Posts tagged: pennsylvania railroad

Christmas Memories

Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree 2008The Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center this year (2008) is from my hometown of Hamilton, New Jersey.  My father was a friend of Bill Varanyak, whose family donated the tree, and I know Bill too. My son works right down the street from where the tree stood for 77 years. I must have driven past this tree a few thousand times. You can read a story about the tree and the Varanyak family here in a Daily News article.

The photo of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree above was taken by my friend Jody Marchin. Double-click on the photo for a larger view.

The Times of Trenton has a nice article too, but it no longer has a picture of the tree. When the tree is taken down after Christmas, it will be used to help build a Habitat for Humanity home. Scientific American has a nice story about that and a picture of the tree lit up by its 30,000 LED lights.

I’m listening to a John Denver CD, “Christmas in Concert” to get me in the Christmas spirit. It was originally recorded live at the D.A.R (Daughters of the American Revolution) Constitution Hall in Washington, DC on December 19th and 20th, 1996. I listen to it every Christmas. The World Children’s Choir sings with John on some of the selections including “Jingle Bells” and “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.” The National Symphony Orchestra accompanies John on this CD too. “Please, Daddy (Don’t Get Drunk This Christmas)” and the story of “Alfie, The Christmas Tree” are two other interesting tracks. John talks with the choir and the audience and tells a few stories during the concert. It is a great live album. Does anyone besides me still say “album?” The CD that I bought years ago contains a booklet written by Joseph F. Laredo that gives some background on the concert and each song that is played. Add this CD to your collection of Christmas music.

My favorite song on the CD and one of my favorite Christmas songs, period, is “A Baby Just Like You.” The song was inspired by comments that Frank Sinatra made to John after Frank became a grandfather. It was written about John’s son Zachary. I have always loved this song.

A Baby Just Like You by John Denver and Joe Henry

The season is upon us now
A time for gifts and giving
And as the year draws to its close
I think about my living

The Christmas time when I was young
The magic and the wonder
But colors dull and candles dim
And dark my standing under

Oh little angel , shining light
You’ve set my soul to dreaming
You’ve given back my joy in life
And filled me with new meaning

A saviour King was born that day
A baby just like you
And as the Magi came with gifts
I come with my gift too

That peace on earth fills up your time
And brotherhood surrounds you
That you may know the warmth of love
And wrap it all around you

It’s just a wish, a dream I’m told
From days when I was young
Merry Christmas little Zachary, Merry Christmas everyone
Merry Christmas little Zachary, Merry Christmas everyone

Taking the Train to Philadelphia

When I was in elementary school, my grandmother and grandfather used to take me, my brother and my cousin on the train to Wanamaker’s department store in Philadelphia. My grandfather would pick us up at school and take us to the Pennsylvania Railroad station in Trenton, New Jersey. My grandmother worked for the railroad and sold tickets at the station. As soon as she finished work, we would hop on the train. I have always loved riding on trains, perhaps because of this Christmas tradition.

We would go to the Wanamaker store as soon as we arrived in Philadelphia. It was always beautifully decorated for Christmas. My grandmother would go Christmas shopping and my grandfather would take us to the toy department. We were told that if we ever got lost, to come back to the giant eagle near the entrance to the store.

There was a monorail train, called the Rocket Express, that ran around the ceiling in Wanamakers and if you were a little kid, you could ride in it. That was always a lot of fun. The monorail is now at the Please Touch Museum in Philadelphia.  When my grandmother was done shopping, we would go out to eat at a nice restaurant in Philadelphia and then take the train home again. My sisters and girl cousins would have their own trip to Philadelphia on another day.

Grandma Dunham’s Gift Package

One Christmas, I couldn’t think of what to give my grandmother who was 80 years old or so at the time. I decided to get her a bunch of different “treats” that she wouldn’t normally buy for herself. I basically went to the supermarket and created my own gift basket for her. There was candy, fruit, crackers, a jar of jelly, nuts, etc. I packed it all in an ordinary box with tissue paper and wrapped it up. We always opened our presents on Christmas Eve at my parents house. When my grandmother opened her present, she was delighted. She acted like an eight year old getting a new favorite toy. She was almost as giddy as Scrooge on Christmas morning after the three spirits had visited. Just seeing the happy look on her face was priceless. She told me that when she was a small child growing up in Stoke-On-Trent in England, she would get a single apple or piece of fruit for Christmas. That was it. I continued to give her a box of treats every Christmas as long as she lived. She always loved what I got her.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to All

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