Christmas at The Steinhoffs

Christmas was always a big deal at our house, as the 1966 photo above shows. The Christmas tree was always set up in the basement recreation room, as they were called in those days.

When we boys got up, Dad and Mother (mostly Dad) would torture us by making us wait until everybody got ready to go downstairs. Grandmother, who moved slowly because of arthritis, was always the first to go down.

When I got into high school, and became the official photographic historian, I was given the go-ahead to go next.

Christmas 1969

I had been doing some photo books for class projects at Ohio University, so Lila and I decided to put together one of our first Christmas as married folks in 1969. Here’s what it looked like.

Each person generally got one big “special” present. They weren’t always under the tree. In fact, as we got older, Christmas morning turned out to be more like a scavenger hunt as we tracked down clues all over the house. Dad and Mother (mostly Dad) took great pleasure in watching us scurry.

Mother got a skillet

Mother would almost always get at least one utilitarian present. It might be a skillet like this, or a vacuum cleaner or a clothes dryer.

Then she’d get a “fun” gift

It might be a series of cards with clues as to what she should buy with the money enclosed or it might be an actual gift.

Boys got lots of small gifts

Dad loved to buy things. I think he started shopping for next Christmas on Dec. 26. We never did figure out were he squirreled away all the loot. In fact, sometimes, he’d forget what all he HAD bought. At the end of opening orgy, he’d look around, then disappear for a few minutes, returning with yet another box or two that he recognized were missing.

Grandmother liked “smell-good” stuff

She’d get cosmetics, books, scarfs and knick-knacks.

Dad lived for Christmas

He loved to watch us tearing into the packages.

We were too busy to see this

We kids were too busy ripping paper to watch the interplay between our parents. I don’t think I paid much attention to them until I shot this book.

Dad got harder to buy for

My junior or senior year in high school, Dad decided to quit smoking on New Year’s Eve without telling any of us. We didn’t know why he had gotten cranky for several weeks. He finally said that he threw all his cigarettes in the fireplace at the end of the year, but didn’t want to say anything until he was sure he had kicked the habit.

That complicated our gift-giving, though. That ruled out pipes, tobacco, pipe stands, lighters and other smoking accessories.

Taking inventory

Once we had everything unwrapped, it was time to concentrate on that “special” gift. David must have gotten a turntable this year. I remember some of my big presents being a Hallicrafters S-38E shortwave radio (Son Matt has it now), a Daisy pump action BB gun, an Argus Autronic 35 (my first 35mm camera) and, a few years later, a Pentax camera.

They proclaimed it a success

When it was all over, it’s obvious that they rated our morning a success.

Biggest trash day of the year

I read somewhere that the day after Christmas is the biggest trash day of the year. When I see all of the debris left over in 1966, I can believe it.

I should feel guilty about all of the stuff we got, but Grandson Malcolm is playing with some of the toys and Mother’s attic has a lot left for the next one.

I’m glad Lila and I put this together. It brings back a lot of good memories.

21 Replies to “Christmas at The Steinhoffs”

  1. Dad himself always put the string of lights on the tree in basement and then we would line up and he would hand us each an ornament to put on the tree. This was repeated until the tree was fully decorated and then the new box of tensile ice sickles would be opened and we would place each one carefully on the limbs. Throwing the tensile onto the tree was discouraged because “ice sickles don’t freeze with a bend in them” we were told.

    Good times.

    1. And don’t forget: when it was time to take the tree down, the process would reverse. Each piece of tinsel had to come OFF the tree, be straightened out and save for reuse.

      This was in the days before Mylar tinsel, too. The foil tinsel was easy to break. Breaking it was bad form.

      I think I mentioned before that Cape (and maybe the whole state) had Blue Laws that prohibited most things from being sold on Sunday. Drug stores could stay open, but only to sell prescriptions.

      We were putting up the lights when we discovered a bad bulb. The lights were wired in series, which meant that one dead or unscrewed bulb will keep all of them from working.

      Dad sent me into the drug store to buy a bulb. “Tell ’em it’s for a night light in a sick room. See if they’ll sell you one.”

      They wouldn’t.

      I’m not sure if that fib went down in the “Nice” or the “Naughty” column.

  2. Thank you for sharing the Steinhoff Christmas with us. It was not too far different from the Stone/Heimbaugh Christmases, except that Santa Claus would only come to Grandpa and Grandma’s home so after a Christmas with Mom, Dad and sister, Barb, it would be off to Grandpa and Grandma’s home for breakfast and the opening of all the family gifts. Someone acting as Santa would hand out one gift at a time, rotating around the room with everyone opening their gift with all looking on. It could take over two hours but that was part of the fun.
    Actually Christmas would begin with an early trip to KFVS Radio to visit Santa Claus. I remember it as a scary but necessary trip. On Christmas Eve there was a trip to Centenary Methodist Church, where Santa Claus generally showed up even though he was going to have a busy night.
    Years later the pattern was repeated with wife Jan, son Tom and my Mother-in-law, traveling to my folks home.
    My best Christmas gift that I received was my store bought Western Flyer bike when I was five. However, my biggest thrill was as an adult, watching young son Thomas on Christmas morning when he first saw the Tree and the gifts under it. Your Dad would have understood.
    Merry Christmas to you, the Steinhoff family and all your readers. May we all enjoy the gift of Grace from our Father, may we soon enjoy Peace on Earth and Good Will To All Mankind.

