Tiny Tim’s Christmas memories

Friday 26 December — feast of St. Stephen

You know me, dear readers, I’m a renowned aficionado of all things Christmas. This should come as no surprise. My parents, after all, named me after Tiny Tim. Not Tiny Tim the ukulele-strumming crooner. Strictly speaking, not even Tiny Tim Cratchit, the classic Dickens’ character. No, I’m named after the main character in a cartoon strip that ran in the funny papers from 1933 to 1958.

My father (whose given name was Everett) spent most of his boyhood on crutches. This was due to a birth defect. His nickname was “Tiny Tim” or, eventually, just “Tim.” When his first child was born, I was not named “Everett” but rather called by the name by which everyone knew my father — “Tim.” Whenever I find myself given over to too much gravitas, I’ve simply to remember the fact that I’m named after a cartoon. Herein are the Christmas memories of Tiny Tim, otherwise known as the Reverend Timothy J. Goldrick — yours truly. 

For a little child, Christmas is all about gifts. I remember the gift my Grandfather Correia made for me on my very first Christmas. It was a wooden rocking horse. It was one of those gifts one has to grow into. I remember the rocking horse not because I have a photographic memory, but rather because it’s still around someplace.

I remember being allowed to help decorate the Christmas tree. My first assigned task was to hang the plastic ornaments that went on the bottom of the tree. Of course I hung the whole lot of them on two or three branches. They were adjusted once I left the room. Later I came to realize that all the breakable glass ornaments were out of my reach — a clever safety strategy.

My mother always hung the cardboard angel from her first childhood Christmas tree. She would also hang the red toy airplane from her brother’s last Christmas. He died at the age of 15. And she would hang the faded red cardboard egg, wrapped in frazzled gold garland. What that was all about, I still have no idea. 

My father’s job was to string the lights and place the gold foil star on top. In those days, nobody used these modern tiny white lights. Our lights were large and multi-colored. They had two wires connecting them. One wire was red and the other green. They had clips on the back. If one light went out, they all did. We even had a couple of those fashionable new “bubble lights.” These were very hot indeed, I seem to remember for some reason.

The final task was to hang the silver tinsel we preserved from year to year. Nobody back in the day paid any heed to the fact that it was lead. I carefully placed tinsel on the lower branches in great handfuls. The upper branches took no time at all. I just flung the tinsel in the air.

Then I sat down to admire the finished tree in all its glory. I would put a Bing Crosby recording on the record player. As I sat contemplating the Christmas tree, I would squint my eyes so that the bulbs appeared more numerous. 

I remember my first Nativity scene. My mother walked down to Woolworth’s Five and Ten one Saturday morning and brought back a cardboard stable with glued-in-place figures. Other years, she came home with free standing figures — a herd of sheep, a shepherd or two, three kings, and a camel. 

I remember a pop-up paper Nativity scene I kept in my bedroom. It was a gift from Msgr. John McKeon to all us kids in Holy Family Elementary School. I was in first grade. 

I remember from my childhood the massive Nativity scene in St. Lawrence Church. I remember just where it went and how it was arranged. Much later, as a priest, it fell to me to set up that very same parish Nativity.

I remember other Christmas gifts as well. There was the Davy Crockett “coonskin” cap and the Roy Rogers jacket with fringed sleeves (my sister had a Dale Evans outfit). There was the “Howdy Doody” dummy with moveable jaw, just like Buffalo Bob’s. There was the multi-figured farm set and the Lincoln Logs. 

One year, my Aunt Jeanne and Uncle Bob, who were living in Germany, mailed a puzzling gift to our family. What was it? How was it used? We’d received our first Advent wreath but, back then, who knew?

My father would pack us all in the old beach wagon to go see the Christmas lights around town. The best lights were on the Common in downtown New Bedford. The students at the vocational school set that up every year.

Christmas Midnight Mass was a must. As an altar boy, it was difficult to stay awake, but I did. I would hike up Tarkiln Hill with my sister Mary and “Buster,” a buddy of mine (who wasn’t Catholic.) 

Take a tip from Tiny Tim, treasure your Christmas memories.

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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