My own memories began as soon as I was able to recollect them and the time before Christmas brought excitement. A trip downtown for Christmas shopping was special, for we knew that our parents would be looking to see what interested us and yes, they would be taking mental notes. A special treat was being allowed to stop in my dad's office just before closing and go shopping one on one with him. Mom would often go with my big sister and my older brother would check things out on his own while Mom just wandered nearby keeping an eye on things. But it was a quieter time back then, and I recall nary a real worry about crime on the streets since we would pass people we knew everywhere. Newport News was a close-knit town and everyone looked out for everyone else.
When Dad closed his medical office for the day, we rode the elevator down to the ground floor in the Masonic Temple Building and from there walked next door to the China Palace. Dad was always looking for something special for me and I remember the year I set my eye on a Lionel train set. Those were beauties, heavy metal made to scale and requiring space to operate. I knew just the place for one, in our heated basement where it would fit perfectly while not bothering anyone upstairs, the perfect arrangement.
Mr. Morganstern, the proprietor, knew Dad well and just let us look and Dad would say as we left, "I don't know, Son. I don't think you're ready to take care of such a fine gift. Maybe someday later."
I was crushed but quickly got over it. And to my surprise, the entire family gathered at the Paramount Theater for a great movie on several occasions drawn from the new releases that always came out around Christmas. On a night like that, Mom didn't have to think about kitchen duty when we got home as we'd go somewhere simple while out. We would usually head toward home and have dinner on the Kecoughtan Road corridor. Sometimes it was the first Vic Zodda's on Twenty-fifth near Buxton Avenue in Newport News, a gem in an area where it wasn't expected, or drive-in dinner at Bill's Barbeque, a local landmark for Boulevard residents, or maybe the Rendezvous or even the Chinese restaurant, all three of which were in the Wythe area. Wherever it was, it was often a prelude to picking up the special Christmas tree which would be placed in sugar water in the back yard overnight, meaning the next evening would be decoration time with popcorn and hot chocolate.
I guess when I think of Christmastime on Washington Avenue, I will always remember it as a special part of growing up. After all, I attended high school at the school bearing the city's name one street over from Washington. I also attended church at First Presbyterian downtown, later as the only sibling left at home I would take Mom to her banking appointments at First National Bank there and saw so many wonderful movies in the variety of theaters, the Paramount, Palace, James and Warwick, all of which were all wholesome in my younger days. I also bought most of my school clothes at Nachman's, later Spigel's College Shop or the Young Men's Shop. Nachman's also had a great lunch room and, of course, during high school who could forget the Dog House. Later, when I came home to visit after college and a few years of my early Army service, when I rode down Washington Avenue at Christmastime it brought a tear to my eye as I realized the aura of the street during a holiday extravaganza had totally lost its luster. I still to this day thing that it is a shame it couldn't be retained, but I am thankful for the memories. As a close, here are a few of the sights I remember in those days gone by. Merry Christmas, everyone.
Oh, and one other thing. Yes, I did finally get that Lionel train and a neighbor who worked for the C and O gave me an official C and O engineer's cap which I wore every time I revved that sweet hunk of metal up and ran the rails, pretending to be Chief Engineer Extraordinaire. Isn't a child's imagination a great thing?