Notes From The Cactus Patch

Tall Tales and Ripping Yarns from Texas

Archive for the tag “Christmas”

“A Fort Worth, Texas Kind of Christmas”


A personal recount of my childhood Christmas memories.

Photo by: Elf -O-Mat Studios

Riding a ceiling-mounted “Rocket Train” to nowhere around the basement of a department store doesn’t seem like a Christmas thing, but that’s what thousands of other Texas kids and I did every year in the 1950s.

Leonard Brothers Department Store occupied two square blocks of downtown Fort Worth real estate and was known as the Southwest’s Macy’s. They offered everything the big shot stores in the East carried, and then, hundreds of items no retailer in their right mind would consider.

If you had a mind to, one could purchase a full-length mink coat with optional mink mittens, the latest women’s high-fashion clothing line from Paris France, an Italian cut-crystal vile of Elizabeth Taylors spit, James Dean’s signature hair tonic, Rock Hudson’s autographed wedding photos, a housebroken Llama, an aluminum fishing boat and motor, a new car, a pole barn, a nice two-story craftsman home “build it yourself kit” delivered to your lot, chickens, barb wire, hay, horses and cows, a 30-30 Winchester rifle, a 40 caliber autographed General George Custer Colt pistol, a bottle of good hootch and a Ford tractor. That’s about as Texas as it gets.

The Christmas season in downtown Fort Worth was internationally recognized for its innovative and wonderous decorations. The righteous city fathers figured the best way to out-do Dallas, a full-time effort, was to line every building with white lights from top to bottom and install large glowing decorations on every lamp pole, street light, and building façade available. If that didn’t make you “ooooh and ahhhh,” then you needed to go home and hide in a closet.

A week, or so, after Thanksgiving, my parents would take my sister and me downtown to see the decorations and visit the Leonard Brothers Department Store. Santa just happened to be in their basement taking advanced verbal orders from every crumb cruncher that could climb the stairs and plop on his lap.

My sister, in between screams and crying fits, always asked for the latest doll. She was scared senseless of “HO-HO,” but she somehow managed to spit out her order. Like clockwork, every year, I asked for a Daisy BB Gun with a year’s supply of stainless silver ammo ( for killing werewolves), a full-size Elliot Ness operable Thompson Sub Machine Gun, or an Army surplus Bazooka with real rockets and a long, razor-sharp Bowie knife encased in a fringed leather holster. It was a 1950s boy thing; weapons were what we longed for. How else could we defeat Santa Anna at the Alamo or win World War II, again? Our neighborhood may have sported the best-supplied “kid army” on the planet, and jolly old Santa was our secret arms dealer; parents non-the wiser. I finally got the BB Gun, but Santy was wise enough to not bring the other request.

Walking down the stairs to the store’s basement was the thrill I waited for all year. There, hanging above my head, was the beautiful red and silver tinseled sign, “Toy Land,” kid nirvana, and the Holy Grail all in one room. The smell of burned popcorn and stale chocolate candy wafted up the stairs, and I could hear the cheesy Christmas choir music and the sound the Rocket Train made as it glided along the ceiling-mounted rails. I almost pissed my jeans.

Hundreds, if not thousands of parents jostled down isles of toys, pushing, grabbing, snarling like a pack of wild dogs fighting for that last toy; the holiday spirit and common courtesy was alive and well. The queue of kids for the Rocket Train snaked through the basement like a soup line.

There, sitting on his mini-mountain top perch, sat old red-suited Santa Claus and his elfin apprentices, herding kids to his lap at break-neck speed. Each child got about fifteen-seconds, a black and white photograph, and then it was off the lap and down the steps. Kids were fast in those days; we memorized and practiced our list weeks before our visit for maximum impact. “Ho-Ho” had better be writing this stuff down. Kids don’t forget, squat.

