December 23rd started the nerve-breaking wait for Santa when we were little. Were there carrots for the reindeer? And cookies and milk for Santa? What was the weather report? Well, in Buffalo in the 1960s, it was almost always a white Christmas, but high winds could create problems for a certain sleigh.
Oakvale Boulevard was laid out in the former Lincoln Forest in the mid-1950s. It was settled by young families leaving the city of Buffalo for the suddenly growing suburbs. The Tonawandas, namely the City, North and Town, were named from a Tuscarora Indian word meaning “confluent water”, or an Erie/ Neutral word for “swift water.” In support of confluent water, this area has tons of waterways: large creeks, small and narrow streams, and the famous Erie Canal. In support of swift water, the Niagara River hurtles northward, turning into white-water rapids as it prepares to surge over Niagara Falls. Saint John Neumann wrote to his family that sitting in his cabin in North Bush (now Kenmore-Tonawanda area), that he could hear the roar of the Falls at night – over 5o miles away!
The Tonawandas are a a mix of refineries, heavy industry, small stands of forests, and two-story houses or one-floor ranch homes. And those houses have enormous front lawns and back yards, huge compared to the lots in most of Buffalo. And there are a host of churches of all kinds! At noon, Catholic church bells ring across the area for the Angelus, and if you tune in to certain radio stations you can still recite the prayers in English or Polish along with the announcer.
One year, the parents of our block paid for a gentleman to come to every house on our block- 40 in all – dressed as Santa, on Christmas Eve. Of course he knew our names, and he brought small gifts. We were in awe – the next day there were certain kids who swore that they saw his sleigh and the reindeer standing alongside the playground in the next block. Talk about getting ready for Christmas morning!!
What a memory those parents gave us! I was no older than seven, but I still remember him standing at the base of the stairs, all in red and white, and my sisters going forward to touch him. What a great thing to do! Our block was like that: houses for sale are sold in days, not weeks, because of the reputation for camaraderie and block-wide events. How many people today can say that they know most of their neighbors? We knew who lived in every single house. Today I go rolling in my power wheelchair down a block of 44 homes, and I know the residents in four. This little memory trip encourages me to know more.
So, the night of December 23: as little children do their own countdown, here is part of the Byzantine Rite preparation:
Behold, the time of salvation is drawing near. O Cave, prepare yourself, for the Virgin is coming to give birth. O Bethlehem, O land of Judah, adorn yourself and be happy, since the Lord will shine forth from you! O mountains and hills around Judah, hearken, for Christ is coming that He may save His creation because He is the Lover of Mankind.