I grew up in Toledo, Ohio. From age 9, until I left for the service at age 19, we lived in West Toledo on a street called Rollins Road. Living for 10 memorable years on that street,and in that neighborhood, was truly a dream like blessing. I remember when we moved in, ” onto the block as we used to say”. I was a nervous kid who did not know how to relate to other kids, I guess shy is the best description, but probably more like extremely shy. Well there are many memories from my childhood but the Christmas season stands out. It snowed a lot in those days in Toledo and it almost always snowed for Christmas. Sleds, boots or gulashes as we called them, gloves, stocking caps, long underwear, snow shovels, scarfs, and scrapers, all come to mind in a jumbled flow. It was another world. We walked to school in the snow and if we were lucky in a heavy snow we got a ride, at least one way. It was normal to carry a lunch and if it snowed real hard we got off school.
There was no ” winter festival ” in our town it was simply “Christmas”. The Catholic Church had many parishes and still does for that matter. I attended Catholic grade school but went to public high school. All the stereotypes of tough nuns and tougher priests were true in my world. I remember at Christmas we always had a Christmas play. Each class had to learn a few songs to sing. The nuns were in a fierce competition and therefore preparing for the play was hard work.Harder if you had no idea how to sing and did not know a musical note from a paper note.
I did not have confidence in my singing and always followed along. I really thought I could not sing and therefore could not sing. I knew I could throw and hit a baseball but I doubted my voice. We practiced our songs in the church and we were seated in the pews. As we were singing the nuns would walk up and down the aisles and give instruction. It was an art to time her walking up to your pew in order to start singing and act like you knew what you were doing. Stressful, let me tell you. Even more stressful was trying to plan where to stand in line as we formed up hoping it would place you in the middle of the pew. An aisle seat on either end of the pew and yo were done for. There was no hiding from the nuns if you ended up sitting on the end of the pew.
The other hard part was they separated the boys from the girls. The girls always sang very well and when we were separated there was less opportunity to get away faking it. It was a tough thing to deal with. The whole play preparation was not fun but on the day we had to perform some kind of Christmas magic occurred and it always worked out great… the nuns were happy, and we came away feeling like we had a tremendous success. As I reflect on it we learned discipline and teamwork….and many other things too.
There were nativity scenes and other Christmas icons everywhere in Toledo. No one would ever think of forcing a Christian nativity scene, or cross, or any religious symbol off of a public land or building. The ten commandments were posted in the court house and other public buildings…