A Christmas in Old Suffolk

Published 5:51 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

My earliest memory of Christmas goes back to a time when my mother was taking me into town, and I saw colored lights strung in a zigzag fashion back and forth between the light poles across the street.  At that age, I hadn’t become aware of the changing seasons or that it was nearly time for Christmas.  I knew what Christmas was, of course, and I instantly became excited when she told me what the lights meant.

In those days, television was still a few years in the future, and broadcast entertainment, if there was any, came over WLPM, Suffolk’s radio station.  Earl Hundley, WLPM’s radio voice, announced that starting soon, Santa Claus would be reading letters over the air direct from the North Pole, from children who sent him lists of toys they wanted him to bring them.  My Mom helped me as I carefully printed out my wish list, and she mailed it to the North Pole for me.  

We didn’t listen to the radio very often, so it sat on a table in my Mom and Dad’s bedroom.  At the appointed time each night, I listened for the Christmas bells followed by the unmistakable bellow of the REAL Santa’s Claus’s laughter.  I patiently waited night after night as Santa read the letters until, finally, I heard him read my name and my list.   He sounded like he was really enjoying it.  It was a thrill to hear my name broadcast over the air for the whole world to hear.

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Just as we have nowadays, the Christmas parade was held in downtown Suffolk a couple of weeks before the big event.  The difference was that it was held at night so all the colored lights had their greatest effect.  It seemed that everyone I knew was there.  There were marching bands and floats, and best of all, at the end of the parade came Santa Claus riding in an old-timey Fire Engine.  One year I even saw Santa’s real live elves making toys in the window of Montgomery Ward’s on Main Street.  

One of the most memorable parts of Christmas morning was seeing what Santa Claus had brought my friends.  When I went outdoors, I’d see kids on the new roller skates or riding their new bikes.   I’ll never forget seeing the kid from next door strutting down the street wearing a brace of Hopalong Cassidy six-shooters with the belt turned around backwards so as to show off the  extra bullets in the belt loops.  

To my surprise, Santa Claus brought me a real Lionel electric train set.  I was way too young for it, but that didn’t matter.  I was thrilled, and so was my Dad.  I later figured that he must have found a deal he couldn’t refuse.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the first postwar Lionel train set, Engine #224, which I still have in pristine condition carefully packed away in my attic.

That train, the radio program, the parade, and the excitement of my friends are just a few of the wonderful memories that I treasure, along with all those others of my childhood growing up in Suffolk.