Opinion: Christmas in CT in the late 1950s

A Christmas tree is lit in a Connecticut town square.

A Christmas tree is lit in a Connecticut town square.

File photo

We moved from Waterbury to Cheshire in 1948. My father passed away in 1957. My mother was single parent with four children ranging in age from 6 to 13. We lived on the corner of West Main and Grove streets. Diagonally across West Main Street was a building that housed the West Cheshire Post Office on the left and Cruess’s Grocery Store on the right. We bought all of our groceries at this market.

I have very fond memories of Christmas in Cheshire when I was a youngster. We had a beautiful pine tree on the corner in front of our home. Mr. Fenn, who lived on Grove Street, shaped it. My brother Neil and I would put different color Christmas light bulbs on the tree and around the roof of the front porch every year for Christmas. These were very large bulbs compared to today’s lights.

I remember shopping for Christmas presents at the Cohens’ Cheshire Department Store in the Cheshire Plaza and the R.W. Hine Hardware Store.

My mother, Carol, Neil, Monica, and I would attend midnight Mass at St. Bridget’s. We always arrived early to enjoy the wonderful Christmas music. Father Hanley, our pastor, always said midnight Mass on Christmas. The altar was magnificently decorated with many poinsettias. The church was always standing-room-only for this special Mass.

When we returned home after Mass, we opened our Christmas presents. Then we watched “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens starring Alistair Sims on a black and white television set in the living room. A beautifully decorated live Christmas tree was in the corner. It had colorful large lights, pretty Christmas ornaments and tinsel. I remember we always had to check to make sure there was enough water in the stand so the tree would not dry up and drop pine needles.

One Christmas my mother gave all of us a High-Fidelity record player as a Christmas present. It played 78 rpm (rotations per minute), 33 1/3 rpm, and 45 rpm vinyl records. A special spindle for 45 records fit on the turntable. A stack of 45s was placed on the spindle. One record would drop at a time. The needle arm would pick up and move to the side when a record completed playing, wait for another record to drop, and then move back and drop the needle on the new record. If we wanted to hear the same song over and over, we left only one record on the turntable. That is what I did with my favorite song “Running Bear Loved Little White Dove” sung by Sonny James. We bought all our records at Waddinger’s Record Store behind the Town Hall. It had a large 45 record as a sign in the front of the store.

Another Christmas my mother gave my brother Neil a J.C. Higgin’s single shot bolt action .22 rifle for his Christmas present. He was 11 years old. Neil was on Cheshire’s Rifle Team. He earned awards as a junior and senior member. He still had the rifle when he passed away. The rifle range was in the Chapman Elementary School.

Christmas Day was always very special. My mother served a delicious turkey dinner and all the trimmings purchased from Cruess’s market. We enjoyed homemade gravy, turnips, mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce. Ma made the stuffing by mixing Wonder Bread slices broken into small pieces with seasoning and Land O’Lakes butter. The mixture was then stuffed inside the turkey to cook, hence the name stuffing. We always had appetizers before Christmas dinner consisting of a plate with celery stalks filled with cream cheese and different types of pickles and olives. We enjoyed Table Talk pumpkin, mincemeat, and apple pies for dessert. We had more than enough food and guests were always welcomed. Merry Christmas!

Kevin Synnott is a lecturer in the Department of Business Administration at Eastern Connecticut State University.