As we grow up, birthdays, holidays and vacations are events we look forward to. For many children, though, Christmas is the time of year most eagerly anticipated.
That holiday was special for two big reasons. First, I grew up with six brothers and two sisters, so Christmas Day wasn’t your normal Census Bureau family of four and a half opening a present or two.
Instead, it was an explosion of gifts, games, toys, puzzles, knickknacks and stocking stuffers that made the day special not only for what you received, but for what every other brother and sister received.
And the closer in age to you, the better. If the item wasn’t consumable, then sooner or later you were going to get to use, see, work on, play with or admire it, too.
Second, Christmas was special for me because a certain home in Old East Dallas became the center of the known universe on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
The occasion was made thrilling by such a complete transformation of the feel and mood of the location. This reminiscence is a tribute to my grandmother, a woman who exerted a great influence on my life.
Remembering our annual Christmas trip from the Park Cities to grandmother’s house on Swiss Avenue begins with the preparations.
My parents had a logistical problem packing up a family of 11, all dressed in Christmas finery, as well as all of the wrapped presents.
Fortunately, the high school-aged children had drivers licenses, and a Christmas convoy was instituted. Parents and younger brood in the station wagon, teenagers and packages in the support vehicle.
Each Christmas Eve, as we left the corner of Marquette and Baltimore, dusk settled in and the air usually was cool, but rarely cold. The houses in “the bubble” had good Christmas lights, as Christmas light decorations go, but I recall we took trips to Preston Hollow, Lake Highlands and Far North Dallas to see the really good lights.
Some years later, dad – an electronics wizard of note – would decorate the station wagon luggage rack in garlands wrapped with tiny Christmas lights powered by a 12-volt converter plugged into the car’s cigarette lighter. A lighted sleigh ride, baby boomer style.
We typically drove on Lovers Lane to Skillman, past a lighted Meadows Building on Central Expressway. Christmas trees were sold on the northeast corner of Greenville Avenue and Lovers Lane, next to Hardie’s Pitch and Putt, and across from Louann’s.
At Skillman and Mockingbird, the Wilshire Theatre would flash neon in the spirit of the holidays, and the Spaghetti Inn might be serving a Christmas Eve meal.
As we drove, we would press our faces against the car windows to look up and down each street in Lakewood, hoping to see a truly spectacular light decoration, to trumpet our fine visual acuity and generate support from siblings to get dad to drive around the block to have a really good look at our discovery.
We all knew, though, that dinner beckoned and time would not allow, although dad would concede an occasional “maybe on the way home”.
Just prior to reaching Tietze Park, the Skillman Church of Christ would have a nativity scene, or an angel decoration, or some presentation of consequence to draw the “oohs” and “aahs” from admiring fans.
At Skillman Center, across from the Volk’s store, Ashburn’s Ice Cream had long since closed for the holiday, but as usual, we discussed what flavor of ice cream each of us would get if it were open.
At Skillman and Live Oak, the anticipation would build to a crescendo, the intersection acting as a sort of delineation point that the familiar was about to become the sublime. Past Bryan Parkway we went, where a fresh set of Christmas light decorations began, to Swiss Avenue, the trip’s completion.
Great expectations led to a chorus of who saw the house first, a position of status for the one who recognized the destination – even though the first unobstructed view was yet a block away.
The festive lights of the Swiss Avenue mansions were surely the icing on the expected cake as we reached our destination – 5500 Swiss Avenue, referred to now as Aldredge House, but then the home of my grandmother, Rena Munger Aldredge. (Her father developed Munger Place.)
Our Christmas Convoy arrived for Christmas Eve, with the exquisite decorations of the home based on a theme chosen by “Gaga” (our term of endearment for grandmother), carefully produced in detail, from the style and decoration of the tree, to the wrapping and ribbons of the dozens of presents to be bestowed.
The creation was so enticing, so mesmerizing, that sometimes, even as a child, we sat still, gazing upon the scene and soaking up the feeling it was intended to convey.
And the feeling was shared with all of the aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives and friends that could be mustered. It was my grandmother’s expression of Christmas as a special time of year, a time to share, to gather with the family, to give thanks for blessings and hope for the future. A time to pause and reflect. A time that was eagerly anticipated every year.
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