Two Santa visits, four Rocket Train rides, and three popcorn bags later, our family unit departed Leonard’s for the new and improved “Leonard’s Christmas Tree Land,” located across the street from the main building. Thanks to the demolition of several winos infested abandoned buildings, the new lot was now the size of Rhode Island and held enough trees for every person and their dog in Texas.

Thousands, if not millions of fresh-cut trees awaited our choosing. Father, always the cheapskate, chose a sensible tree; not too big, not too small, yet full and fluffy with a lovely piney aroma. My sister and I pointed and danced like fools for the “pink flocked” tree in the tent, that cost the equivalent of a week’s salary. My parents enjoyed our cute antics. The sensible tree was secured to the top of our Nash Rambler station wagon, and we are homeward bound.

Pulling into our driveway, it was impossible to miss our neighbors extravagant holiday display. We had been away from home for 6 hours and returned to a full-blown holiday extravaganza that made our modest home look like a tobacco road share-croppers shack.

Our next-door neighbors, Mr. Mister and Mrs. Mister were the neighborhood gossip fodder. The couple moved from Southern California for his job. He, an aircraft-design engineer, and she, a former gopher girl at Paramount Studios. The Misters reeked new-found money and didn’t mind flaunting it. They drove tiny Italian sports cars and hired a guy to mow their lawn. His wife, Mrs. Mister, always had a Pall Mall ciggie in one hand and a frosty cocktail in the other. Father said she looked like a pretty Hollywood lady named Jane Mansfield, but Mother said she resembled a “gimlet-assed dime-store chippy.” I got the impression that the Misters were quite popular in the neighborhood.

Their Christmas display was pure Cecil B. DeMille. A life-size plywood sleigh, with Santa and his reindeer, covered the Mister’s roof, and 20 or more automated Elves and various holiday characters greeted passersby. Twinkling lights covered every bush and plant in the yard, and a large machine spat out thousands of bubbles that floated through the neighborhood. This was far more than Fort Worth was ready for.

The kill-shot was their enormous picture window that showcased a ceiling-high blue flocked tree bathed in color-changing lights. There, framed in the glow of their yuletide decor, sat Mr. and Mrs. Mister with their two poodles, Fred and Ginger, perched on their expensive modern sofa, sipping vermouth martinis like Hollywood royalty. This display of pompacious decadence didn’t go unnoticed by my parents.

Father hauled our puny tree into the living room and began unpacking lights for the decorating that would happen tomorrow evening. Mother hurried my sister and me off to bed. Visions of spying Elves, sugar plum pudding, and dangerous weapons danced in my head; Christmas was upon us.

Sometime after 10 PM, Father got hungry. Searching for sandwich fixings in the kitchen, he found a bottle of Jim Beam bourbon. Then he found a fresh half gallon of Egg-Nog, which of course, he enjoyed with the bourbon. While searching for bread to make the ham sandwich, he found two “Lux Laundry Soap Flake” boxes, with a dish-towel in each one. Then by chance, he discovered the food coloring. This gave him an idea for our sad little tree.

I awoke in a start. The sun was shining in my face, which meant I was late for school. I ran into the living room and was stopped in my tracks.

Our formally green tree was now flocked in thick pink snow, as were the curtains, the fireplace mantel, two chairs, the coffee table, and my father, who lay on the couch, passed out, with a half-eaten ham sandwich on his chest. My Mother sat a few feet away, sipping her coffee and smoking a Winston; my Louisville slugger lay on her lap. I was reluctant to approach her, but I had to know.

I timidly put my hand on her shoulder and asked, “Mom, is Dad going to be alright?” She took a sip of coffee and a drag from her ciggie and said, “well, for right now, he will be, but after he wakes up, who knows.”

“Thomas Fowl Is Laid To Rest”


Drawing by Betty Crocker

Now the “Rona” has ruined Thanksgiving and is well on the way to destroying Christmas. Santa is no fool; that flimsy mask will not protect him from the vile germ that inhabits every surface in our homes. God forbid he drinks that warm milk and eats those germ-infested homemade cookies, and then brushes against that hot zone of a tree. He won’t last the night, and millions of children will be left presentless.