  3. You left me in tears this morning as I went through your Christmas morning, so similar to mine. What a wonderful gift to your family of the book you and Lila made. I love how your Mother’s hair is so carefully “done” even in the morning. We always went to Grandma and Grandpa’s for Christmas Eve with all the relatives and piles of presents. Santa came to our house while we were away and we’d open all those gifts when we got back home. In the morning, we’d find our stocking filled and open them. The only Christmas our kids had with their grandparents was the one when Mother and Dan came to Florida from Chicago to visit us. Thank you for sharing.

    1. We were always a Christmas morning family. The rules were bent a bit when all of us got older. We were allowed to open ONE gift Christmas Eve.

      Over the years, Bro Mark started a new gift policy: every gift must be opened and played with before it is given to the recipient.

      (Sometimes I think he must play with it for a long time before he deems it acceptable – or worn out enough – to pass on to me.)

  4. This reminded me of the Neumeyer Christmases that I started joining when I was about 17. So many shared rituals. What a wonderful tribute to your parents. Thank you.

  5. Ken, I’m sure you remember the Christmas Eve childrens’ service at Trinity. Our tradition was that after the service the family would go to the Alma and Elmer Robinson house (grandparents) for Christmas Eve celebration & presents. Usually about 10 pm, we would then go home and open gifts at our house that mysteriously appeared while all of us (including parents) were gone. Even though we would stay up late, we all went to the Christmas Day worship service at Trinity.

    Thanks for posting your personal treasures; they never fail to conjure up memories of our own personal experiences.

    1. Keith,
      I’ve been trying to forget those services for years. I can’t begin to remember how many of those programs I participated in.

      After they were over, they’d give out boxes of either Baby Ruth or Butterfingers candy. I preferred the Butterfingers, but it was usually stale.

      I never could figure out if the performances were more painful for the kids or the parents who had to sit through them.

  6. Selecting the Christmas tree from the Optimist tree lot was a study in patience for my father. He would take the family, and we would evaluate every angle of every unbundled tree. When I was younger, a decision was made on the first trip, and home we went to place the tree in water. As I grew older, my aesthetic eye was even more critical, and Daddy would take me back as many times as necessary until the “perfect” tree was found. Mom and Barb bailed after the first trip; they knew the process could turn out to be long and cold. The tree waited in the bucket on the back porch until a day or two before Christmas, and then the heirloom balls with sticky paint and the tinsel were carefully hung on the tree. Yes, it was absolutely necessary to place tinsel, one strand at a time, on the tree so it looked like icicles. On Christmas morning, Pam Burkhimer would come over to pass out our presents, and then I would go to her house and do the same. Every piece of tape was carefully removed so as not to damage the paper, and all the paper and bows were saved and boxed to be used the next year. It is amazing how many years a piece of Christmas wrapping paper, that had been creased over a shirt box, can be recycled around another congruent box. Still today I have among my treasured and slightly used ribbons, one of he most coveted bows from the 1960’s. Merry Christmas, Ken and Lila. Thank you for providing us with your wonderful daily blog.

  7. My sister, Lori (Gessert) Meador, sent this to me and I too, like everyone else laughed at your Christmas story. I remember every Christmas Eve all four of us kids would ask all evening where the presents were and we were told that Santa would bring them sometime that night. Every Christmas Eve we went midnight mass and when we came home, Santa had been to our house and left all our presents. One Christmas “Santa” broke the leg off my sisters piano bench and left a note giving this long explanation of how it fell off the sled when he was on top of the roof and he was so sorry that the leg had broken when it hit the ground. It was funny how Santa’s handwriting looked very familiar to Mom and Dad’s very good friends.

    I also remember making the annual trip down to Rust and Martin’s store on Main Street to look at all the Christmas stuff in their store front windows. You knew Christmas was near when they put out their Christmas display. It wasn’t like it is today when Christmas stuff goes up the first of November.

    Thanks for bringing back a lot of memories and I wish a Merry Christmas and God’s blessing to all of you.

    Kelly Gessert

  8. Priceless pictures Ken. Very nice. There is an entire story in the pictures of your parents. Everyone should have such warm memories of Christmas.

  9. Very emotional to see those memories. One item to add is that while it may have been the biggest trash day of year following Christmas , it never was at the Steinhoff house. Following all the opening of the gifts and assembly if required tasks were complete, the next scheduled event of Christmas was one of the most memorable for me. Dad and I both loved burning things! We would gather up all the wrapping paper, cut up/ tear up cardboard boxes and methodically burn them all in the fireplace ! That fire occassionsly would get out of hand , so hot, that it would catch the fleu ( chimney) on fire!! When you heard the thunderous roaring like a jet plane taking off- you knew that mission was accomplished ! Disposing of the live Christmas tree was not a task but a treat for dad and I as we cut up tree and smashed it into fireplace! Chestnuts roasting on an open fire are nothing compared to the sudden explosion of dry needles when they meet an open flame in the fireplace ! If we had not caught the chimney on fire earlier with all the wrapping paper- this process of burning of the tree guaranteed the roar of flames shooting out the chimney and the chimney sighing that another Christmas season had passed!!
    How that house never burned down , I will never know, but the memories of that basement will carry on forever with me!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *