Christmas Memories of Growing Up in Highland Park

My brother and I (Christmas-1959?)

My brother and I (Christmas-1959?)

“The helicopter is coming!”  This would be one of the greatest highlights of my young life.  Yes, I had sat on Santa’s lap at Hudson’s and Sears and Roebuck’s, but this would be special.  Santa was arriving at Ford Park in a helicopter.   The helicopter soon landed and there he was!  Santa  climbed out of the helicopter as gracefully as possible for a man of his girth.  He then gave a hearty “Ho Ho” and passed out candy to all of us children.  I couldn’t wait for Christmas to come.

Reflecting back upon my Christmas memories, takes me to a time where life was quite simple for me.  My parents helped make Christmas the special and joyous time of year that it was.  Here are several random memories of my Christmases as a child growing up in Highland Park.

Our Christmas season would begin on Thanksgiving.  Dad would make all of us sit in front of our black and white television and watch the Hudson’s parade through the streets of downtown Detroit.  The floats were a sight to see for a young child as well as the marching bands.  However, one of my greatest memories is Dad’s complaining about Sonny Eliot talking too much during the parade as he did the commentary.  He would also say: “Why do they have so many commercials? They are wrecking the parade.”  Yet, every year, he would have us in front of the television for more of Sonny Eliot’s jokes and more commercials.

The other highlight of the parade was Santa Claus coming at the end of the parade.  As a child, I thought he was the real thing.  He sure looked the part.  To this day, I never have seen a better Santa than the one that would stand in front of Hudson’s and receive the keys of Detroit from the mayor.

The "real" Santa Claus-Photo by permission from:

The “real” Santa Claus-Photo by permission from:

The next step of the Booth Christmas was to check out the Christmas lights in downtown Detroit as well as a brightly lit neighborhood somewhere off of West Outer Drive.  The lights in Downtown Detroit gave me great joy as I would say: “Look at those lights!”  There was nothing like the lights in Downtown Detroit during the Christmas season.

Hudson’s Christmas lights-1960: With permission from:

I also enjoyed the lights on Woodward Avenue in Highland Park.  Early in my childhood, the lights would be surrounded by real evergreen and wrapped around the light poles.  The real evergreen around each light pole made Woodward look classy during that time of year.  I never did like the artificial lights that the city eventually used on each pole.  I am sure it was cheaper, but it also looked cheaper.

After the parades and lights, the next step in the Booth Christmas was the Christmas tree.  I have shared this adventure in my previous post, but looking back I appreciate all that my parents did to make our Christmas tree a sight to behold, at least from the perspective of a young child.

During our preparations for Christmas, Mom loved to decorate the house with all sorts of Christmas decorations.  She always loved to make the house as joyful as possible during this special time of year.  She would also lay out several Christmas books.  My favorite was “The Night Before Christmas”.  I would love for Mom to read it to me. It made my anticipation for Santa’s coming even greater.

Christmas Eve created a great amount of excitement in our home.  The lights on the tree were lit.  The cookies and milk were placed by the tree for Santa Claus.  Once, when I was a bit older (maybe six years old), I asked my parents, “How can Santa Claus come into our house?  We don’t have a chimney.”  Dad had the perfect solution.  He told me: “We will leave the front door unlocked for him.”  At the time, it made perfect sense to me.

Before going to bed, the last thing I remember doing was turning on the television and checking out Santa’s present location.  At that time, a local commentator would come on throughout the evening giving us the location of Santa and his sleigh via “radar”.   Dad and Mom would then say: “He is getting closer, you need to get to bed.”  I didn’t argue.  Six o’ clock in the morning couldn’t come soon enough.

Christmas Day began early for us.  Looking back, I realize that it was because of me everybody would wake up at 6: 00 A.M.. We would head downstairs to check out what Santa Claus had brought.  Every year, Santa would bring exactly what I had placed on my list.  I always was excited about the toys and games that I received from Santa.  However, the one gift from my parents was always the same, clothes.  This didn’t bring me much excitement.

My parents went out of their way to make my Christmas a special time of year.  They sacrificed a lot to keep the wonder of Christmas for us.  I never thought about thanking them for everything they did.  As I reflect back upon my early years, Christmas revealed how self-centered I was.  Christmas seemed to be all about me and what I wanted for Christmas.

It wasn’t until later did I really understand the true meaning of Christmas.  I remember songs like “Hark, the Herald” and “Joy to the World”.  I knew that there was a baby born in a manger named Jesus, but I didn’t know Him.  I didn’t know that He (God in the flesh) came to earth to die for my sins.  When I was nineteen years old, I finally received the greatest gift.  The gift of eternal life from Jesus Christ, my Lord.

