First Christmas

20 12 2020

As I have mentioned in previous “Traveling the Rock Road” stories in my young days I was moved around quite a bit. West Virginia, Maryland, back to West Virginia, Kentucky, and finally in Ohio. I have no memory of Christmas during those days, only while living in Kentucky with some extended family members a large box came one day addressed to me. The box was filled to the brim with toys, and they were all from my mother. She couldn’t live with at that time and the people I was with didn’t celebrate Christmas, but she wanted to make sure I would receive something on that day. I don’t remember much about the contents inside, but I do remember that box. I would climb in and pretend I was a gift back to my mom; that way we could be together again. I called that in another story “The Love Box.” Perhaps one day I’ll re-publish it.

One day my Great Aunt Pearl showed up in Kentucky and the next morning her and I boarded a but to leave. I didn’t know where we were going but that didn’t matter; I was with good ole Pearly Mae who I loved dearly and she told me we were going to my mother. I couldn’t hardly wait. We finally arrived in a small town where we crossed a bridge to a large river, circled around several blocks and came to a stop in front of a store named Tremper’s. That town was Fremont Ohio and standing on the sidewalk with a big smile; my mother! I don’t think I touched a step coming out of the bus; just a full run and jumping into Ma’s arms. I was so happy to be with her again even though I didn’t know this new place; if Ma was there it was home. 

That was the summer of 1960 and many new things and adventures awaited me. The first was starting school in the 1st grade. I had never gone to school prior to that so it was a bit scary not to mention hard since I was behind where most kids were who had gone to kindergarten and had someone to help begin their understanding of education. The greatest part of everyday was returning home to see Ma and Pearl. I may not have understood a lot in school, but I knew these two loved me.

December came and Pearl decorated the house with lights and tensile. A tree came into the house that we adorned with twinkling lights, fancy bulbs, and a star for the top. This was the first Christmas I could ever remember, and I was mesmerized by the whole moment. Then, packages wrapped in colorful paper and tied with red and green bows were placed under the tree. When I learned they were gifts we would open on Christmas morning, like any child, I could hardly control my enthusiasm nor my curiosity.  I loved Christmas! And I loved my new home; Fremont Ohio!!

One evening Ma and I bundled up to stay warm and walked into the town. This trip wasn’t to buy anything, it was to see something almost spectacular to a young boy. One block after crossing the State St. Bridge we turned left on Front St, the business hub of Fremont, and the sights took my breath away. All the way down large lights were strung from one side of the street to the other. Every store front window had a Christmas theme, but the best was Joseph’s Dept. Store. They had a Christmas train that actually ran and other moving props that froze me in my tracks as I peered on this incredible display for so long Ma had to drag me away. We then walked down to the Montgomery Wards store with the hardwood floors. As we entered who met us at the doorway but Santa Claus himself, ready to have me sit on his lab and tell him what I wanted to Christmas. Afterwards he rewarded me for being a good boy with a delicious candy cane. I loved Fremont! Mom did stop at one store and bought a toy. I thought it was for me but she explained I would see what we did with it. Farther down the street sat the Paramont Theater where the latest movies were shown. Out front were two men in white hats and blue uniforms. I recognized them as Marines as my Uncle Carl, one of my heroes, had been a Marine in WW2. Ma gave me the toy to put in a box that was between these two. This was my 1st time contributing to “Toys for Tots,” and I’ve tried to give something every year since. With a big a burly hand over my head one thanked me and then us passes to go into the theater to see a short Christmas movie. I was in heaven! When we walked back through town I thought we would turn to cross the bridge and go home, but instead we went the opposite direction. There, a store named Spieldenner’s with large picture window, and it had the biggest Christmas tree I had ever seen. It was gold, as I recall, and it stood probably twenty feet tall, but to this young mind it looked to be a mile high! I’m surprised I didn’t get frostbite on my tongue as my mouth gapped open as wide it could. This was awesome! I love Christmas, and I love Fremont! 

