‘Tis the season. The Christmas season, that is. The season for shopping, celebrating, church activities and of course, gathering together with family and friends. Today’s Beaver County memory takes us back to the days of Christmas past. Beaver County Memories are presented by St. Barnabas Beaver Meadows.
“There would be policeman on every corner to cross you across the street. There would be so many many people and so much traffic. Everything was lit up, it would be snowing, flurrying. In the evening, because all the stores would be open at night, everything would be lit up and WBVP would be playing Christmas carols outside. You could hear them for blocks. It was so nice. The radio station had outdoor speakers outside. They had speakers mounted to the front of the building”.
These are the words of Carleen McKee, owner of CoHill fashions in Beaver Falls, recalling what it was like to shop in the town during the holiday season many years ago when she was a young girl. McKee’s interview was conducted as part of research done for a recent book published about the history of radio in Beaver County. One could sense during her colorful description that she was instantly transported back in time in her mind to a time and place quite different from they way things are now. Prior to the Beaver Valley Mall opening around 1970, shopping meant a trip to Beaver Falls, Rochester, Aliquippa, or many of the other other classic main street river towns of Beaver County. After arriving into the downtown, typically shoppers at this time of year would begin the process of lapping the shopping district several times until an available parking space could be found and then finally pulling in and feeding a parking meter with spare change taken from the ash tray of the family station wagon. Prior to heading out shopping, the family car would needed to have been taken to a local garage like Kugel Brothers Service in Rochester, or Young’s Texaco in New Brighton to get the real axel outfitted with a set of snow tires. Sometimes this even meant studded snow tires. Those big, heavy rear wheel drive vehicles from a few decades ago were not designed to very well as far as getting traction in the snow and needed the extra boost. Many times those service stations would keep the summer tires and store them for their customers over the winter until they would go back on the car in the spring.
A generation ago, Christmas dinner shopping was usually accomplished with a visit to one of the dozen or so Economy Supermarkets scattered throughout Beaver County. If you lived closer to Aliquippa, the food run might have meant a visit to C & L Supermarket. Most neighborhoods still had smaller stores that could suffice for stocking the pantry as well, like the Skyline Market in Patterson Township, McCarter’s Supermarket in Darlington, or the Penn Supermarket in downtown Monaca.
Midnight mass back then was really held at midnight. This was done as much to anticipate the arrival of Christmas Day, as it was to accommodate second shift workers just punching out for the evening at the steel mill. The tradition of a late night church service on Christmas Eve is still common, but in many cases, it happens around nine or ten in the evening, since there isn’t the need anymore to cater to thousands of worshipers who were just turned loose on the streets after completing their work around the midnight hour.
Getting a Christmas tree in this era usually meant giving a few dollars to a “hobo-esque” looking guy in a parking lot somewhere who had a string of full size incandescent bulbs lit up and draped overhead and a 55 gallon burn barrel that doubled as a wood stove to provide heat out in the elements. Trees were then usually just stuffed into cavernous rear cargo area of the aforementioned station wagons for the trip home. This would produce Christmas souvenirs all year long as prickly dried out pine needles would continually manifest themselves from various and sundry places throughout the interior of the vehicle.
Hopefully a snow would arrive in time for the big day so that sleds, that were recently purchased as gifts for the kids at Jamesway in Big Beaver or Zayre’s in Baden, could get a little action.
Advent Calendars that were purchased at the K of C gift shop in Rochester or the Maranatha Gift and Book store in Beaver Falls were now getting used every day and helped keep the anxious youngsters busy during this time of year.
This has been a memory of Christmas Past, Part of the ongoing Beaver County memories series presented by St. Barnabas Beaver Meadows. Tune in every weekday for another Beaver County Memory right here on WBVP and WMBA. A complete transcript of this and other Beaver County memories can be found at Beaver County radio dot com.