Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Life Before Sarah Palin

We all had lives before we heard of Sarah Palin. We all have lives now. Some visitors to this blog and other so-called anti-Palin blogs seem to think we have no life now except for thinking about her.  I had an email exchange recently with someone who made a comment along those lines and I responded that American society follows  celebrity gossip. National Enquirer and reality TV help to create some celebrities just to follow their ups and downs.  When televisions were first becoming household appliances, daily afternoon soap operas became an addiction for many. And  those personal stories were entirely fiction.

I’m not saying that the purpose of this blog is celebrity gossip, but I am saying we are not out of the mainstream  in following the actions, family problems, tweets and Facebook postings of a set of people we were introduced to on television. We are in the minority to be following Babygate, but it we get our collective wish in the new year, that will change.

That’s all I’m going to say today about the Palins.  Amtrak is taking me home for Christmas, and as the miles and the hours go by, I’ve been thinking about another Christmas time train trip long ago, and written about it In a letter to my grown daughters.  Below I am posting portions of that letter here, to share a bit of myself with my readers, should you be inclined to read what’s below. After Christmas,  I’ll be back with Palin postings,  Levi on my mind (does anyone know what was he doing in LA last week?) and maybe a look at Bristol and the green sweater ( because that post has been in “working on it” stage since I finished with Sue Williams).

So, here we go, back to the days before Sally met Chuck. Back to 1959.  In  American politics, a young senator named John F. Kenney was being talked about as a candidate for the highest office in the land, and in spite of being Catholic, he thinks he has a chance.  I was  four years old.
Half a century ago snow seemed to come earlier in western New York, and it piled up deeper.  Television broadcasts were in black and white, and for fifteen minutes on weeknights,  David Huntley and Chet Brinkley provided the nation with all the news of the day.

Christmas 1959 was difficult for my parents. My older sister was six, I was four and our little brother had passed away in September. He was only a year and a half old, he died unexpectedly of an attack of asthma,  and as I look at that now, I see that  my mom and dad must have still been reeling from their loss. Making merry wouldn’t have been easy so soon after their son died. But we girls naturally expected Santa to come and friends and family probably reminded our parents that there had to be presents and a tree for “the girls.”. Looking back on that, I see that neighbors were especially kind to us that year. 

Our tradition was to open presents on Christmas morning. But in 1959 everything was done differently. An elderly couple that lived down the street joined us on Christmas Eve as we had an early opening of presents from Santa. The woman who rented the apartment on the second floor of our house was there, too. My parents weren’t people who socialized, so this gathering was unusual.  I remember it being dark outside. It impressed me that  we were up late, with grownups. Grandma must have been there, too. She was always part of our lives, she lived in town,  and was a great support to my mom in our care.  I remember being given a doll size playpen. It had bright colored dowls – red, blue, yellow and green - and l loved it. My pink metal doll highchair was a gift that year, too. And a big, tall book with pictures of baby animals. I got a tea set that was tin, with a red, white, black and blue pattern in it. And, of course, the wonderful gift from Aunt Marian of my Revlon doll (a pre-Barbie fashion doll with stockings, earrings, girdle, bra and extra outfits). It was as close to spoiled as I ever came as a child, and I think the visitors were mostly responsible for seeing that we had Santa gifts. 

My very best friend and cohort in crimes of four-year-olds, Mary Alice, called after we had finished with gifts. This must be the first telephone conversation I have in my memories. My mother stood right by me, telling me not to let Mary Alice know that Santa had already come. I’m sure I obeyed. What we did talk about, I’m not sure. Probably her mother wanted her to wish me a good time on my upcoming trip to Texas. 

Yes, we were headed for Texas later that night. My father worked for the Erie Railroad and had employee passes for all of us to go by train, leaving that night.  Again, it must have been a decision made after my brother died. A way to avoid being home during the holidays, seeing that empty corner in the living room where his crib had been. For me and for my sister, it was an adventure. We were oblivious to the undertones, and as an adult, I am grateful for that. 

