A Day Back in Time; More Christmas Stories–Part IV
A few years ago this month while living in Idaho, I made a trip to our neighboring state Utah and Salt Lake City. It was a pleasant sunny day; the roads were dry and the traffic was relatively sparse for these modern times. As I’ve lamented in previous posts, it seems every year at this season we hear less and less Christmas music on radio or TV and in the stores and malls. Oh…there is plenty of music, but it usually consists of “politically correct” upbeat rock type secular so-called “holiday” music. So instead of listening to the radio while driving, I decided to treat my memory banks to some of those old traditional Christmas tunes. I loaded the CD player in the car with six CDs of old traditional Christmas music.
Among the bunch was a CD containing two World War II Bing Crosby radio Christmas broadcasts. I’m a big Crosby fan, so the other four CDs contained some of the many Christmas Carols recorded by him throughout his career. Nobody, and I mean nobody, can do justice to White Christmas except Der Bingle. (Irving Berlin should have made it a stipulation when he wrote that song for the movie Holiday Inn, that nobody but Crosby could ever record it.) I believe it’s still the number one best-selling Christmas single of all time—even today.
The repertoire of these Crosby CDs–to name a few– ranged from traditional Carols such as Away in a Manger, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Silent Night, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and Joy to the World. There were also some familiar secular songs such as Here Comes Santa Clause, Jingle Bells, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire (The Christmas Song) and I’ll Be Home For Christmas. These, along with the two radio broadcasts, brought back many memories of my youth.
As a young boy I remember walking along the sidewalk on Main Street in Grace, Idaho, where one storeowner had a record player sitting outside playing Christmas Carols. Later when we moved to Soda Springs, I remember listening to Carols being broadcast in the City Square over loudspeakers from Christmas records being played from City Hall. These Carols were heard into the far reaches of the community.
In addition to Carols played on the radio during the Christmas season, all of the regular weekly radio shows of the day featured a Christmas show. I remember waiting with great anticipation for these annual events telling of the baby Jesus’ birth. These Christmas broadcasts usually featured a short skit and many of the traditional Carols. Jesus really was the reason for the season.
One thing in particular that struck me about the two old radio broadcasts (which also included the commercials) was that listeners weren’t bombarded every five minutes with endless commercials encouraging them to spend their money on this or that unneeded frivolous item. There were only three commercials during the entire half hour shows; one at the beginning, one in the middle, and one at the end; and the entire show was sponsored by one company, or one product. The commercials were worked into the format, and were only sixty seconds in length. These limited commercials weren’t just a Christmas tradition, either. This was standard routine for all broadcasts of the time.
Ah…alas…they say you can’t go back. But for five hours (two and half hours each way) I was able to do just that. This music carried me back to the days of my youth; back to carefree days of sledding on the snow packed streets of Grace, Idaho; snow skiing in the barrow pits behind a pickup truck north of Soda Springs (that could be a harrowing experience when the barrowpits contained a lot of snow drifts); fashioning chain to my bike tires so I could ride it in the winter time without spinning out, and coming in and sitting by a warm fire listening to the radio.
There is a whole ‘nuther story about the chain on the bicycle tires. I came up with the idea of wrapping chain around the tires to give the bike more traction in the snow. Dad had promised me a new bike when the war was over. World War II ended in the summer of 1945 and production of cars and bicycles began shortly after that, but didn’t start arriving in stores until late Fall. We had to put our names on a list in order to get one, and since the selection was limited, you took what came in or forfeited to the person behind you. I had waited more than two months for my first bicycle (more than half a life-time for a ten year old kid). In late October my name reached the top of the list, and the local hardware store received a bike that was just what I wanted. It was a Schwinn)! Schwinn was the Lincoln or Cadillac of bicycles in those days, folks! Dad said I could have it, but I’d have to wait until Christmas to receive it.
Good Lord, folks, in that southeast highland town in Idaho, there would be two feet of snow on the ground by Christmas! (Now maybe you’ll understand why the chains were wrapped around the bicycle tires.) I was determined to ride that bike on Christmas day. I found a length of small chain laying around in a back room off our home in Grace. The links were very small and the chain was flexible enough to slip in between the spokes and wrap around the the tires like stripes on the old Barber Poles. Remember those? The chain didn’t work all that well, though. (It rubbed on the fenders.)
If you’d like to get a glimpse of what life was like for a kid during the 1940s, why not click on the free download link at upper right of this page and receive the prologue and first three full adventures of Buddy…His Trials and Treasures.
MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY! Final post in this series next week.
P.S. To get a better look at Crosby in the recording studio, click on the image.