Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas in Homestead Past

A few days ago I got a phone call from former Munhall neighbor George Couvaris, who is now living in Florida. (He happens to have been born on Christmas Eve on a Greek island ).  We reminisced about old times on Wayne Road and Eighth Avenue, where George and his wife Carol had a restaurant.  Before he hung up, George said, "You know, I could not have chosen a better place as my new home than the Homestead area.  We had such a wonderful sense of community in those days.  Everyone on the Avenue knew everyone.  If someone needed help, it was there. We worked hard, but got satisfaction from it.  I think many people really miss that today."

Of course, that's true, not only of Homestead, but other towns and neighborhoods across North America. It got me thinking about my childhood Christmases in Homestead.  Some memories stand out:
         The decorations on Eighth Avenue--garlands strung across the street with lighted plastic bells.. Our cocker spaniel Buffy knocking over the tree not once, but twice, chasing the train around underneath. . .Candlelit Christmas Eve services at St. John's Lutheran Church, with a large creche surrounded by evergreens to one side of the altar. . .The bells in the numerous Homestead churches pealing together at midnight. . .My father driving around in a Santa Claus suit, creating a sensation among the kids who sighted him. . .Visits to all the aunts' and uncles' homes on the Day, each one short and sweet.
St. John's Lutheran in 1976 (photo by G. Edward Busch)

And then there were the memories of the older generations, the stories that were repeated each year: During the Depression, my mother ripping up a newspaper and giving it to her young brother Bernie as a "jigsaw puzzle."  He burst into tears. . .My Great-Grandfather Busch drilling holes in a broomstick and inserting twigs in it to make a tree. (One of the first artificial ones?) They were too poor to buy a real tree for their eleven children.

There are also images of those long-ago Christmases.  One I like to hang up in my house every year is the one taken of my grandfather, George Busch, on December 23, 1937 in the Homestead Machine Shop.  Grandpap is standing to one side, admiring the tree. American flags "fly" on the railing around the tree, while behind the tree a sign warns workers about safety concerns .  It suggests the pride the machinists, many of them immigrants, took in their work and in being Americans. 

     These stories and images are literally long ago and far away now.  It's easy to indulge in sentimentality about the "good old days", which for many involved backbreaking labor and a constant struggle to stay afloat financially.  Nevertheless, it's important to recall the good part of these times:  the joy in community--working, playing, dancing, and singing together.

May we all recapture some of the pleasure derived from simple gifts in these turbulent and alienating times. Let's join the angels in Luke, singing, "In terra pax hominibus, bonae voluntatis" ---"Peace on Earth and goodwill to all."