Making a Christmas List, and checking it twice.
It was around this time of year that I made the trip with my mother to the farthest reaches of our basement. It was a part of the basement that I would never venture to by myself. It was way down at the end of the house, through a narrow hallway that opened up to a larger room that housed our furnace. It was a large, dark, noisy monster that made sounds I didn’t like. And to the left of the furnace in another part of that room, behind some curtains that my mother put up to hide the large oil tank that fed the furnace, was a large trunk. That part of the basement was where we used to store the coal a long time ago. That was before my grandfather switched over to oil heat.
We only went into that trunk twice a year….October and December. The trunk was where my mother kept all the Halloween decorations. Just below the Halloween skeletons and witches were all the Christmas decorations. I could remember the scent of pine as my mother lifted the lid. Pine and memories of Christmas past. Last year’s Halloween decorations were neatly placed on top of the stash of the Christmas decorations. I could remember the excitement of seeing the paper pumpkins and black cats and scary skeletons that we would hang on our door. My mother would gather up all she had and before she closed the lid I would take a peek at the glitter and gold that would be following for Christmas. But all I saw was used Christmas wrapping paper my mother saved from year to year. Did I ever tell you? My mother never threw anything out. Not even Christmas wrapping paper. I grew fond of some of the wrapping paper she used every year. It was like seeing an old friend again, and again, and again…….but that was months away.
Our Halloween decorations were simple then, not like what you see today, with houses turned into graveyards and inflatable monstrosities that clutter up the front yards. We had a few paper decorations that we placed on our front windows and a large cardboard skeleton that we put on our front door. I would position its arms and legs in wild poses to scare the trick or treaters that came calling on Halloween. Some years my mom would by a pumpkin that she would help me carve out into a scary, smiling face.
But with Halloween close by and Thanksgiving not far behind, the holiday I started to think about around this time of year was Christmas. It was getting close to putting my list together. When I was much younger it was for Santa, but after the cat got out of the bag the list was for my mother and father. No one else might have been thinking about Christmas, but I was. As Thanksgiving drew closer a lot of the inserts inside the Sunday Daily News were advertising toys. And I remember looking at those inserts very closely. At least it gave me a head start and plan of what I was going to put on my list. Many of those inserts made their way into my room. I would keep them safe in my draw for future reference.
As it got closer to Christmas my mother would take me to the greatest toy store I ever knew as a kid, Thrift Town. This was before Toys R Us. Thrift Town was our Toys R Us. The access to Thrift Town was from New Utrecht Avenue before 86th Street. You had to go through the parking lot of a Food Fair supermarket, which was turned into Pantry Pride some years later, in order to get to the entrance of Thrift Town. I understand there was an entrance on 18th Avenue but we never used it. Once inside the store you had to go down a long noisy ramp with peg board walls on each side of you. Your foot steps echoed on the wooden plywood floor as you stomped into the store. Once you got to the end there in front of you was every toy you could ever want.
I remember my mother taking me to Thrift Town on a number of occasions. I bought my first (and only) Monkees album there.
Every one in the neighborhood went to Thrift Town. My mother would take me there weeks before Christmas so I could point out the toys I wanted.
I could still remember the faces of the workers of Thrift Town. One was an older man with half closed eyes and curly hair, he smoked a cigar. I didn’t know their names but I’m sure my mother did. The place was always busy. And I got to know where everything was. But I still wanted to walk up and down the isles just in case I missed a new toy or display.
The GI Joe Dolls were on display. My mother thought it was odd that they made dolls for boys to play with. But it was GI JOE!!! It wasn’t some Ken doll. He even had a scar on his face! It couldn’t be a doll! I wanted one so bad. And then I saw the accessories. I knew I was pressing my luck just asking for a GI Joe. I dare not ask for the accessories. But I knew I had to have the Navy Diver scuba gear. I would have to play my cards right in order to get it at a later date.
I was used to playing with little plastic army men. GI Joe was at least 12 inches tall, and you could pose him in so many different ways. My GI Joe slept in his box. That was his bunk.
Some toys were off-limits. I loved monsters, what kid didn’t.