I remember the railroad station on Christmas Eve, 1959.  I remember being in a waiting room. It was strange, and I was intrigued. Kind of like church, the seats were long and wooden. But, unlike  our church, the seats did not have three inch thick cushions. When the train pulled in, we moved with  the crowd of people, dressed warmly, assembling to board the train. Again, the darkness impressed me. I must not have been outside in the dark very much when I was a young child. It was unusual. It was a world  that belonged to grown-ups. I was a visitor in a strange land. 

When it came our turn to board, the steps were huge. I was tiny. Dad and my sister made it up the steps, Mom behind me was holding her purse in one hand and my hand with her other. She pulled my arm  way up over my head, coaxing me up. A man’s voice behind us somewhere said something to indicate he wanted us to hurry up. Don’t remember the words, but I do remember it didn’t feel friendly. It felt critical. I was a little kid in an adult’s world. Sometimes I didn’t feel welcome.

On the train that first night, Christmas Eve, we had our own sleeper car. If I am correct, that was arranged by my dad’s brother, Uncle Phil who was a Vice President (of something) for the railroad. Our car had a set of bunk beds, our own little bathroom, a sink, and a table by the windows – sort of a booth-like setting. That train sped through the darkness of western New York and into Ohio as December 24th became December 25th,, the last week of the decade. Mom pointed out lights in houses and towns as we passed them. Christmas lights in windows in the dark, late at night, way past everyone’s bedtime. There was magic in the air. I looked for, but didn’t see, Santa in the dark Christmas skies.

I wanted to sleep on the top bunk and so did my sister. She got to do that. I didn’t. Mom and I slept on the bottom because  Mom thought I was too little and might fall out if I was on top. Lot’s of times in my childhood decisions about me were made on the basis of my being little. This was one example  I’ve remembered for over 50 years.

The dining car in the morning served Shredded Wheat. There must have been other choices, but that’s what I know I had. There were waiters. Black men whose white uniforms starkly contrasted with their skin – something that I noted with curiosity when my bowl was set in front of me. Our town  had very few African Americans, maybe two families. My mother had already told me why their skin was darker than mine. “They stayed out in the sun too long.”  At four years old I spent my outdoor playtime in the shade, even if the only shade I could find was from a Lilac bush. No way was I going to “stay out in the sun too long.”

The train had a layover in Chicago. That must have been Christmas Day. At the terminal there, my sister and I saw escalators for the first time. Moving stairs! More magic. I don’t know if we tried to go up the down side, or if we tried climbing them like regular stairs while they rose up, but whatever it was we did, some adult yelled at us for playing on them. The world of grownups was not always a friendly place.

On the train, we had regular seats in passenger cars. The sleeper car was only for the first night. I liked the passenger cars. Some of the adults there were nice to my  sister and me.  One man was amused by my four-year-old precociousness.  I was friendly and curious and bright, and he must have liked kids. Mom, knowing how she is, worrying about us and worrying that we not bother anyone, probably kept us on a fairly short leash, and wouldn’t let us “bother” anyone for very long. I remember learning the slogan to a toothpaste commercial from the man on the train. He was in advertising and he’d written the jingle “I wonder where the yeller went when I brush my teeth with Pepsodent.”  On one of my trips back to my seat after talking with him, I excitedly showed my mom a dime he’d given me. That was a lot of money.  It came with instructions, I told my mother. “He said to call him when I’m grown up.”

