We continue with Here Are Poinsettias: A Child’s Christmas in Harrisburg, in which I remember the first time I heard the best advice my mother ever gave me.
The day after Thanksgiving was the official start of the Christmas shopping season, and most years our whole family went downtown for the Balloon Parade. The Elks and the VFW and the Knights of Columbus all had floats, and Santa rode in a fire truck. We watched the bands from William Penn and John Harris and Catholic High march by, their music sounding thin and out of tune in the cold air. Once, as we stood along Third Street in front of the Rialto Theater, my sister, Rose, let go of my father’s hand to scratch her nose or fix her hat. She was very little, and she didn’t look up when she put her hand out again. A few minutes later we heard her wailing, and found her clutching the hand of someone else’s father.
After the parade we looked at the animated displays in Pomeroy’s windows on Fourth Street. We saw elves building things, loading Santa’s pack, Mrs. Clause getting cookies out of the oven, Santa polishing the reindeer harness. Then we went up to Toys on the third floor and visited Santa. He asked us if we’d been good, and then he gave us a candy cane and a coloring book.
For lunch we went to Davenport’s for a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup, because it was Friday. If it wasn’t too cold, we bought peanuts at the Virginia Nut Shop for the capitol park squirrels, and then it was back to Pomeroy’s for a box of vanilla butter creams, which Mother let us eat in the car on the way home, even though it spoiled our dinner.
One time I remember we took the bus downtown instead of the car. At the candy counter Mother discovered that she didn’t have enough cash left to pay for butter creams and our bus fare.
“No butter creams this time,” she said.
“Why don’t you use your charge account?” I asked her. I’d seen her use it twice that day, once for a box of bubble lights for the tree and again for new green velvet dresses for us to wear to parties and concerts and church on Christmas.
“Never use your charge account to buy food or nylon stockings,” Mother said. “You eat the food and the nylons get runs. Both things will be gone before the bill comes.” I live by that advice to this very day.
(Editor’s note: My grandmother often said, when we left the house on a Saturday afternoon for a matinee at the Uptown Theater, “Don’t sit near any bad boys.” That too, has proven to be good advice, although I haven’t followed it as faithfully as I have the no food on your charge account admonition.)