But for some reason my mother would not get me anything to do with monsters. I remember seeing a commercial on TV for the “Great Garloo” It was a 4 foot tall robot monster that I wanted in the worst way, but my mother refused to get it for me. Every time I would show her the picture from an ad or call her into the room when the commercial came on the TV, she would say, “I’m not getting you that ugly thing!!!” No matter how much I tried to convince her that The Great Garloo wasn’t ugly, she refused to get it for me.
But it didn’t stop with the Great Garloo. I was a major fan of Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula and my all time favorite, the Wolf Man. And when I saw those Aurora model sets I wanted them as well. But no way in hell was my mother ever going to get me a monster model. I’m not sure what my mother thought would happen to me if I put together one of those models. Did she think I would go mad? Or become a mass murderer? Or suck blood from little puppies? Honestly, I couldn’t even keep a Mad magazine in the house. I had to buy them and hide them under my mattress. And if she found them they would disappear.
I had to settle for a Superman Model, which I got from Thrift Town. I really loved that model. Superman had to be my all time favorite super hero. I had Superman comic books, watched Superman on TV with George Reeves playing the lead role. I even dressed up as Superman for Halloween one year. My mother made the costume herself, which she did with all my costumes. I had that costume on way before Halloween rolled around, jumping off of chairs and sofas with my arms held up in front of me. I remember going to bed with it a few night, just in case I was needed at a moments notice.
So, between trips to Thrift Town and scanning the newspaper inserts along with reinforcement from the TV commercials, I would come up with my list. And after a number of reviews from my mother and edits and rewrites my list became final. As I handed it to her and she took off into the night with my father and headed to Thrift Town I knew I would not get everything on my list or maybe most of everything with a little extra that I didn’t expect.
I was watching TV upstairs with my grandfather when I heard my parents return. The door slammed and the bags and boxes made noise as they placed them on the table. My mother called upstairs and told me to stay there until she put the toys away. I remember her telling my grandmother how much they spent, and if you could believe it, it was around $17. Back in 1960 that must have been a lot of money.
My mother was great at hiding my gifts because I would never find them, no matter how hard I tried. But she didn’t play fair. Later on in years I would find out that she used to hide the gifts in a place I would never venture to by myself……the furnace room.
This dish is one of the most delicate, flavorful, seafood entrée you can make. The mild flavor and flake of the fish just melts in your mouth as the sauce raptures your taste buds. Have some crispy Italian bread on hand to soak up this flavorful sauce when the fish is gone. I guarantee your plate will be clean at the end.
A very simple dish you can make in under a half hour. It’s quick, simple and delicious. Is there any other kind of Italian food?? Serves 2
FILLET OF SOLE PICCATA WITH CAPERS
- 1 pound of fillet of sole
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- ¼ cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons of butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup fish stock or clam juice
- 2 tablespoons rinsed and chopped capers
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Sprinkle the fillet of sole with salt and pepper.
Spread the flour on a plate. Dredge the fish in the flour and shake off the excess.
Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter with the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the fish to the pan and brown on both sides, about a minute and a half each side.
Transfer them to a plate. Keep warm.
When all the fish are browned, pour the fish stock or clam juice into the pan. Cook over high heat, scraping the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is slightly thickened. Stir in the capers, lemon juice, and parsley. Remove from the heat and swirl in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Taste for salt.
Pour the sauce over the fish and serve immediately.
A few weeks ago, while trying to find Italian comfort food recipes from my childhood, I stumbled upon your blog…I cannot tell you how happy I am that I did. Thank you for the wonderful recipes and the memories. I also was raised in Bensonhurst so your stories take me to a simple, happy time in my life. Keep them coming…
Maria, I’m glad you came across my blog. Bensonhurst was a great place to grow up in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s. A lot has changed in the neighborhood but the memories will linger forever.
Was there ever a better time than just before Christmas in our house in Bensonhurst??!! It was as you said, a truly magical and exciting time with great expectations. Sometimes I did find some of the toys that were hidden, but not often. You have a great memory for all the details. Keep them coming, for this is the stuff of life.