Much of the train time I played with my new Revlon doll. My sister had one, too, and we played together. Scenery flew by out the windows. At one point a buzz began among the passengers, and we children  were told to watch out the window for a big river. We were going to cross the Mississippi!  Now, I’d probably never heard of the Mississippi before that, but that didn’t matter. We were pumped with anticipation. We were taught to spell it, too. That was a long word –eleven letters! I must have sing-songed those letters for a year after that, saying it as fast as I could and emphasizing the repetitive vowel and expecting amazement from my audience.- “I can spell Mississippi – M-I-S-S-I-S-S-I-P-P-I.” When we crossed over, and I looked down at the water, I’ve got to be honest, I was not impressed. It was muddy and not so very big. Not as big as I’d built up in my imagination. I didn’t let on.  I wouldn’t have wanted to  disappoint the adults.

When we got to Texas we entered into a wonderful world of cousins. My mom’s sister had three kids,  boys the ages of my sister and me, and their older sister. Her nickname was Mamie,  the same as the country’s first lady. There was no snow in Texas! Where we had come from, there was snow. But  where our cousins lived, we could go to the playground during Christmas vacation and not wear boots!

There were more presents for us at our cousin’s house. I got another tea set, this one was a pink and gray Melmac (1950s plastic  in a perfect duo of 1950s colors). The set  replicated the full sized Frank Lloyd Wright dish sets that were trendy in the baby-boomer years of  post WWII America. My cousin David, my age, had a toy car that climbed walls. He must have gotten it for Christmas because he was playing with it a lot, showing off. Probably his brother Jimmy had one, too, but my attention was on the cousin who was my age.  Can’t tell you how it worked, but there was a pull string and that thing had traction. It made more of an impression than my tea set.

At night, I slept in Mamie’s bed and she slept on the floor next to it. I slept with a teddy bear that wound up and played “Braham’s Lullabye” He had belonged to my baby brother, and I had adopted him. His plastic face had a big smile, the rest of him was low pile fur, and I think he even had a red shirt. Mamie liked the bear. After I would fall asleep, she would take it. In the morning, I’d wake up and find it in her arms. I didn’t like that.

Grandma came to Texas that Christmas, too. She must have flown, because she wasn’t on the train with us. She stayed after we left, for another month.  Now that I’m thinking about all this, I wonder if that was extra hard for my mother when we got home and grandma was still in Texas. My grandma was the best grandma a kid could have and we spent lots of time at her house. It must have been extra lonely for my mom to have her own mother so far away when she was dealing with such sadness.  As for me, I missed my grandma that month she was gone. She played a large roll in my life. She died in 1983 and I still miss her.

Thinking about the Christmas of 1959 makes me appreciate the kindness of family, friends, and neighbors who did what they could to see that my sister and I had presents from Santa that year, and that in spite of my parents' grief, there was a plan implemented to help them deal with the holiday in a way that brought them some comfort and helped them make memories with their surviving daughters. They were Christmas angels.

May you all have at least one angel in your life this Christmas. 


Anonymous said...

Well a nice story. I was young in 59 getting ready to come back to the states from Germany with my family. Your story brings back memories. JFK was big in my young life. My Italian Grandmother who never came to the states had a picture of our president JFK hanging on her wall. I really thought that was something. My parents were so happy that we had our first catholic president that they named my brother after JFK. Can you think anyone would think that highly of quitter Palin? I don't think so. Funny thing when we got back to the states we were assigned to Texas. My dad retired from the air force in 63 and we moved to the east coast. Loved the east coast. Especially Maryland, DC area. You enjoy your holiday.

B said...

A sweet story. I don't remember a period of several days when I was four. Perhaps that is because I was fortunate enough not to experience a tragedy that made everything so memorable. Your writing is so captivating, I would read your blog even if it weren't focused on Babygate. Merry Christmas, Allison!

Anonymous said...

Your lovely letter also resonated with me - a child of the 50's. Our metal highchair was blue and my sisters and I also played with the Melmac dish set.

More importantly, we also had a beloved Grandmother who always lived just at the end of the block or with us. My dad had MS and my mom had to work, so our grandmother also provided care. She was a wonderful seamstress, so our dolls had many wonderful outfits. While I don't have grandchildren as yet, I know what a wonderful gift a loving and nurturing grandma is and how lucky I was. I know she continues to watch over me.

