For the past several years as I have been working on this local history project on La Farge and as the year comes to an end, I have written a Local History Notebook column on a walk down La Farge’s Main Street. Sometimes the walks have been from the past, as I have skipped through time to take the stroll from the time of my youth. Often I take the walk in a particular year in time and then use it to compare and contrast to another time in the town’s history. Perhaps it is time once again to be taking that walk, at least to usher in the Yuletide Season.
The Christmas decorations are once again up on the streetlight poles on Main Street – a sure sign that my little walk down that thoroughfare is upon us again. Might be a little early for the decorations – I prefer post-Thanksgiving for trotting out the tinsel and Rudolph’s red nose – but I am thankful that it wasn’t up before Halloween. The stars and Christmas trees comprised of the little glitter lights look really nice at night. On the first night that they were illuminated the decorations all worked except for one and that was on the streetlight next to the bank. (Is there any symbolism in that - such as paying your light bill on time?) Looking at the streetlight decorations made me think back to what they were like when I was a kid growing up on La Farge’s Main Street.
In the early 1950’s, La Farge’s Main Street was decorated for the holidays to enhance the shopping experience in town. Nearly every store building was occupied at that time and most of those businesses wanted people to do their Christmas shopping in their stores. At that time there were a variety of stores to offer the Christmas shopper plenty of gift options for the holidays.
The decorations on the streetlight poles were usually strings of fresh evergreen garlands intertwined with strings of colored Christmas lights. Those Christmas lights back then were regular size light bulbs, probably 25-watters, in all the Xmas colors of red, green, blue, yellow, and white. The garlands would be attached to the top of the streetlight pole then twirled around the pole down to a few feet from ground level. Sprinkle a little snowfall on the lighted garlands twirling around the poles and you had a scene straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration.
With those strings of lights coming down so low on the poles, there was a temptation by some young Xmas Grinch’s to unscrew the bulbs and perhaps throw them against the side of the Mars Theater in a nighttime lark of larceny. But after a visit later that evening by village policeman Mush Marshall, the young lads made adequate retribution and avoided that little temptation for the rest of the Yuletide season.
In addition to the lighted evergreen garlands being strung on the streetlight poles, more of those same-lighted garlands were stretched across Main Street on wires at several places connecting to a streetlight or storefront on the other side. I seem to remember about seven or eight places along the downtown where this Christmas canopy stretched across the streets. There were two on south State Street, welcoming in shoppers coming in from Viola-way. Then there were another five or six along Main Street, from Nuzum’s all the way up to my folk’s grocery store (where the Episcope office is located today).
I cannot seem to remember a village Christmas tree on Main Street during this time. I know that the big pine tree next to the barbershop building had served as the village Christmas tree earlier, but I can’t recollect that tree having lights at Christmastime. Then later, the pine tree next to the old fire house (now the post office) served as the village’s Christmas Tree, but that tree was too small for this early 1950’s time that I’m reminiscing about. Maybe somebody with a better memory than me can help out on this – or perhaps the village didn’t have an official Christmas tree during that time?
Today, the village contracts with a company to come in and put up the Main Street decorations, but back in that day, I seem to remember the village and utility employees getting it done. Ray Young, Leland Dempsey, and Boob Shird usually were helping to get those garlands up for the holiday season – part of the job description back then.
Another holiday tradition back then was a visit to the village by Santa Claus to hand out treats to all the good little boys and girls of La Farge. Santa usually appeared in La Farge for this visit on a Saturday afternoon in early December. He never came to town in a sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer, but usually showed up in the back of the village truck. The good little kiddees would be waiting by the side of the bank building and the village truck would pull up with Jolly Old St. Nick standing in the box in the back. He would have boxes of paper bags filled with peanuts and candy, which he would disperse to the awaiting throng. One year as this annual Xmas miracle was unfolding, I thought that Santa appeared to be village employee Ray Young, who usually drove the village truck instead of riding in the box in the back. But I kept those suspicions to myself – why ruin Christmas for the others in attendance.
There was usually also a free show for the kids that same afternoon at the Mars Theater. We usually headed right over to the movie house after getting our bags of treats. That must have hurt the popcorn sales mightily at the theater for that afternoon cinema freebie, but many of us would be back to the theater later that night for the regular show. We would lay down our dimes at that time for the popped treat (ten cents for a regular bag and twenty for buttered).
The movie selection for the afternoon free show was always chosen for kids to enjoy. Sometimes the movie was a rootin’ tootin’ Western starring Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, or Lash Larue. Other times it might be a comedy featuring the Bowery Boys or Francis the Talking Mule. There were usually multiple cartoons before the movie too, so we could all guffaw to the antics of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig.
Reminiscing from a time over a half-century ago about the Christmas Season in a small town along the Kickapoo has been fun. Here, have a peanut or two and a piece of hard candy – the memories are on me.