A Remembrance of Christmas Past

December 28, 2017
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By Muriel J. Smith |

ATLANTIC HIGHLANDS – Christmas is a special time and many can cite a memorable celebration. Many residents at CareOne at King James recall decades of Christmases with hundreds of happy memories. But still, there is always one that stands out.

Peter Noble, a former Red Bank police officer, who also served in the Allenhurst Police Department, as a security officer at Monmouth University, and even taught a course at the Police Academy, chuckles when remembering the year his son and daughter were 4 and 6 years old. It isn’t a single event that stands out, he said, just the compilation of everything, like taking a few minutes off his patrol work to stop at the Noble home on Hubbard Park to help get the Christmas tree in place. “My son would help me with the lights,” he said, “and I’d get mad because how could he even know which lights I was asking for when I was at the top of the ladder? But we ended up laughing and it’s a great memory.”

Noble said, “We had to finagle our time to be sure we could be home Christmas morning, just to be there when the kids were opening their gifts. That was always the very best part.” Noble and his wife Kathy had his mother and Kathy’s grandma visit from care centers where each lived for the day. “It was nice to have four generations for dinner,” he said.

He grew a bit nostalgic when he recalled other Eves when he and Kathy watched Midnight Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral on TV. “That’s my Christmas now,” he said.

For Bernice Gilburn there was no forgetting Christmas of 1941. Gilburn’s dad was stationed in Panama with the U.S. Navy and the family had moved to a second-floor apartment there six months before Christmas. She was 7 at the time, and she, her mom and older sister were happy to be near the ship on which he was assigned.

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Gilburn remembers many dinners over the holidays when her dad brought home some fellow sailors, at her mom’s invitation, to share a home-cooked meal. She remembers the truck that came around with trees to purchase and decorate, and how all the families in the complex got together and sang Christmas carols around the trees in each of their homes.

But she also remembers the sirens and alarms in the middle of the night that followed the Dec. 7 bombing at Pearl Harbor. She remembers the rapid undecorating of the Christmas tree soon after Dec. 25, and the packing up of all their belongings, as civilian family members were ordered to leave Panama in the face of World War II.

She remembers the ship that took the family back to New Orleans, and her mom finding her way back to her uncle’s house in Jersey City where they lived for three years since their own home a few blocks away was rented.

Today, displayed proudly on a bureau in her room at CareOne, is a well-worn book, “The Isthmus at Christmas,” a collection of nursery rhymes familiar to Panamanians which depicts Christmas on a sun-drenched – rather than snow-covered – island, and how the reindeer still managed to find their way. “I keep the book,” she pointed out, “to remind me just how special that Christmas was.”

It is Christmas 1945, the first after the end of that same war that is special to Barbara Mead, formerly of Bloomfield and Leonardo. “I was 10 when the war ended,” she said, “and my dad was home for Christmas.” Her dad had served on a ship in several different theaters during the war, she recalled, and “my younger sister and I were thrilled to finally have him home. It just felt really, really good.” She didn’t need any special gift or toy that year. “Just my dad being home,” she smiled, “what could be better than that?”

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Ruth Mewes of Highlands particularly remembers the year she saved her own money babysitting and working at Cahn’s Laundry to buy her brother, Alfie, a kid’s rolltop desk for Christmas. “He just loved that desk, and played with it all the time.”

Joyce Boyd of Long Branch remembers when her Uncle Baby (“we called him that because he was the youngest”) saved both her younger brother Michael and the Christmas tree when Michael tried to pull the lights off and the tree came crashing down on him.

Residents shared many more memories, some smiled or shed a tear in recalling memories they did not want to share, but which had an impact on their lives. But all said, what they’re looking forward to is the one coming up, when they’ll share the holiday with their friends and caregivers at the residence they now call home.

This article was first published in the Dec. 21-28, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.

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