Christmas time in the city

If one reads the local online newspapers, or even the not-so-local newspapers, many of the comments about Fall River are pretty derogatory. Some are valid, some just seem to be folks who have to complain about something.

I’ve lived in Fall River all my life, more than half a century (I’ll leave it at that). And yes, this town has its fair share of violent crimes and nasty inhabitants. Most places do.

I have never remotely thought about packing up family and belongings and moving elsewhere. Fall River is in my blood, and I suspect will be until my heart doesn’t pump that blood any longer.

At this time of year, that heart is warmed by great memories of growing up under the shadows of the twin steeples adorning St. Anne’s Church near midtown.

Maybe it’s the more than half century of existence, or maybe it’s just remembering things the way I prefer, but December in Fall River was colder and snowier.

Many of my recollections of Christmas time in the “Riv,” revolve around South/Kennedy/South/Kennedy Park (its name alternated so many times it was hard to keep track) right across the street from good old St. Anne’s.

This was a time to spend Saturdays playing tackle football in the upper part of the park, and Sundays ice skating on the outdoor rink mid-park. It was great fun to skate past our girl classmates and abscond with their stocking caps, that then were about four-feet long. Then the chase was on. Great fun in simpler times.

I recall at the top of the park, directly across from the church, the city would erect a Nativity scene, complete with live animals (at least that’s what my mind tells me).

On Friday nights, I would walk to downtown Fall River, just a few blocks from home, with my mom. Back then downtown Fall River, on Friday night, no matter what the season, was a beehive of activity with shoppers filling the street. But at Christmas, the lights on the street lamps and in the plethora of shops, stores, restaurants and movie theaters was mesmerizing.

The “gigantic” Cherry & Webb store always had a four- or five-story garland Christmas tree on its facade. It was magnificent, but not so much fun to enter — all women’s clothes.

Next door was McWhirr’s which was more my speed. It would be great to duck into that store, fully decorated, maybe grab a hot cocoa at the counter and make a quick stop at the Cub and Boy Scout section.

But the real treat was heading just a bit more north of McWhirr’s to Woolworth’s and Newberry’s, a pair of true “five-and-dime” stores, with two floors of great stuff. There were toys, models (to build, not today’s definition), candy, and comic books, all accompanied by lights, tinsel, garland and Christmas music.

I loved downtown Fall River at Christmas time. I loved the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people and the cold.

It was so much simpler then. The retailers weren’t hawking video game boxes costing hundreds of dollars, or smart phones costing even more.

It was about coloring books; water paints; car, plane and ship models; board games; and sweets. But most of all it was about that warm feeling on the inside and cold bite on the outside. That was Christmas time in my city. 

© 2019 The Anchor and Anchor Publishing    †    Fall River, Massachusetts