My first Christmas memory is 1951. My dad was driving my mother and me in our 1946 black Ford Coupe, “old Betsy”, down Market Street in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Multicolored lights lined the streets, garlands of holly were wound around each light post and hung in swags over the holiday traffic. Miller Brothers’ Department Store windows were magical! One held the manger scene, a second showed Santa’s workshop, and a third revealed toy trains circling all the toys we wished for under the tree! The Ford’s big tube radio in the center of the dash played Gene Autry’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and life was GOOD!
It’s no wonder this season has always been my favorite. The next Christmas, 1952, found our family had moved to Montgomery, Alabama. My brother Bob had been born in early December and my maternal grandmother, Bobbie, came to visit us on the Trailways bus. My dad’s ‘46 Ford had been sold and we now owned a new ‘52 Chevy Deluxe 4 door, tutone blue and grey pinstripe cloth seats. Dad drove all around Montgomery looking for a record I wanted: “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” by Jimmie Boyd--the number one song on the red Columbia label. I still have the record and I smile every time I hear it.
By Christmas 1955, we had moved back to Chattanooga and spent those holidays with my grandparents. My grandfather, “Pop”, was still driving his ‘47 Nash--a grey 4 door with red rims. I remember being impressed with “Conditioned Air” imprinted in maroon plastic on the woodgrained dash. We rode around in the Nash looking at the houses decorated with Christmas lights. These were simple times full of wonderful people. The Nash, alas, had spent its last Christmas with us, as Pop traded it the next year for a new ‘56 Chevy!
1957 was our last Christmas in Chattanooga before our move to Kentucky. I remember riding in the back seat of our ‘52, going to pick up my paternal grandparents “Pat” and “Grandaddy Bill”, to bring them out to our house to see the tree and my new toys, especially my new filling station.
As the years passed and my brothers and sisters grew up and moved away to start their own families, I bought another ‘52 Chevy, this time a station wagon. I lived on a farm then, so I invited all the brothers and sisters and their kids to come to the country to cut down the Christmas tree. After hours of serious selection, we found just the right one, roped it to the top of the ‘52, and headed back to the house where Mother was making homemade chili.
It was fun with the brothers and sisters and their kids to create new Christmas memories with the ‘52 Chevy--the car that had played so large a roll in making my wonderful memories so many Christmases ago.
Each year, we continue the old car Christmas tradition, recently with a 1937 Chevy. With the heater on, woolly robe across the laps of the back-seat passengers, carols coming from the portable tape player, and a mug of hot apple cider complete with cinnamon sticks for everyone, we set out. My parents, my wife and daughter and myself. As we drove down Lookout Mountain, we were dazzled by a panorama of city lights illuminating the sky like a gigantic Christmas tree.
So don’t put the old cars away just yet! Make them part of the memories you’ll be making during this great season!