Community Perspective: Christmas

A contributed perspectives piece by Joe Laughland

The author at Christmas in his cowboy outfit

In 1952, we got a TV. A fancy polished wood cabinet with double doors that opened to a gray oval screen with a dial for selecting channels and a knob to turn it on. It took innumerable seconds before the screen began to glow and flicker. Then like magic, different shades of gray visions that moved. Hopalong Cassidy wearing his iconic dark hat, shirt, and trousers. A loose tie . . . brought together with a silver steerhead tin tie clasp. But most importantly, two six guns holstered around his hip. He had become my first TV hero.

Mom bought me a Hopalong Cassidy metal lunch box with pictures of Hopalong on his horse, guns drawn, chasing the bad guys. I can still taste that cork flavored warm milk as it came out of the thermos at lunch time in first grade.

At six years old, Christmas filled me with wonderment. Mom made a traditional ginger bread house from scratch. A delicious temptation sitting on the living room coffee table a day or so before Christmas. We first eat the gum drops and candies attached to the walls. Next we consumed the white frosting chimney. The ginger bread walls slowly disappeared. Mom stored the surviving pieces in a red tin canister to be finished over the next few months.

With great effort, Dad and my older brothers maneuvered and placed the Christmas tree in the living room. I don’t remember who decorated the tree or strung the lights. I just recall the wonder of silver tinsel and holiday objects hanging from the tree, lights glowing before going to bed during Christmas week. And looking out the living room window, watching soft white pedals of snow falling while Christmas lights reflected off the window. And the songs of Christmas filling the air, as Gene Audrey sang Rudolph the Red nose reindeer.

On Christmas Eve, we’d open presents to each other and from relatives. Utilitarian items of clothes, tools, cooking utensils, and books. My parents bought each other ashtrays for their two-packs-a-day Camel habit. After opening the gifts, I had to go to bed.

The real excitement began the next morning. Santa had left gifts under the tree. Flash Gordon space men, plastic cars, games, candy, and assortment of toy trinkets. My older brothers got more Lionel train cars and tracks. But for this Christmas, I received the most special gift, a complete Hopalong Cassidy hat, shirt, trousers, and a two-gun holster set. I quickly assimilated into my hero’s persona. And for the rest of the day, I rode throughout the house on my invisible horse, fighting bad guys from room to room.

Mom instructed me to tuck my ears under the hat. She feared that the hat might push my ears out, making me look like Dumbo the flying elephant. We didn’t want that to happen.

Our traditional mid-day Christmas meal consisted of turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pie and ice cream for dessert. Afraid that a bad buy might try to steal my dessert, I placed my guns on the table. But Mom quietly leaned over to me and said that guns do not belong on the dining room table, and so slowly, I returned the guns to my holster. I needed to be nice so I could get a second helping of ice cream.

Years later, Mom said that I wore that Hopalong outfit every day when possible. I cried when she took it away to wash it. At some point the Hopalong clothes began disappearing. First the trousers, followed by the shirt. The hat stayed but soon it became too small to wear. But like all things, life changed, and Superman became my new TV hero. I now wore my Superman cape whenever possible. But, occasionally, I wore my Hopalong guns and holster too, because, well, even Superman might need a gun.

The author today

Joe Laughland, a retired management analyst, moved to Harrisonburg in 2010.  He is a member of JMU’s Lifelong Learning Institute’s Writers Group.

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