The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

December 29, 2012

ARLENE JOHNS | Treasured ornaments touched hearts

Arlene Johns

JOHNSTOWN — I’ve been enjoying the ‘ornament’ item on the front page of The Tribune-Democrat,” wrote a reader who identified herself only as “Grandma.”

Based on the more than 200 submissions sent to our office, the letter writer probably spoke for a lot of our readers.

We were able to feature only 31 of your favorite holiday decorations on our front pages this month – the rest are posted on our website under “Multimedia” – but they have all been worth reading.

A snapshot of the collection proves what we have known all along: Christmas is about our families, our faith in God, our childhood memories – not about extravagance and materialism.

In fact, many of the favorite decorations were not even pretty to look at. Often they were made by a child. Some were ragged, with parts missing. Some were made of recycled household items with no material value whatsoever.

But to the owners, the worth of their favorite decoration can’t be measured.

Helen Gochnour Csikos sent a photo of cardboard Christmas display given to her by her foster parents in 1961. In a particularly poignant letter, Csikos wrote: “It was the first time I remember having a real Christmas with loving parents.”

More than one reader sent in a photo of a decoration made or purchased by a loved one no longer living. Joni Phillips of Nanty Glo sent in photos of an angel tree she created following the death of her 15-year-old daughter.

Many of our readers were most attached to handcrafted items. Clare Lasinsky of Ebensburg sent a photo of a floral centerpiece made from her mother’s 1946 wedding gown.

Patti Price of Johnstown sent a photo of two stockings hanging from her mantel. She crafted them when her children were young and, in the process, developed a lifelong love of knitting.

Mary Ann Naret of Central City sent a photo of 40 handcrafted stockings hanging by her fireplace.

Maureen O’Connor of Boswell submitted a picture of some of the 1,000 ornaments made by her father, Donald, who at 95 is still crafting.

Sue Kist of Mineral Point shared decorations made from slices of tree trunks and decorated by family members. “I smile when I see how the kids’ signatures have changed since their pre-school scribbles,” Kist wrote.

Most submissions were about decorations many years old.

Anna Zambotti of Jerome recalled the Christmas her husband was away serving during World War II. “All I had was a box of icicles,” she wrote.

Several submissions came from readers who recalled purchasing decorations from one of the once-thriving downtown department stores. The prices paid for the items seem unbelievable by today’s standards. Dolly Yonkaski of Dunlo sent a photo of a creche with figurines purchased at Grants store in Windber for 15 cents each.

There were themes, too: A salt-and-pepper shaker collection, a display of Snow Babies. Marilyn Robb of Beaverdale sent a photo of her tree decked out with more than 100 tea­cups collected over many years.

And then there was Meribeth DeBarto’s sixth-grade class at Conemaugh Township Area Middle School that sent in their favorites. The kids made great use of adjectives in describing their decorations and trees. Michaela Slayton described her tree as “big, bulky, luscious.” Evan Holsinger said his was “green, spiky and decorated” and Allison Snell wrote about her tree’s “amazing properties.” (They all deserve an A for this assignment, Ms. DeBarto.)

Actually, everyone who participated deserves an A. Your notes and letters made us laugh, brought back memories and, in some cases, made us cry.

Thanks for taking part.

 Arlene Johns is The Tribune-Democrat’s city editor.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.