Veterans Beat: Writer recalls old Christmas traditions

by Ron Seman Published:

In the almost 28 years I have been writing for the Bedford Times Register, Maple Heights Press, and now the Nordonia Hills News Leader, Twinsburg Bulletin and other Record Publishing Co. newspapers, this previous Christmas column has brought me the most satisfying response:

Growing up in a family of 10 children (I was the youngest) in the early 1930s on Cleveland's east side may have been short on material goods, but was bountifully blessed with innumerable happy Christmas memories.

We lived on East 92nd Street off Holton Avenue, about a mile from St. Ladislas Church, where my dad, John, was custodian for many years. My mother, Eva, managed the household with a firm hand; cooking, washing clothes, and ironing (no automatic washers or dryers). At times, one of my six sisters stayed home from school to help.

Much of our family activity centered on the church. It was not uncommon for my brothers and sisters to join our dad in dusting pews at the church, shoveling coal, baking potatoes in the boilers and removing snow.

Christmas was always special at the church. We all worked together to erect a 15-by-30-foot manger (complete with life-size statues) that Fr. Ladislas Necid, the pastor, had personally built and secured.

It was simply outstanding. We set up freshly cut trees and then decorated them with multi-colored lights.

In those days, we had to physically ring the church bells, which were in the choir loft. We rang the bells at noon and 6 p.m., and on special occasions such as Christmas and New Year's Eve to announce the turn of another year. Three-inch-thick ropes traveled up some 40 feet to the bell tower. The bells were so heavy it took two or three of us to pull the rope down, which resulted in our being lifted about 3 feet above the floor. Many of my schoolmates at St. Ladislas eagerly volunteered to ring the bells -- mostly for the thrill of the ride.

When Christmas Eve arrived, and all the preparations were in order for the Midnight Mass, my dad and I carried a 4-by-24-foot table to our house for the annual family gathering. After the traditional dinner, I had to present a memorized Christmas greeting in Slovak to a tough audience. The sisters (Vincentian Sisters of Charity) prepared us well. This accomplished, I looked forward to unwrapping the gifts. Never enough! I'm told by my siblings.

When people talk about the good old days, I know what they mean. My mom and dad did not have much money, but they gave us $1 million worth of love and taught us the importance of family values.

My sisters, Mary, Julia, Clara, Cele, Evelyn and Dorothy, and brothers George, Ed and John all benefited from the loving home our parents provided for us.

As my older sisters and brothers married and left home, there was more room in the house and an easier time for me to find a prominent place at the dinner table.

My sister Dorothy joined the Vincentian Sisters in Pittsburgh at the age of 16 and later distinguished herself as Superior General of the order for eight years. She continues to serve at St. Thomas A' Becket Parish in Jefferson Hills, Pa., where she is an Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion.

Of the four brothers, John and myself were the only two who entered the service. John joined the Army in 1939 and served in Germany during World War II, where he was wounded. I joined the Air Force in 1952, survived a tour at K-9 Air Base near Pusan, Korea, and returned to serve two years at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. What a lovely assignment.

But I digress.

When I was discharged from the Air Force after three years and 10 months of service, I attended Kent State University (on the GI Bill) to get a degree in radio-speech and journalism. My career included a 10-year stint in broadcasting, more than 30 years in public relations, and writer for Cleveland mayors Ralph J. Perk, George Voinovich and Michael R. White, and Gov. Voinovich.

I retired from the latter's office on March 31, 1997.

Many of the previous experiences were unique -- a gift -- not available today. And which may never be duplicated in the future.

We indeed were blessed. And we are grateful.

May the infant Jesus bless each of you and your families on His birthday and throughout the coming New Year. Merry Christmas.

And to our Jewish veterans and their families, I offer the very best for a Happy Hanukkah celebration.

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We welcome your news about posts and auxiliaries in our circulation areas. Send your material to Ron Seman, 5811 Renwood Drive, Parma, 44129, or email: SemanRJ@aol.com.

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