As we finally turned to head home a car pulled over with a man in it offering us a ride. I knew this gentleman for he lived up the street from us on Sandusky Ave. and he had become a family friend. Albert Stellar, if I’m spelling his name right and if you had ever gone to the Fremont Racetrack back in the 50s and 60s you knew Albert. He was in charge of concessions in the seating stands and would hire boys to carry the food and drinks around through the crowd.  We climbed in and he asked what we were doing. Ma explained we taking in all the beautiful sites downtown. “Oh, you haven’t seen the most amazing site yet. I’ll take you there now.” 

Ma didn’t know where we were going any more than I did, but she knew Albert was a good friend and if he said this worth seeing then that was good enough for her. We went to the far side of the community and drove to an area called Barker Hill. There was such a line of cars going to the same place that I just knew it was going to be something really special. I was not disappointed. When we reached our destination I almost jumped out of the car. There was a tree that was larger than the one at Spieldenner’s lit up by with floodlights. The decorations were huge, candy canes, toy soldiers and other fairy tale items. Large red and green lights and a gold tensile that went all way around the tree and stretched from top to bottom. The star on the top was so big and brilliant I imagined it was as big as I was. We could only stay there for a few seconds; there were so many cars wanting a chance to see this incredible giant of the evergreen that traffic had to keep moving. But all the way home I could still see that beautiful tree in my mind. I couldn’t wait to tell Pearl!

When we got home I ran into the house and told my beloved great aunt everything we did and saw. I loved telling her things because I could always tell she was listening to every word. When I finished, she showed me something she had just bought for Christmas. It was a nativity scene with all the characters; Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, the three wisemen, sheep, camels, a stable and a manager. That night Pearl told me the real and complete Christmas story; how God loved us so much He sent his Son as a baby to redeem the world that we may someday live in heaven with Him. Some children heard this story from the time they were toddlers; I was six and I hung on every word the little lady from West Virginia told me. Christmas lights and display, a Christmas movie for helping the Marines help other kids. Not one but two of the most beautiful Christmas trees I had ever seen. And now finding out the real meaning of Christmas. Wow! What a night!

C.S. Lewis; “Once in our world, a stable had something in it that was bigger than our whole world.”

Max Lucado; “The story of Christmas is the story of God’s relentless love for us.”

Robert Flatt; “The giving of gifts is not something man invented. God started the giving spree when He gave a gift beyond words, the unspeakable gift of His Son.”

Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

It’s been sixty years since that night. And, since then, I have seen major cities adorned for miles with the most incredible decorations and millions of twinkling lights. I have performed in scores of musical programs at Christmas and even played the part of a wiseman in several plays. My Lady and I have enjoyed adorning our home with Christmassy décor and watching our children and then grandchildren faces when they open their presents. And I have read the Christmas story in Luke in our home for nearly fifty years. Still, the eyes of my heart go back to a six-year boy and the wonders, beauty and true meaning he received at his first Christmas in his beloved Hometown of Fremont Ohio.

“For unto you a Child is born. And he shall be called Immanuel.” God is with us.

To all a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Blessed New Year!

See ya next year!




5 responses

21 12 2020

An excellent story, as always. Every time I read one of your posts, I say to myself, “Man, God was really looking out for him!”

Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year to you as well!


21 12 2020
Candy (Sigworth) Easton

I always enjoy reading your stories. Such a great testament of your faith and how God can bring our lives from dark places to the bright joy of knowing our Lord.
I also enjoy the many memories of Fremont as it was back in our time. Joseph’s display was always my favorite. The whole town looked so festive then. We always went out of town for Thanksgiving and l loved coming home to see State St. all lit up.
I left Fremont in 1977 but it will forever hold special memories for this east side kid. I grew up just 3 houses from the Eastside park on St. Joseph St. and graduated from Ross class of ’72.
May you and Kathy have a Blessed Christmas and a bright New Year.

21 12 2020

Merry Christmas David.
And a Blessed New Year!


23 12 2020

God bless! 🙂

28 12 2020
Scott Howington

John, I honestly don’t read every single email.  I don’t always have the time in the moment.  I always save them in my missionary folder.  You are a good writer with good stories to share.  You are leaving a wealth stories as a legacy to your children and grandchildren, a priceless gift.  Not only are they  insightful stories but they are wrapped in God’s truth, the best kind. Thank you for sharing with us too. I wish you, your dear wife and sweet family a Merry Christmas and a safe, healthy, New Year.

~charlene, for scott too

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