The Christmas season has begun. I knew nothing of the first Sunday in Advent as a child. We had no Advent wreath or theme in the Norwegian Pentecostal church I attended. The first Sunday of Advent meant the distribution of our Christmas “pieces” in preparation for the Christmas program. As I’ve mentioned before, I always seemed to be expect to have the longest piece, or be a narrator. To this day, I attribute my lack of fear of public speaking to those days. I don’t ever remember being nervous about getting up in front of people to talk. I’ve been doing it since before I can remember.
It was officially Christmas, I had seen Santa at the Parade on Thanksgiving Day. Lights were twinkling from the houses in my neighborhood. As you went toward 5th Avenue, the smell of pine mixed with a small coal fire filled the air. Miraculously Christmas trees were lining the path to the wonders of 5th Avenue.
No I am not talking about the 5th Avenue that you normally associate with New York City. I am talking about MY 5th Avenue, 5th Avenue Brooklyn. Without crossing the street I could shop for shoes at Thom McAn’s shoe store, junk at the variety store, eat at the lunch counter at Woolworth’s, or go to the bank. Streets were understood in terms of “long streets” and “short streets.” A long street was the distance between one avenue and another. Short streets were the distance between “streets.” The long streets were predominantly residential while most short streets had some commercial activity.
Crossing 5th Avenue I could consume pizza. To this day, I have found none to compare to King’s Pizza next to the fire station between 52nd and 53rd. There was nothing you could not buy on 5th Avenue. While 8th Avenue was all Norwegian, 5th Avenue had variety. There were plenty of Norwegian shopping on 5th Avenue as well as Norwegian stores. There was a Norwegian fish market where my mother would purchase fresh mackerel. Something I dearly loved to have for supper.
With my brother’s no longer home, my father declared that my mother needed a break. On Sunday we’d climb the stairs to the second floor of 5414 5th Avenue to eat our Sunday dinner at Promenaden Restaurant. My menu choice was Torskerogn with boiled potatoes and peas. For dessert I’d have a delicious tyttebær shortcake. If we were lucky we’d be seated near one of the large windows overlooking our 5th Avenue. To me it was as glorious as eating at the fanciest restaurant at the 5th Avenue in Manhattan.
I am not sure why we stopped going to Promenaden for Sunday dinner. I do remember that it was followed by TV dinners on TV trays. While it seemed the “modern” thing to do, I missed those trips up the stairs for torskerogn. Nevertheless, fiskaboller and torskerogn were staples in our home as well.
A new outfit for Christmas was mandatory. Not only would you wear your Christmas outfit on Christmas day, it was necessary for the Christmas program. Some years, that outfit would come from Lerner’s. Some years we’d take the bus to Downtown Brooklyn to shop at A&S. Rarely did it mean a trip to Manhattan to purchase an outfit at Macy’s or Gimbel’s. Clothing was my mother’s domain, trips to Manhattan were my dad’s. Usually preparation for my Christmas attire meant a trip to Woolworths to look at patterns and fabric.
I loved looking at the patterns. I loved imagining how I would look, picking just the right fabric. On a small Necchi sewing machine, my mother would create out of raw materials the most wonderful of Christmas outfits. I remember crushed velvet dresses and jumpers. I remember plaid suits and satiny skirts with a flocked bodice. Later I would create a denim jumper on this machine. I would walk the halls of Pershing Junior High in my own creations made on this ancient Necchi machine.
But Christmas was weeks away, an eternity for a small girl in Brooklyn. There was so much yet to be done. School programs, church programs, my mother’s sewing and baking, the annual trip to my father’s work for the Christmas program, the tree at Rockefeller's Center... Christmas in New York was magical… later would come Juletree fests as we rotated around a Christmas tree with a little song pamphlet with Norwegian flag on both sides. Yes, there was much more to come…and more to be told.