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Super 8:  Christmas
Written December 2, 2012

 

This is part of a series of articles based on images from my 1970s home movies.  For more details, click here.

These pictures document how my little family celebrated the holidays four decades ago.

In December of 1973, I was still living at my parents’ house in Ohio.  But it would turn out to be my last Christmas there.  I moved away a couple of months later.

Most folks decorate their homes by hanging strings of multicolored light bulbs.  We didn’t.  Instead, we planted white floodlights in the yard to illuminate the whole front of the house.  You can see one of those lights on the right edge of this image.

The floodlights made the entire house glow, highlighting seasonal decorations like these candles on the shutters . . .

. . . and the wrapped “presents” stacked on the deacon benches on the front porch.

Of course, these weren’t actual gifts, just begging to be stolen by passers-by.  They were empty boxes.  Each had a brick inside to keep it from blowing away and was wrapped in waterproof foil and tape.

At the back door, visitors reached inside the wreath to press the doorbell button.

Inside, in the week before Christmas, gifts began appearing under the tree in the living room.  A few of these were from my father’s business associates or other friends, but most of them were presents that we had bought for each other.

When we moved into this house back in 1963, Mother didn’t want evergreen needles falling on her new white rug, so we never again had a real tree.

First we tried a space-age aluminum one with “needles” made from strips of foil.  It’s unsafe to attach electric lights to a metal tree, so we limited the ornaments to red balls and lit the tree externally, using a spotlight with changing colors.

Before long we switched to a more realistic-looking green plastic tree, but we continued using the red balls.

Throughout the house, of course, Mother had other decorations and arrangements.

1973 was the year we decided there should be real candles in the window — a candle in each panel of the big bow window in the living room.

We lined up four tray tables in front of the window and covered them all with a red cloth.  The large house plant next to the them was a young Norfolk Island pine, native to an island near New Zealand.

Each table was topped by a tiny flame.

The candles were protected by etched-glass globes and surrounded by appropriate greenery.

Unfortunately, these one-candlepower lights were hard to see from outside the house, where the powerful electric floodlights dominated the scene.  But indoors on Christmas Eve, they formed an interesting procession.

On the morning of December 25th, looking out that bow window, we beheld not a white Christmas but a slushy one.  However, it was Christmas morning, and we had no intention of venturing outdoors.

Christmas morning was the traditional time when we unwrapped our presents!

We took turns.  My father found a package with his name on it and sat down on the piano bench to remove the wrapping paper, while my mother watched from the couch.

It turned out to be a gift pack of Old Spice toiletries.

He splashed on some aftershave and pronounced it good.

Then, with my father operating the camera, my mother suggested which present I should open first.  It was a white dress shirt.

When I was younger, I hated to get clothes for Christmas.  I couldn’t play with them like toys; I could only wait for an occasion to wear them.  I’m still not that excited about wearable gifts.

Now it was Mother’s turn to carefully remove the fancy silver bow . . .

. . . and see what was inside that big white cone of tissue paper.

It turned out to be some objects resembling Tupperware:  an assortment of plastic kitchen accessories.

I helped her try to identify each object.  I think the double-ended measuring cup was marked in ounces if you held it one way but in milliliters if you inverted it.  (Back then, the U.S. was supposedly in the process of converting to the metric system.)

Among other gifts, I got a sportcoat.

My father got a raincoat.

And now that he had sold his business, put the money in the bank, and retired, he gave my mother a diamond ring!

Here, she's wearing her simple ring from their 1940 marriage.  She’d always wanted a diamond, and now she had one.  My father now had a handsome wedding band.

All the bounty — even a ceramic planter in the form of a frog — was displayed under the tree for the rest of the holiday.

By the next Christmas, I had moved to Pennsylvania.

To decorate my new apartment, I bought a table-top plastic tree . . .

. . . to which I added gold and silver ornaments and amber-colored miniature lights.

Under the tree there were no presents, but rather greeting cards.

A few red and green candles completed my décor.

But for the holiday itself, of course, I planned to return to Ohio.  On Christmas Day 1974 I'd exchange presents with my parents, and I'd again play the organ at First United Methodist.

In the dimly-lit church, I discovered a Christmas tree illuminated with white bulbs.

To me, this secular symbol seemed out of place in the sanctuary.  Nevertheless, there it was, next to the stained-glass windows.

At least the ornaments were white doves, not snowmen and Santas.

At my parents’ house, on the kitchen table there was a jar of peppermint candy canes.

In the bow window was the electronic organ, flanked on the right by the only “pine tree” my mother would allow in the house.

In its red pot, I suppose it could be considered a Christmas tree.

Actually, it was the Norfolk Island pine, now a year older.

In the family room, the cards were arranged on a table next to a “toothpick tree” I had made as a youth.

The tabletop even featured my childhood Bible, personalized for “Tommy Thomas.”

My portrait hung on the wall.  It looked like a shrine to the son who had moved out of state.

Finally, atop the TV set, two porcelain angels with their trumpets saluted the holly and the ivy.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

Notes:

Ten years earlier, using Polaroid’s very sensitive 3000-speed black and white film, I had photographed the same porcelain angels by candlelight.

I once made another toothpick tree for my grandmother.  You buy a few hundred wooden toothpicks, dip the end of each into a little glue, and insert it into a Styrofoam ball.  Then you stack these spherical porcupines into a conical shape atop a Styrofoam ring, spray on some fake snow, add ornaments including an angel on top, and set the tree on a cake plate for all to admire.

I had a movie titling kit consisting of vinyl letters which could be stuck onto a red panel, a black panel, or a transparent panel in a wooden frame.  That’s how I shot the first image in this article, through the plastic.  In my earliest days of watching television, I thought this was how they “keyed” the credits at the end of a show:  they must have painted them on a long piece of glass which they raised in front of the camera lens.

The next five images, exteriors of our house, actually come from not from 1973 but from 1974.

When you see a wider image, it’s a panorama stitched together from two or three frames that were shot while the movie camera was panning across the scene.

 

TBT

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