

Charlie Corlett’s Warren G. Harding Presidents’ Senior High School marching band accompanied Santa. The majorettes had orange legs! Sis explained to me that the girls were wearing leg makeup. This was about the shortest parade I had ever seen.

That short little parade turned left onto Mahoning and stopped in front of the log cabin. The band disbanded. Santa entered the log cabin — the one built in 1938 — and waited for all us little rugrats to tell him what we wanted for Christmas. Most of the available toys during the war were made of wood and cardboard. Such things as metal toys were only a memory.

After a little shopping at S.S. Kresge’s Five and Ten, it was time to go home. The weather was raw and gray (what else?), so it would be great to pile into the Buick and head back home for another turkey sandwich.

Sequel: Cousin Robert served in the South Pacific for his entire tour of duty. Cousin Walter became a weatherman in the Bafffin Islands. Cousin Neil stayed stateside and was stationed at Fort Custer near Battle Creek, Michigan, for the duration. Newlywed Mike stayed in the U.S., but became a drill sergeant. He was released early because of back problems. Aunt Jessie became an ensign, and was stationed in Washington, D.C. Dad was exempt from the service because his work in keeping the buses rolling was vital for the local industries.

Now, 77 years later, all the characters in this little vignette have passed away — except for me and Santa. I’m sure Santa will still be among us long after I’m gone.

Mumford, of Warren, can be reached at columns@tribtoday .com

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