Thursday, December 30, 2010

My father's camera

In my recent search for photos of the Christmas trees of my childhood, I found instead my father's old camera!  

I remember this camera clearly.  It popped open, with accordion-like folds, when Daddy prepared to take a picture.

The old camera had been stored in a box with lots of old photos, but unfortunately no photos of our early Christmases were included.

The camera is still in pretty good shape.  It's a Jiffy Kodak Six-20, which used 620-roll film. It was made by the Eastman Kodak company in the 1930s.

I opened it gingerly and took these photos of it to share here.

This camera even had a little stand and a setting for delaying the shutter, so that my father could set it up and then run to join us in the picture.  He liked to do that!

 I have written this month's column about Daddy's camera and my discovery of why there are so few photos of the inside of our home.

See Remembering my father's camera.

I also found a little instruction booklet that accompanied the camera.  In the back is a PRICE LIST!  A roll of film cost 25 cents and contained 8 exposures.    

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

1937-38 Xmas trees

One of my cousins, Dave Brewster, recently scanned and shared these old photos of the Christmas trees at Pine Knoll, the Nichols family home in Hathorne (Danvers).  The photos were taken in 1937 and 1938, well before my time, but I recognize the scene and many of the decorations, which continued to be used year after year.

1938 Pine Knoll sitting room

1937 Christmas tree at Pine Knoll

Thanks, Dave, for the photos!  

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Christmas trees

Remembering the Christmas trees of my childhood is the theme of my December column, "Christmas trees small and large." (see text below)

I've been looking for photos to post here.  The search has led to boxes of slides and prints in closets, the attic, and odd corners, but so far no photos of the little trees of my childhood.  Meanwhile, a cousin has helped by scanning older family photos (see next post).

I'm still looking for photos of the Christmas trees in our home in the late 1940's or early 1950's.  I did find this image of our little house (mailed out as a Christmas postcard with the message "Greetings from 120 Nichols Street" in my father's handwriting):

And this outside photo (below) from mid 1950's... Jean and I with skis, and note the squirrel track across the roof!    

The window on the left is in the living room window; Jean's bedroom on right. Our Christmas tree would not have been visible in this view. It was on top of a narrow table on the left edge of the living room, visible only through a window on that south side. 

Danvers Herald column: Remembering Danvers, November 2010  

Christmas trees small and large
By Sandy Nichols Ward

As a child growing up in Danvers, I lived in a very small house. Because we lacked floor space for a full Christmas tree, we always selected a tree small enough to fit on top of a table -- the wooden trestle table Grandfather Cutler had built to fit along the south wall of our living room.  That was our table for dining, for games, for displaying my mother's arrangements of flowers and the pewter candleholders she loved -- a multipurpose table. Each December, that table was the perfect place to put the tree, with ample space underneath for presents.

We were lucky to live near wooded acres of family land from which we could cut and drag home a fresh tree.  My mother was careful to select one that wouldn't be missed from the landscape.  She insisted on keeping the tree as fresh as possible by setting the cut stem into a bucket of water and leaving the tree outside in the cool air until just a few days before Christmas. Then she and my father would carefully set the base of the tree into a large attractive container, using rocks to hold the tree up straight. I recall a wide green porcelain vase with rather fancy raised white decorations, Wedgewood style, around the outside. A circular brass tray was placed on the table under the tree and its container to catch drips or spills from daily watering. We were taught that keeping the tree well-watered was an essential safety precaution to reduce the chance of fire from hot lights touching dried needles. This system worked well; no fires, no floods, and the well-lit little tree was centered in front of a window, looking pretty from outside the house as well as inside.  

Years later, when we lived in a larger house and had plenty of space for a floor-to-ceiling tree, the watering of the tree was more difficult. You had to reach in over the wrapped presents, reaching through the lower branches, aiming at the difficult-to-see container at the base of the tree. Sometimes we missed. I remember one dramatic occasion when a flood of misplaced water threatened the Christmas presents, including a large rectangular one propped up against the wall beside the tree. My mother leapt from the couch, ran across the room, and snatched that big gift out of harm's way. I'd never seen her move so fast! She was truly alarmed, calming down only after she confirmed that the water had not yet touched that gift. What was in there? I wondered for days.  On Christmas morning I found out that my mother has splurged to buy a watercolor painting by local artist Beth Hendrick. She knew I'd admired it; the gift was a total surprise for me. I'm so thankful that she rescued it from the water; I still have that lovely painting of a Maine coastal scene.

Our Christmas trees, both small and large, were decorated in a rather simple style, with many natural and handmade items. Pinecones, saved year after year, were attached with tiny wires. Spiny seedpods from sweet gum (or liquid amber) trees, painted silver or gold by my great aunt Catherine, looked like multi-pointed stars or prickly spheres. Cutouts from old Christmas cards dangled from the branches. We did use some glass balls and other commercially produced items, but the overall effect was still, predominantly, a natural green tree.   

On the Sunday after Christmas, we always gathered at Pine Knoll, the Nichols family homestead at 98 Preston Street, for a "second Christmas" with all the cousins, aunts and uncles of our extended family. The gifts exchanged there were smaller, but the tree was HUGE and its decorations were elaborate. The tree stood in the corner of a high-ceilinged room, almost touching the ceiling -- a magnificent tree covered with beautiful and antique ornaments.  I recall angels with silken hair, and large colored glass balls decorated in silver. The whole tree seemed to be dripping with silvery tinsel strips and glass icicles reflecting light. A spectacular sight! Impressive as this was, I still loved the small table-top tree at home with the simple ornaments.