Our large cities, New York, Chicago, and others are adding Thanksgiving dinner to their list of hit crimes. A family can’t commune and break bread together or go to church on this peaceful day, but a family can have a funeral or go to Walmart or a strip club. How considerate is that?

This year, I will post in the local obituary that our family is mourning the loss of an esteemed member, Thomas Fowl. Visitation and the funeral service will be at our family home on Thanksgiving day. Out of respect for poor Thomas, the family and friends are requested to bring a side dish of comfort food for the attendees. Thomas will be laid out for viewing on a beautiful china platter with all the trimmings. A toast of good wine will be made in his honor. The governor is invited to attend if he pleases. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

Post Christmas Thoughts …


Before Christmas day arrived, I had intended to publish a few short stories about my family and how we spent our holidays when I was a child. For once, real accounts of a typical 1950s family Christmas. One thing led to another, and my time was stolen for numerous menial task, and not a word was written, so I will post them next season, and write them early, maybe July, when there is no seasonal sentiment or Jim Beam involved.

Television commercials during December are calculated and crafted to tug on your heartstrings. Smart producers pull out the stops to turn every add into a Hallmark mini-movie. Dogs and kids are the ones that get me; save Chewie Dog from the shelter, Dogs visiting kids in the hospital, let Uncle Stan and his dog Ringo come to Christmas dinner even though he is a junkie felon. The Peloton “bike to nowhere” is especially irritating. The young wife, clearly fit and healthy receives a Peloton stationary workout machine from her husband on Christmas morning. Hubby is insinuating that she is too fat so he drops $2500 as a hint. The skinny wife will spend the next year video documenting her stationary “trip down hell street” with everyone on Peloton. She loses thirty pounds while riding fifty-thousand miles in her living room. How inspiring is that for young girls? A few weeks later, in her next commercial, she is guzzling Vodka like a Russian soldier while her two girlfriends ask, ” don’t you need to go home and ride your Peleton?”

The adds that send me over the top are the car and truck commercials. Beautiful young wives in designer snowsuits giving their husbands a pickup truck that costs as much as a South Padre condo. Then you have the hunky young husband surprising his lovely wife with an ultra-expensive exotic SUV parked in the driveway of their multi-million dollar home, and yes, everything is covered in snow, and the mansion is in the mountains. Who are these people? Do they exist? Well, they do in the minds of the Mad Men that manufacture this fantasy.

What they don’t show us, and for a good reason, is the receiving spouse chasing the other through the house, screaming and cursing, wielding a 12-inch carving knife, because now, they have additional crippling debt that neither can afford because they are paying off college loans, living above their means, and one of them is unemployed. That’s real-life folks. I have a friend that pulled this stunt a few years back, and even though his wife feigned surprise, she didn’t care much for the car because it wasn’t a Lexus. Art does not imitate life.

The final assault on healthy parenting and the Christmas spirit, is the “everyone gets a trophy” and the “helicopter” parenting commercials. One popular vignette shows an average looking spousal pair wrapping a roomful of “Frozen” toys for their little princess. In a moment of illumination, the little princes burst into the room to announce, ” I want to be a movie producer!” That’s it, folks, to the trash go the other gifts, and they come home from Walmart with movie cameras, computers, screen editing software, and a trophy. All for a girl of seven years old. Parents thirty years ago would have said, “you’ll get what Santa brings you and like it” and then given the kid a butt busting just for being an insulant brat. You have to hand it to Walmart, they now go after those parents with money, good credit, and no backbone, because they realize the kids run the show. Where is Doctor Phil and Doctor Laura? Someone on TV needs to address this syndrome.

That’s my take on what Christmas. My wife thinks I’m a Grinch, and I may be a bit of one, but not by choice. Many like myself remember the innocence and sacredness of the holiday, and wish, against all the odds, that one day that feeling might return. I have to sign off now, the Hallmark channel is running a Pat Boone Christmas Special marathon and my smores are ready.

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