As much as any other Christmas recollection those that come from my childhood in Oak Ridge stand out. For me Christmas was never wholly defined in theistic terms but as much in my recollections of songs and family members and the television shows of the era; Perry Como, Andy Williams, and the lot of them. I have very few memories of material gifts but credit should go to the folks for always putting something useful under the tree on Christmas morning. I got a used “English” bicycle once that I nicknamed the Green Lantern.
Memories of Christmas on Ogden Circle are vivid and close at heart. My father’s aunts lived a door apart at 112 and 116 Ogden Circle, sandwiching the Smyser family on either side. We must have worn paths through Dick’s and Mary’s yard, never mind they were great people and very good friends with my folks: the Simmses and the Mahegans.
In Uncle Dave and Aunt Catherine Mahegan’s yard was a twenty foot blue spruce. The blue spruce is no longer there but that doesn’t diminish the alpine sort of air that pervades in one of the highest altitude neighborhoods that existed in old Oak Ridge. Ogden Circle has a tremendous view of the Cumberland Mountains, one that on a clear day will take your breath away with all its distant blue hues and snapshots of real East Tennessee in the form of Frost Bottom farms far below. It was a lovely place to be as a child and we were there frequently, sometimes for days in a row. Aside from the Smysers, we were acquainted with the Smiths (Gin was Tom Dunigan’s secretary for years), the Wendolkowskis, the Hubers, Marshall Lockhart, the Snyders, the Vanstrums, the Shapiries, the Ripleys (couldn’t ever skip school up there), the Korsmyers, the Gregorioffs, the Battles, and, of course, Carmen and all her Trammells. Much as you could claim for your own neighborhood, all these folks knew and liked one another.
Every Christmas until he became ill, Uncle David strung the spruce with Christmas lights; the ones that are the size of sparrows, predominantly blue and green lights that when lit seemed to actually lower the temperature to its rightful winter mean even if it was a balmy December. After a few years of expertly decorating that tree it became a neighborhood tradition that spontaneously drew all the folks from around the circle in a wonderful display of fellowship. Being the hospitable folks that they were the Mahegans began offering hot chocolate and coffee and seasonal goodies to all who came in an open house sort of atmosphere. When I grew a little older and began thinking, of course, that I was wiser than I really was I began noticing a considerable amount of tippling going on at this event and that folks came from other enclaves in Oak Ridge to equip themselves with a good seasonal buzz. As you would imagine, the kids, revved repeatedly on hot chocolate sugar, ran extremely wild while the predisposed grown folk laughed and joked and tossed one down after another. What hellacious fun it was!
After a fair amount of mood altering fortification we set out around the circle to sing carols. There were times it snowed and we crunched and steamed and sang like birds all around that tight little circular road. High in the pines off Outer Drive. It wasn’t until I was on my own that I noticed that not everyone mixed alcohol and the tidings of the season so unfetteredly. I guess my folks reasoned that God not only gave his only begotten son, but that he also gave us whiskey so that we might laugh and forget all our travails for a while.