DEPRESSION YEAR - CHRISTMAS IN 1935

A soft snow was falling as large flakes gently were landing on the town's sidewalks and rooftops; reflected by the far spaced street lights on this Christmas Eve, in our coal mining town in eastern Pennsylvania. People passing each other with genuine happy smiles, children's laughter filled the air, theirs is the enjoyment and merriment, as they plod through the white blanket of newly fallen snow leaving fresh footprints toward home. The expectation of giving and receiving gifts occupied each person. The light was diffused over the sky, as I turned into a lonely street to meet with family members, the sun well below the horizon on this special evening. As I passed an empty lot nearby, a new built snowman with an empty tin can for a hat, pieces of black coal for his facial features, coal for his buttons on his torso, and two arms of twig branches, I smiled to think of the joy that only children can create from simplicity. In my walking stride between lampposts and darkness of night that had set in, I had an eerie feeling something with a dark shape was following me. I quickly turned my head to look backward, and giggled to myself to find it was my own shadow.

This is our traditional way of celebration, all the family members gathered at a Christmas Eve supper at my half sister Pearls home. It has been some time since we all gathered as my brothers and sisters drifted apart. Ours is an empty nest. Leo my older brother is in a C.C.C. camp. My younger sisters Cassie and Sophie were employed at Moses Tyler Hospital in nearby Scranton, PA as domestic workers. This is the depression year of 1935. We all arrived at sister Pearl's home as she prepared this traditional appetizing meal.

The large dining table in the living room, set with candles, and straw beneath the tablecloth, to remind us, that the birth of Jesus took place in a manager. It was the custom on this meatless supper meal to partake with seven food items, consisting of homemade bread, peas, fish, barley soup, cabbage, potato pancakes and Perogi (a stuffed ravioli of prunes or potatoes). At each plate setting was a post card size of a Holly Communion Wafer. A prayer of Thanksgiving was said, then each family member broke off a piece of each others wafer, swallowed it and asked for God's blessing for another year of a healthy family gathering. I enjoyed the wish of an old Polish Proverb "Mie Sto Lot" (which means, may you live to be 100"). At the end of the meal Latzo, my sister Pearl's husband, performed his act as a visionary.....we all remained seated at the table while Latzo went outdoors into the darkness to look above the rooftop for a sign of sickness or good health in the coming of the new year for our family members. I don't recall Latzo's forecast ever being true. I suppose his intake of alcohol was responsible for his imagination.

Our town had more then its share of beer gardens (as they were called in the year 1935). We the sons of coal miners, maintained the tradition to toast a wish of good health to each other at our local pub. St, Mary's, the parish church, always had a midnight mass on Christmas Eve. To find a seat in a pew, one had to be at church at least one hour early. We men managed to find standing room only, almost spilling out of the back of the church. The reason for this was because we left the pub a few minutes before 12 o'clock midnight. We left the church at the conclusion of the mass with a lingering memory of the choirs' rendition of Silent Night; a sobering thought as we retired to our respected homes.

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