This is a Christmas photo showing us Blythe boys in our natural habitat. I just want to point a few things out. That is my grandfather Dick (Leonard Westlake) sitting on the couch. He was the cool one who was full of fun and mischief. He would egg us guys on then claim innocence when Marj would have to intervene. He worked for Sinclair Oil Company and after leaving Ponema was transferred to Quincy. This picture was taken a couple of years after he lost his wife and our grandmother, Mona. He drove Mercedes because he admired their engineering, and would eventually come up and live with us until he went to the Aledo Nursing Home. He would live another 17 years after this picture was taken.
Next, look at that tree. You don't find those in your corner tree lot. I'm not sure where they found this one, but it is huge, wide and took up all of that corner of the living room. This tree was also flocked, spray painted in the garage and left to hang from the rafter for a few days. Marj was an artist at heart and decorated her trees with simplicity and color coordination. None of that all color stuff for her. A white flocked tree could take on more beauty with only blue balls, or green. Same with the lights. And no artificial trees, either. The house had to smell of pine. She didn't flock her trees every year, and I suppose the decorating trends made it either too much work or out of vogue. But it was nice while it lasted, and it was different, and it was impressive enough that I still admire the white trees I see in at target every year. I'm going to get me a white flocked tree one of these years, but it'll be artificial and already lit.
Behind the tree was a closet that was a kind of mini-library. A full set of an encyclopedia as well as the recurring yearbooks that showed up annually were in there. When that Yearbook arrived it was a special day. I'd pour through it from cover to cover. Placed on shelves were also novels and other reading material. It was also storage, for our clandestine fireworks, too. Pop bottle rockets mostly, but some Black Cat's too.
We boys had a couple of mandatory traditional things to do during the holidays, too. The Levine's usually had a small egg nog and finger food get-together with the neighbors, and we'd trundle, and sometimes bundle on over there. It was just a couple houses down, so no problem. For awhile there, we were forced to be in a church play - one year bro Phil kept his eyes closed throughout so no one would see him. Dork. Then on Christmas Eve night, when the parents were asleep, we boys would wake each other up and head out to where the tree and presents were. We would sit or lay next to the presents, the room lit by the street light. We would just chat, mostly about what we thought were in the presents. Some were obvious, others harder to figure out, and sometimes, just sometimes, we would think that maybe others were placed somewhere else, hidden from frantic fingers and too eager imaginations. Marj was a trickster sometimes, and very often this was the case. A momentary hush and emotional electricity when all the presents had finally been opened, wondering if there wasn't a second wave waiting to be unearthed from the bowels of a closet somewhere.
We would also have "Unofficial Counts". On the days preceding Christmas and especially on Christmas Day itself several counting of packages was required. Lists of total presents for each family member would be made. It was important to be in the lead, or at least close to the lead in number of presents. Why, I don't know. Later on, the Unofficial Counts would be made with caveats that more would be coming when other family members would arrive. My own solo tradition once I left the house was to return on Christmas early in the day, have a big breakfast with the folks, and lounge in anticipation of the other brothers and their families arriving.
Another tradition took root when I started working in Galesburg. Herb and the brothers would come over about a week before Christmas to shop. This was the hurried final crusade to get everything in order. It was always a bit desperate, ideas exchanged, approved or not, and then the act of purchasing. After this dance had been performed, always with great mirth, we would head over to the Pizza Hut on Henderson St. to have some beer, pizza and congratulate ourselves on our brilliance.
We also had a somewhat unusual protocol that evolved at some point. Rather than the free-for-all opening and ripping of paper and presents, we created the spotlight unwrapping method. Gifts were delivered to the recipients and then one by one we would go clockwise around the room and watch as each person opened their gifts. This was deemed appropriate so everyone could see what people got and the giftor/giftee could properly exchange thanks and any other comments worth noting. It also prolonged the ceremony to a point where several breaks in the festivities were given for stretching ones legs, bathroom breaks, going outside for fresh air or to confer with others on whatever was important at the moment.
Back to the picture, behind Phil is the fireplace that the folks would start using more regularly when they converted it to gas. To this day I long for a fireplace. Had one in the old Victorian in G-Burg and by God, hope to have another one again. Nothing like it on a cold snowy night. That and an electric blanket.
But laying next to that darkened tree in the middle of the night, after Santa had arrived, surrounded by the bliss that is presents and by the smells of great food having been prepared, there was a kind of magic, a wonderment of childhood. We three...quietly walking down the hall in a darkened home, talking quietly about tomorrow's possibilities, silently gazing on this bounty, and this tradition would continue until we were no longer living in the house. I remember thinking as I crawled back into bed to await the morning, this was the greatest of days and praying it would be OK one more year, that everyone would be safe from harm, that we, and this, would last forever.
Christmas At the Blythe's