It never fails. It can’t be helped. No matter where I am residing, around this time of year, thoughts inevitably turn to the old hometown and homestead. The community is the Village of North Collins, and the home, a former hotel across from the old Erie-Lackawanna railroad tracks.
Childhood memories that are attached, not only to simpler times and simpler people, but to a fixed place, seem to do the annual holiday nostalgia trick. One might expect this of someone raised in a railroad-era inn located in a neat, neighborly, safe community.
A retail and service hub for surrounding farms, the village was laid out in a grid pattern with interconnecting streets. During the Blizzard of ’77, the local DPW ensured that villagers could travel by car, foot and snowmobile anywhere within this mile-square snow-belt locale; we just couldn’t go beyond those limits.
A couple of days before Christmas in the mid-1960s, I asked a kid, who was visiting his grandparents a couple of doors away, to walk with me to the larger business district – “Uptown,” as we called it. Main Street had quite a few stores and snack shops then.
Snow was coming down heavily, enveloping the village in white. Showing through the thick storm were multicolored lights strung across both Sherman Avenue and Main; even most side streets had blue lights above them. By squinting a bit and giving in to imagination, you could feel as though you were in the midst of a Currier & Ives scene. Perhaps the holiday spirit that night prompted me to help push out of a snowy highway shoulder a car on its way to Jamestown via Route 62. My more reserved companion would one day become state attorney general.
The tavern and residential hotel where I celebrated so many Christmases had three floors, a cellar and a garage. I never enjoyed the place as much as on the few holidays it was closed and dark, except for the festive lights in the bar windows and the Santa on the roof. At our exclusive disposal was the jukebox, from which blared “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and my favorite, “Captain Santa Claus.”
It was on those rare occasions that my cousin Sammy and I had the run of all four levels. Mom loved to entertain around the holidays, and had the space and faciltiies to do so. One year she invited the whole clan to enjoy a roasted pig, complete with an apple in its mouth.
I used the space in that building, and sense of place, security and freedom felt in that town, to play with my presents. A professional cue stick was used on the establishment’s pool table. In the cellar, arrows were shot from a bow alongside a real Cayuga chief.
On one unseasonably warm and wet Christmas night, I tested the range of my new walkie-talkies on every level of our “house,” and by venturing out to the next corner in shirtsleeves.
On another occasion, I took my present of a Norelco tape recorder into a basement storage room, and taped a wake-up message for my napping Dad. I played the recording in the hallway outside his bedroom and had to cover my mouth to keep from laughing as he sleepily responded to my voice saying, “Wake up, Dad. It’s time to get up!”
Perhaps only in this time of year can we allow ourselves to freely reminisce about the times, people and places we so dearly loved, and still miss.