by RD Foster
The Christmas season on the Mill Block actually began sometime in September when we would wait in great anticipation for the Sears Christmas Catalog, better known as the “Wish Book” to arrive in everyone’s mailbox. I would sit for hours going through the toy section, page by page, reading every description of every toy, and skipping through the doll section, of course. There was everything a kid could ever want in that book and it would take a long time to narrow it down to one or two things, depending on the price.
In early December the courthouse and downtown square in McKinney would be decorated with silver tinsel, green wreaths and strings of colored lights hanging overhead, crossing the street from building to building. All the stores would have Christmas showcases in their front windows. Woolworth’s, Penney’s, and White’s Auto, would open their second floors with special toy sections. There would be a Christmas parade with Santa Claus riding into town on a gaily decorated flatbed truck and then sit in a big chair on the courthouse lawn and listen to what all the little kids waiting in the long lines wanted for Christmas. The two-week Christmas vacation from school started a week before Christmas and ended a week after. It was my favorite time of the year.
Some of the older kids on the Mill Block were certain there was no real Santa and made fun of the ones who still believed. Being a common-sense kind of guy, I wanted to believe in Santa. However, I just couldn’t figure out how he could travel around the world in one night, in an open-top sleigh, powered by flying reindeer and make a stop at every house in the world. And come on, nobody could eat all those cookies either. But, just in case I was wrong, I played along just like everybody else.
We never bought a Christmas tree, there were plenty of trees at Big Mama’s place. We would drive to Farmersville to my grandmother’s house and cut down a suitable tree, tie it to the top of the car and bring it home. Then we would spend an entire evening decorating it. Mom left it up to the kids to decorate the tree. By the time we had put lights, balls, colored garland and a million of those silver tinsel icicles, you couldn’t even see the tree.
A couple of weeks before Christmas, after we had told Santa what we wanted, the entire family would get in the car for our annual trip to the big Sears & Roebuck near downtown Dallas. It was an all-day trip on two-lane Highway 75 that followed the route of what is now Highway 5, or Greenville Avenue as it went through Allen, Plano, Richardson, Vickery, through Dallas to Ross Avenue.
Inside the store, Mom and Dad would disappear while we wondered around and got a
first-hand look at all the toys in the catalog. When it was time to leave, there would be no packages or shopping bags to be seen. They were all in the trunk and we pretended we didn’t know. In the days ahead, we would look in every hiding place in the house to see what we got, with no luck.
On Christmas morning we got up long before the sun came up. It was quite a rush to hop out of bed, barefoot on cold linoleum and run into the living room and see what old Santa had brought. Our gifts from Santa weren’t wrapped but were stacked under the tree, a stack for each of us. Wrapping paper was just another expense we could do without, so that was our tradition. To me walking in there and seeing my stack was just as exciting as opening each gift individually.
I liked toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians with horses. One year I got a Fort Apache set, the next year a Super Circus. They came in big rectangular boxes and when you opened that, it was full of smaller packages containing numerous cowboys and Indians, with horses and plastic walls that looked like logs for the walls of the stockade. The Super Circus was the same idea, but with a circus theme.
The year I got the Fort Apache, was a warm sunny Christmas Day. All the kids in the neighborhood were outside playing with their new stuff. Johnny and Frank had both got BB guns. At a spot in our backyard near the chicken coop, I set up my Fort with all the cavalry in place, under attack by Apaches. Johnny discovered that if you drop a wooden match, butt first down the barrel of his BB gun and then cock it, it would shoot. He and Frank then discovered that if they shot a match at an angle and hit a rock just right, the match would light. Pretending to help me build the fort, they used a couple of flat rocks and some dry grass, to “sturdy up the walls.” Next, I heard, “Play like the Indians are shooting flaming arrows.” In a few moments the plastic walls on one side of Fort Apache curled up like a roasted worm. And this was still on Christmas morning.
But the best present ever was a Tudor electric football game. You get a metal playing field, with 22 plastic football players, 11 yellow and 11 red, with seven linemen and five backs on each team. You line them up on the line of scrimmage, stick a little white felt football under the arm of the ball carrier that you choose, turn on the vibrator that is attached to the metal playing field, and there they go, vibrating down the field. The only problem was once the play started you had no control over your men and they would end up anywhere on the board.
The day after Christmas, the decorations came down and the tree went to the backyard. Christmas was over and it was time to clean house and move on.