Remembering Christmas 1944

It was December 1944, and World War II was winding down (we hoped). My mom and dad picked me up after my friend Drew’s birthday party to get a Christmas tree. We dropped it off at the bus garage, because Dad had made arrangements for one of his employees to spray paint it in bus white enamel. We finally brought the white tree home and decorated it with pre-war tinsel and icicles. We had enough colored light bulbs that we had been husbanding since1941 to make the tree look pretty. It sat in our bay window.

A Tribune photographer came out to our house to photograph it from outside. The picture made the front page of the Tribune, all right, but superimposed in front of the bay window were about twelve teens from Carl Sheig’s Acapella Choir. They were dressed in winter togs and held Christmas song books. I agree that it looked nice – not what I expected, but nice.

Before Christmas my sister and I spent many days in downtown Warren buying gifts for each other and for our parents. Things had loosened up from the wartime austerity from the year before, but we had to stand in line at Strouss Hirshberg’s to buy nylon hose – one pair per customer – for our mom. We also stood in line at Weinberger’s Drug Store to get a nickel box of gummy Ju Ju Bees.

We spent a lot of time at Kresge’s Five and Dime and Kresge’s Dollar Store. We posed together in the photo booth on the mezzanine floor as the photographer took our picture. It was to be a present for our parents. Since it would take a while to develop and tint the picture in the appropriate colors, we continued our shopping. We would show each other what we wanted, and then make the purchases separately. When we got home we wrapped the gifts, even though we knew exactly what was within the wrappings. We put them under the tree that smelled more like a bus than a pine tree.

Mom and Dad and my sister and I went to midnight services on Christmas eve. Although it had snowed a few days before, now it was raining one of those constant, seemingly never-ending rains. At midnight, the Rev. Zoltner announced, “It is now Christmas, 1944!” On the way out of church, ushers passed out small boxes of stale hard candy to all the kids who had stayed up late enough. It was that sort of a night that made me feel chilled to the bone.

Christmas morning dawned cold, gray, rainy and slushy over dirty snow. The only surprise I got was a toy wooden rifle from Santa. I was pretty iffy about the existence of Santa Claus, but Dad sat me down and told me that Santa truly existed – not in flesh and blood – but in that wonderful spirit we all feel at Christmas. Wonderful.

The war was still raging, and the disappointment of learning that the war in Europe wouldn’t be over by Christmas as promised really put a damper on our hopes and expectations. Cousins Robert, Walter and Neal were in the Philippines, Baffin Islands and somewhere in the States, respectively. Cousin Arden had been killed earlier in the war. Many of our friends were away in the service.

Aunt Elnora and Uncle Andy joined us for Christmas dinner. Franklin Delano Roosevelt had won a fourth term as president of the United States, and Aunt Elnora defiantly announced to everyone at the Christmas dinner table that she had voted for him. Doing this in a strongly Republican household took a lot of courage.

Although we didn’t know this for sure, this was to be the last Christmas of the war. It was a pretty bland Christmas as far as weather, gifts, being able to get things we wanted, and being without our friends and relatives who were off to war. But it was a beautiful Christmas, nevertheless. I remember it well.

Mumford of Warren, is a community columnist. Write him at columns@tribtoday.com.