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Random Thoughts from a Random Memory

Updated: Feb 3

By Edward Master

The one real event I recall about Thanksgiving is the Sunday following the holiday was the day we set up the model trains. We brought the train board up from the basement where it had been suspended from the ceiling for the year. The mice droppings had to cleaned up and dad would check all the electrical connections so that the trains would run and the lights would light, basically that we had power.

I think at peak, we had two transformers for three trains--two locomotives and a small 'tender.' The older of the two locomotives was a black 'steam' engine like the ones which passed through Turkey City in the 1950s. Remember the whistles blowing? We had little white pills that we stuck in the locomotive so it would "smoke." The other locomotive was an orange sleek-looking engine that my father bought at the L&R in Clarion. I think the L&R may have had Santa. The only other Santa I recall was Bill Smith (yes, the Quaker State HR guy) who dressed in red suit with white beard stopping by when I was quite young but old enough to remember.

We had a "standard guage" track for the train, unlike the smaller-width H-O size. There were a couple buildings for the display. One was a green-and-white train station and another had a set of steps along the side. The display was at the west end of the front room. Dad built an elevated section one year for railway that circled the TV; the Christmas tree set at the other end of the train board. We had a box car, a flat car, open top for hauling (I liked putting my rubber 'men/soldiers' in this one), a car with a search light, and caboose.

My father once took my brother and me to Pittsburgh to a train display setup via the Carnegie, and also to a planetarium show at Christmas time. I could make out the Big Dipper in the sky but that was about all. I never did well with constellations, even in college and teaching.

When I was still in grade school, we never bought a Christmas tree. We went across the road and walked up Weeter Hill, past the lone pine near the top of the hill, and found a suitable tree to cut down and drug it home. Artificial trees really didn't come into vogue until I was probably in college. The train board remained upstairs until the outside Christmas lights came down and stayed alive in the basement for a bit thereafter.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving also meant the time for outside Christmas lights and decorations was near. It seemed we always had red, plastic wreaths with a candle in the middle to plug in. They went in the windows by the front porch. Over the years my father seemed to add outside figures to the outside display, but eventually that ended with his creeping-up age.

When I was in grade school, and like wise for my sisters when they were youngsters, Dad loaded us up in the car and off we went on a Christmas lights tour throughout the area. Knox, St. Pete, and Salem Township were all destinations, maybe even up and down the Clarion River Hill. The whole idea was to see who had "the spirit."

My wife and I did the same when we were quartered in Glassboro, NJ, and in Grove City. In Glassboro, down the block and around the corner was the Mazzeo family. They went more than all-out for the holidays. They actually set out a pail/bucket for donations to help defray the cost of electric and decorations. People would drive from all over Gloucester County to walk through the display. You had to be careful with the traffic.

In Grove City, the most decorative house was on the east end of town, near Wolf Creek and across the street from the college football stadium. My wife and I decided that this display should be called the "Griswold House" after the movie. We said it wasn't Mazzeo's (no displays), but it was still worthy of the title with lights extending around to a back building/garage. We usually toured around Grove City and then down toward Slippery Rock. No Griswolds on the way to the Rock, but one home provided an elaborate display of lights on its surrounding outside flora and fauna.

In our dwellings over the years, we often had a picture window or a front window by which we set a tree. We went artificial early in our marriage as my wife already owned a (small) tree to fit apartments and it fit nicely on a table in front of a window. We did go "live" one year when I hacked down a small pine shrub by our front door in Glassboro. The next summer it was a real bitch getting that stump out! The wood was really, really hard.

The one thing I never missed about a live tree was the tinsel. I hated putting it on the tree when I was a kid and having to deal with it when taking the tree down. Thank godness for artificial! Because our tree was a small artificial, I really never had light problems. Again, thank you artificial.

Speaking of sports

It took long enough to x-foliate Canada as coach, but was it enough? I'm not sold on Lily Tomlin either as head guy, but the Bengals bungled again. Narduzzi axed Cignetti Jr. at U. of Pitt as the O-C, but Frank Senior is long gone; so good luck Junior.

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