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The Little Red Christmas Ball

In 1951, we lived in a small row home on Wishart Street in the section of Philadelphia known as Kensington.

As was the custom, my grandfather was selling Christmas trees to make a little extra money. He hadn’t worked a full-time job since the textile companies left the city, so every extra dime he could get was important. He and my grandmother lived on Lippincott Street, just around the corner from our home.

My sister, mother, and grandmother would sit in the kitchen and make wreaths from the broken branches of the trees. Our own tree was sitting in the very small yard of our house and as so often was the case, the neighborhood cats had confiscated it for a urinal.

On Christmas Eve, my grandfather and older brother placed the tree in its stand and put on the higher decorations, while my mom took care of the tinsel and lower decorations. To me, every year it was the best tree that I had ever seen.

The thing about Christmas Eve was that we often had visitors, friends my mother hadn’t seen in a while. She would give them a highball and something to eat, and they were off to someone else’s house. Speaking of highballs, the best thing about the holidays and other parties was that there was always ginger ale leftover. It was a real treat.

At some point in the evening, I was forced to go to bed because Santa would soon arrive. Who could sleep on Christmas Eve? But even with the laughter coming from the living room and kitchen, I would eventually drift off. By then, my brother, who was four years older than me, was also forced to go to bed. We shared an eight by 10-foot bedroom.

On Christmas morning, we were up bright and early. The anticipation was unbearable. As we quickly descended the narrow staircase, we could see the beautiful tree, lights shining and tinsel glittering. Under the tree were the presents. They were all wrapped in colorful paper. It was so exciting that we did not want to eat or do anything other than rip the paper off of the colorfully wrapped presents.

My mom saved all year so we could have a good Christmas, and she was always able to provide multiple gifts for her kids. My sister, who was ten years older than me, did not appreciate the screaming and noise my brother and I would make, but eventually, she got out of bed and joined in the fun.

It’s funny: Of the gifts I received, the only one I remember is a little red ball. It was about 5 inches in diameter, bright red, and air-filled. It was the best ball I had ever owned. All day that ball went where I went. It was never out of my hands.

Before dinner, my Uncles Al and Bud and their families came by. It was the highlight of Christmas to have our cousins visit. My Uncle Al was living in the Northeast Village, a neighborhood created for WW2 veterans, and Uncle Bud lived in Merchantville, NJ.

My cousins and I decided to go out to the street and play ball. Of course, the little red ball was the main attraction. We threw it to each other, laughing as we missed it and being amazed when we didn’t. It was a wonderful Christmas with family and the little red ball.

Back and forth the ball went, and then I missed it, and it rolled into Howard Street just as a car was coming by. I screamed for it to stop, not sure if I was yelling at the driver or the ball. Neither stopped, and the little red ball was squashed under the tire of that beastly 1950’s auto.

I couldn’t believe it. I picked the ball up, and it was split almost in half. I screamed and ran into the house. My little red ball, my prized Christmas possession, was gone. As it is with children, I soon got over it, but for some reason, I have never forgotten my wonderful little red Christmas ball or the fabulous Christmases of my childhood.

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