I hope you have a wonderful trip and a Happy Holiday.

Anonymous said...

I was seven years old in 1959, also in New York state. My grandfather (an immigrant) had just died the year before, and after all these years I still miss him. He taught me the Rom language when no one else wanted to admit he was Rom, despite his extremely successful career as a furrier in NYC.
I rememeber Christmases with maybe one small present, but I remember the stocking filled with oranges and nuts and little things.
But what I most remember is the family gatherings, the meals, the warm feelings. Just that special closeness that, as it turned out, we always had the rest of the year.
And that's how I celebrate Christmas on December 25 and the rest of the year.

Ivyfree said...

Oh my. My sister still has the pink metal doll's high chair she got from Santa.

Anonymous said...

Thank You for the heartfelt story of Christmas Past, Allison. You are a very gifted writer. I was born in the 60's and remember the warm and fuzzy feeling of love and family at Christmastime that I try now to emulate for my own family. I find the older I become the more I cherish the memories of the past holiday's. I am a first time commenter and a loyal reader and I would like to wish you and yours a happy and healthy Merry Christmas!

Chicago, IL

Anonymous said...

A lovely story, Allison. I am a child of the 60s, but I remember how the adult world and the kid world seemed like two different planets. I am only now finding out things that were happening while I played with my toys and my sisters. I hope someday I can write about it all as beautifully as you have here.

B said...

O/T, but I notice those outraged by Palin's deceit surrounding a child tend to be us 50- and 40- something women. Perhaps because many of us have given birth and then tried to guide our children be educated, productive, happy, self-reliant, etc. This is, to me, a constant challenge, even where DS is not involved. She acts like it is all nothing--because that's her role in Trig's life.

Sarah Palin has a serpent's heart said...

Wonderful story Allison. I was born in the 70's but I always wondered what it would have been like to live in the 50's.

Dis Gusted said...

great writing once again Allison - thank you for the Christmas story

Anonymous said...

There's a difference between celebrity gossip that is often mundane and believing every little thing we're "told" by whomever, regardless of veracity.

There's way too much of the latter in today's world. About everyone in the tabloids. People like to twist things, and construe extraordinary things from ordinary events. There are a lot of liars out there. Too many people want to feel part of the drama and action. This is how tabloids maintain a presence. Sarah is just one example of this.

Yes it's natural to wonder about our fellow man, but assuming hateful things about someone else is just wrong.

Anonymous said...

B - I don't see anything wrong with how Sarah talks about special needs children. Many MANY DS children can live independently. I think her point was that we have got to stop treating these people as if they're different. Remember, Heather sent that emotional email in OCT 2007.

Nothing is coincidental. I believe that. I can fully see Sarah starting the search for a DS baby as soon as she read that email from her sister.

(Btw, I am not in agreement that EVERYONE should choose life in these cases. Foster care is a cluster and there aren't enough adopters for all the prospective SN children. It's really just a personal decisions.)

However There are people who do believe any "abnormal" baby should be aborted for that reason, because they won't live a "normal", white bread life.
Please understand that these people do exist in larger numbers than you'd think.

Ok I am done. lol

Happy Holidays everyone!

B said...

@Anon 4:18. Please direct me to that email. Heather didn't send it to me.

B said...

@serpent's heart. Children in the 50's were rarely given choices or given advance notice of events and trips. We were supposed to be "sweet," "seen and not heard." Around 1961 we had bomb drills where the whole town turned out its lights and sound for an hour (to hide?) and where we crawled under our desks at school but weren't told why.

I suspect your being born in the 70's was better. I enjoy your blog. Thanks for doing it.

abbafan said...

