A Life Changed by a 1950s Christmas
DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.
Commentator Ed Cullen's most poignant Christmas memory takes him back to the 1950s.
The Christmas I was nine a large cardboard box appeared beneath our tree on Christmas Eve. I'd kept a careful inventory of the presents half hidden by the fragrant branches. Some intuitive Christmas power told me there was a shortwave radio inside the box. I knew about long-distance radio listening. I'd taken to falling asleep with the earpiece of a crystal radio jammed into one ear.
On cold, clear nights, marvelous voices rode down the skies from St. Louis, Cincinnati or Nashville. `It's a shortwave radio, isn't it?' I asked my father, who looked at me as though I were a talking cat. `It's not a shortwave radio,' he said, `It's jelly.' He turned to my mother. `Why does he think there's a shortwave radio in that box?' `Because he wants it to be,' my mother said. `All right, it's a shortwave radio,' my father said. Oh, joy, a shortwave radio. Hurry Christmas Eve and be over. Let it be morning.
I opened the cardboard box shortly after dawn. Inside were 24 jars of grape jelly, each jar in its own waxy brown cell, a gift from one of my dad's friends. Oh, monstrous betrayal! `You told me it was a shortwave radio.' `I told you it was jelly,' my father said. `You said it was a radio.'
The jelly radio taught me the power of anticipation and desire. I'm certain that if I'd wished for half an hour longer my mental energy would have turned sugar into circuitry.
Between that Christmas and the next, my mother died. In most ways that mattered, childhood was over. Lying warm in my bed these December nights, I hear the branches of an old yew tree squeaking against cold, clouded windows. In that briefest interval between consciousness and slumber, I hear the Christmases of childhood calling, calling, calling as though through the whistle crack of shortwave radio.
ELLIOTT: Ed Cullen is a columnist on the Baton Rouge Sunday Advocate.
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