There are many other memories of my childhood Christmases, such as the Ford Rotunda, and Hudson’s 12th floor, but I will save those for a later post.

P.S.  Please check out my other blog in which I write upon spiritual topics.  Here is a link to my Christmas post called: “The Wonder of the Babe in the Manger” Here is the link:

P.P.S.  Here is a link for more photos of the old Hudson’s store:


The Great Christmas Tree Hunt

My brother and I enjoying the tree.  (1961?)

My brother and I enjoying the tree. (1961?)

November 15th is the beginning of hunting season here in Michigan. For many a young person, it is a thrill to go with their father (or mother) as they hunt for deer. Growing up in Highland Park, I never went on a big hunt for a deer. However, once a year Dad would take me on a great hunting expedition. We didn’t hunt for deer, but for that elusive Christmas tree that was cheap, fresh and good-looking.

Our Christmas tree hunt began a couple of weeks before Christmas. We would get in the car and begin the hunt. We would go from place to place in order find our prize tree. The perfect Christmas tree was usually a Douglas Fir. It also couldn’t be tall, but it could be a bit fat. Dad would check every tree from head to toe to make sure it would fulfill his specifications. Dad would then barter with the salesman. Once he had his price, he triumphantly would place the tree in the trunk of the car. Dad always believed in big cars with big trunks; so transporting the tree was no problem.

After buying the tree, the fun had just begun. I don’t know if there was such a thing as a tree stand in the fifties or sixties, but nobody told Dad about buying one. Our tree stand was a fairly large pan with a cement cinder block in the center of it. Dad would cut the bottom of the tree to try to fit it into a hole in the cinder block. With great time and effort, he would eventually coerce the tree into the block. Success was in his grasp, but the tree was not yet stable. Then Dad’s scientific mind would go to work. He would use wire and nails in strategic places in the wall to make the tree straight.

The tree was now up, but there was yet the “fun” of decorating the tree. The lights were always stored wrapped around wrapped up newspapers. In theory, this would keep the lights from tangling up. However, every year the lights would somehow become tangled  while being stored. The lights were also a special challenge because if one light was out, the whole string of lights would be out. Then, we would have to find by trial and error the one light that didn’t work!  Eventually, the lights would go up. The bulbs would go on next. These would have to be put on carefully because many of our bulbs were easily broken if one of them would fall to the ground.

My favorite part of decorating was putting the tinsel on the tree. I would put the tinsel on in bunches. I always thought the more tinsel on the tree, the better. However, looking back, I could see that my parents were quite patient with my sense of beauty.  When I was away,  Mom would repair my messy job with the tinsel.

Finally, the grand finale was putting the angel on top of the tree. This angel was the highlight of the tree. To me, the angel was beautiful, and It looked great sitting on top of the tree. I have never found this angel again after all these years.

With the completion of the Christmas tree, I was now ready for Christmas, Santa Claus and the gifts. Looking back, I never really appreciated all that my Dad and Mom did to make Christmas a joyous occasion for the whole family. They not only sacrificed with all their work on the tree, but in many other ways.  I wish I could call them and thank them for all that they did, but that will not be possible.

The Alley: My Favorite Playground

The alley between Candler and Ferris (West of Oakland Ave.)

The alley between Candler and Ferris (West of Oakland Ave.)

When I would visit relatives in the suburbs of Detroit, I couldn’t figure out why they didn’t have an alley behind their homes.  “Where do they play?” I would ask myself.  When I was a child, the alley behind our house on Candler Avenue was my favorite place to play.

The alleys in Highland Park were used by the residents to park their cars in their garages or in a lot behind their house.  The alley was also used by the sanitation workers to pick up the garbage.  Early in my life, Dad would put the garbage in a large oil drum that most people used for their garbage.  I always had sympathy for the sanitation workers who had to lift those heavy drums and empty its contents into the truck. Later, the city passed a law against using those large oil drums.  I am sure this was a relief to the sanitation workers in Highland Park, but my Dad wasn’t happy because he would complain about the smaller trash cans getting damaged.

A sample of the large oil drums that we used for garbage.

A sample of the large oil drums that we used for garbage.

For me, however, the alley was my playground while I grew up.  It was a handy meeting place for all the children to meet, but more importantly it was a great place to play until the lights in the alley would come on at night and we would all have to go home.

We would play a variety of games in the alley.  We would play softball in spite of the fact that a couple of garage windows fell victim to an errant softball.   Of course, hitting the ball in a backyard was an automatic out.  We discovered that kickball would be a safer choice.

Some other games that we played was touch football.  I don’t know how we were able to play this in our narrow alley, but we did.  In the winter, we also would play hockey on the iced over alley.  We would use tennis shoes, but we felt like we were Gordie Howe with a hockey stick.