Hi Allison! Thank you for sharing your memories of your youth with us; I truly admire your writing skills. I was born in 1962, at the height of the Cuban missile crisis. I was supposed to be a Christmas baby, but my mother went into premature labour and I was born two months early. I also have fond memories of Christmas from my youth. As the youngest of five siblings born to Eastern European immigrants who arrived in Canada during the post-war era, Christmas was a special time indeed. I can recall visitors to our home who were from different ethnic backgrounds, and how everyone socialized and shared their various backgrounds. A lot of immigrant families settled here in northern Ontario, where the men gained employment in the nickel mines and gold mines, and the women stayed home and took care of the kids. We never knew who our grandparents or aunts and uncles were; either they were casualties of war or separated by political ideology;i.e. the Iron Curtain. My mother finally seen her younger in 1996, two years before she passed away; she last saw him as a toddler in 1943. It was hard to fathom what my parents went through knowing they had no direct family here; us five kids were family to them. Even though we are adults now and have our respective families, we still share Christmas time together and never forget our heritage and the love our parents gave us. Thank you once again Allison for sharing your childhood memories with us. Merry Christmas and all the best in the New Year; I will continue to look forward to your posts. Eddie

Anonymous said...

Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays!

Anonymous said...

Great story and wonderful writing! I'm a child of the 70s, but also from western NY. Snow.... yes, the snow. I miss it now that I live in the south.

Merry Christmas AND Happy Holidays to all, and to all a good night!


Anonymous said...

I think it's weird that people credit Sarah for changing the country in some way. I don't see a change at all. If anything, people have just become more aware that shit aint right in DC and want it fixed. While there are the limited few who are set in their ways racist, I don't think there are racist undertones in any action thats come out in the last 3 years. People just have noticed the sheer dishonesty in our President (and congress) and want it addressed.

Automatically attaching racism to this does more harm thn good and basically gives dishonest people a pass. Where are all the blog posts about blatant lies about recent bills? About the presidents appealing to people's emotions to win their support.? That behavior is the opposite of a good leader.

B said...

Anon 12:16 doth protest too much, methinks, the charge of racism. BTW, this is The Palin Place, not The Anti-Obama Place.

Anonymous said...

Allison, what a beautiful story. You're a great storyteller. I thought it was hilarious when you said you stayed in the shade to avoid the sun. Adults some times forget how seriously kids take what they say to them. So cute. I'm amazed at the amount of detail you can remember when your were only 4 years old. Trains and Christmastime...It's a story for a Norman Rockwell painting!

Merry Holidays to you and yours!


conscious at last said...

@ Anon 12:16

First, Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you.

Next, what, exactly are you trying to say?

Seriously- I see you've become acquainted with some complex ideas by reading the progressive blogs over the last three years. However, the next step would be to learn how to use the ideas.
When you make gross generalizations, as you did, they lack any real meaning.

Allison said...

Hello consious at last! Thanks for the holiday wishes, I hope you are enjoying yours, too. And as sincere as the well wishes are your questions. I'm loving that.

I also love to learn, and yes, I read a lot of things. I also listen to political pundits and I'm in a higher education environment five days a week. If you and I could sit down and talk I bet it would be a good time.

Can you be more specific about the particular "gross generalizations" that you'd like me to explain? This comment thread is getting old, so send me an email at and I will gladly respond at length. Your candor is very valuable and I hope you'll find this message and write to me soon.

Anonymous said...

Isn't it funny that the anti Palin blogs give everyone the opportunity to post a comment but the pro Palin blogs do not give everyone the same opportunity! The Pro Palin blogs wipe comments and ban users that challenge the Palin narrative. They have no problem taking away first amendment rights to silence their critics, and they will spew their stupidity on every available Palin blog they can find. The bat shit crazy people are always blind to injustice, and those are the only kind of people that are still supporting Palin. Keep up the good work, as long as Sarah Palin keeps living her life publicly on Fox News and making idiotic comments on a regular basis, she deserves whatever she gets in return. After three years of her relentless negativity she has dug her own grave. I hope she rots in it, and maybe then she will finally STFU! :)