In the Roman house, there are three mandatory
Christmas movies that must be watched every year: Jean Shepherd's
wonderful, "A Christmas Story"; "Miracle on 34th
Street"; and National Lampoon's "Christmas Holiday".
Of all, "A Christmas Story" is most cherished. Our family
has watched that movie faithfully every year since it first came
out in 1983.
When we first saw it together, our daughter Alisa was only about
13, and couldn't understand why I was laughing amidst tears throughout
the movie. The story takes place in Jean Shepherd's Indiana hometown
in the late 1940s, while Shepherd narrates a flashback about his
Christmas journey through the big blue eyes and cherubic face of
little Ralphie Parker.
"Dad, everything looks so plain in the movie, you know, old
"Alisa, that is what the average home looked like then. Things
were simple. There was no TV to speak of. Radio was still the major
form of home entertainment. You used your imagination more. Folks
"Did your city have a Christmas parade?"
"Yes there was a holiday parade just like in the movie. From
Thanksgiving to Christmas day was a big deal for the kids. The excitement
was incredible. The big Newark department stores were where all
the action took place. Life was much different than today. No big
malls or shopping areas that you drove to. Most folks had a Christmas
tree in the living room and that was it. Folks did have outdoor
lights like today. In fact, before we had all that air conditioning
in the summer putting big loads on the electric utilities, the peak
electric use time of year was around Christmas with all the house
lights. Looking at this movie makes me feel like I was back home
in the 1950s again, decorating our tree, wrapping presents, and
putting up my electric trains. Now there was excitement, Lionel
trains going around the tree with the room lights out!
"Did you ever want a present as bad as little Ralphie in
the movie who wanted that BB gun?"
"Sure I did; and sometimes I got it and some times I did
"Did it snow as much as in the movie?"
"No not as much, it is colder in Indiana than New Jersey,
but I do remember a white Christmas here and there."
On and on the Christmas questions went about what her father's
early years were like. It is without question our favorite family
movie. We always watch it with lots of buttered popcorn and soda,
often spitting out large chunks in laughter. You know the funny
parts are coming, but you cannot resist the laughter.
Lately, I have become fond of watching Cary Grant, Loretta Young,
and David Niven in "The Bishop's Wife" where Grant plays
an angel sent to help the Bishop (Niven) get perspective back in
his life during the Holiday Season.
Just this past Thanksgiving night, while channel surfing, I caught
the tail end of A Christmas Story, the part where Ralphie's father,
after all the presents have been opened and the room is a mess,
asks him if he enjoyed the presents, inquiring as to whether he
got everything he wanted. Ralphie is somewhat stoic, but obviously
dejected, because his coveted BB gun was not under the tree. His
father suggests that maybe there is another present he has missed,
that one over by the desk. There, wide-eyed Ralphie takes possession
of his wonderful prize; and yours truly starts tearing up right
On this Thanksgiving evening, I remembered my old blue bicycle.
It kind of went the same way as Ralphie's BB gun. Why I had not
made the connection before, is beyond me. I had wanted a bicycle
so very badly. It would allow me to ride around the block with my
neighborhood friends who did have bikes. My old one was no longer
safe to ride.
After I had opened my presents, Dad and Mom also asked me similar
questions like Ralphie's father. Then Dad suggested that I take
a look outside and check on something. When I did, there wedged
in the hallway of our small Newark home on 4th Street was my first
bike, a bright blue beauty with handle bar streamers, basket and
horn. I nearly exploded with excitement. Maybe that's why I always
tear-up at that movie scene. How I rode that bike until the wheels
At the end of little Ralphie's movie, Jean Shepherd, one of America's
most loved radio story-tellers, narrates one last time as the snow
comes down heavy on Christmas decorated homes……"It
was the greatest Christmas I have ever known, or will ever know."
That Christmas back in Newark in 1957 was pretty much the same
for me. It was the high point in Holiday excitement.
How I would like to take that old bicycle out one more time down
past the houses and the old Dugan's bakery plant at the end of our
street and then around the corner and up the street behind our house.
It's all changed now. The sprawling Dugan's plant has been partially
razed and new single-family homes are going in; but I think much
of it would still look familiar. How much can you change in 50 years?
Jean Shepherd is gone now too, but he does appear in the movie.
He is the bearded fellow in the line to see Santa Claus who speaks
to little Ralphie. Thanks for the wonderful memories Jean. You have
given us a piece of Americana from our innocent years, something
that will live forever.
Now, what shall I wish for this year?