One of the most problematic games in the alley was basketball.  One of the kids in the neighborhood had a backboard connected to their garage.  This was great except the lady behind this house worked on the night shift.  She would always complain about the noise though we were playing during the day.  If we continued to play after her complaint, she would call the police.  We didn’t scatter when the police would come down the alley.  They understood our predicament; however we would be back playing basketball a few days later.

There were other games that we would play including hide n seek.  This would be played in the alley as well as several yards where the owners surprisingly didn’t mind having a bunch of children running through their yards, as well as hiding in them.  I wonder if this behavior would be acceptable today.

Another game that we would play in the alley was strikeout.  This game was played by making strike zone on the garage across from my house.  We had didn’t have a garage, so  our parking lot would be the pitcher’s mound.  This game would work out well until the owner of the garage would check out the damage on his garage from the rubber baseball constantly hitting his garage.  The amazing thing is that he never really kept us from using his garage as a strike zone.  If the batter hit the ball in my backyard, it would be a double.  If he hit the house, it would be a triple.  Over the house would be a home run.  There were a few broken windows, but we still enjoyed playing like the Detroit Tigers.

One of the most terrifying times in my life came when I was about seven years old.  I was at a friend’s house.  A storm was coming so I started to go home through the alley on my little sixteen inch bicycle.  The thunder, lightning and rain surrounded me.  The alley had never seemed so dark to me as I sped home. I cried all the way.  I still remember my Mom trying to stop all of my tears because I was much afraid.

As time went by, the alley would become silent.  Many of my friends would move away.  Those of us who were left would go in different directions.  I soon found myself spending less and less time in my favorite playground. I had found other interests including playing tennis at Ford Park.

After all of these years,  I still haven’t forgotten all the great times and all the friendships that I made in that little stretch of concrete that we called our alley.

P.S. Please visit my other blog:  I have articles such as “God’s Waiting Room” and “Moving Beyond Fear to Courage”.

Thanksgiving: Memories of being Raised in Highland Park, MI

Candler Ave. Between Brush and Oakland

The Bible says “In everything give thanks”. As I reflect upon growing up in Highland Park, almost all of my memories were positive memories.  Yes, there were the couple of times, I was attacked at school and once in walking home from HPHS.  Yes, there were some parental disagreements that I didn’t enjoy hearing.  Yes, there was the death of my grandma.  However, when I look at the whole picture, I thank God that He gave me the family that He did as well as giving me the opportunity of growing up in Highland Park.  Since reconnecting with several Highland Parkers via Facebook, I have thought more of my past. This has helped me to see the sovereign hand of God in my life even when I didn’t know Him as I was growing up.  Here is a list of things for which I am thankful concerning my life growing up in Highland Park.  I am thankful for:

1. A loving family who always provided for my needs.

2. The many friends that I had growing up

3. The schools that I attended and the teachers that taught me

4. The opportunity to attend Highland Park Community College while in high school so that I could finish college early.

5. The alley beyond my house where I spent untold hours playing with my friends.

6. Ford Park where I would spend hours each day during the summer.

7. The tennis courts at Ford Park where I learned to play tennis

8. The bike rides I could take around the Detroit area because HP was centrally located.

9. The opportunity to go to all the stores on Woodward Avenue

10. Little League football (I enjoyed the four years that I participated)

11. The Highland Park Recreation Department fast pitch baseball leagues for young people.

12. My first experience with fast food at the Red Barn.

13. The opportunity to interact with people who were from different backgrounds.

14. The many field trips that we took while at school.

15. The lessons that I learned about myself

16. The desire that God put in me to read His Word all the way through (at 16) though I didn’t yet know Him as my Savior.

17. A little church called Coltman Memorial Baptist Church (Located on Hamilton near Puritan in a building which was a funeral home) which I attended after I was saved (19 years old) and where my Mom accepted the Lord and was baptized.

18. The great times I had with my involvement in the National Honor Society at HPHS.

19. The opportunity to play on the tennis team at HPHS.

20. The Victor Bakery and the fresh-baked french bread.

21. Red Hots, which was a great place to eat a Coney.

22. McGregor Library (especially the stereo scopes)

23. The impromptu baseball games we would play under the big tree at Ford Field.

24. The tree-lined streets that were like a tunnel of trees.

25. Eighth Grade camp at Camp Rankin.

26. The friends with whom I have I reconnected on Facebook as well as new friends that I have made from HP via FB.

I could continue to list more.  Yes, I have several regrets from my years in Highland Park.  There are things that I wish I had done, and there are things that I wish that I had never done.  I thank God for His mercy and forgiveness and that my sins have been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ. I thank God that I can be called an Highland Parker and for all of His blessings of my childhood and teen years in Highland Park.