NOTE: Bieber and its varied spellings is a long standing name in the area. When Muncy native and Virginia resident Carl Bieber visited The Luminary, we proposed he write his Christmas memories as a child in Muncy. Initially Carl was non committal, but after some thought, forwarded his effort. Carl said, “I had a good time doing this, hope you do too.” While many are shut-in, especially seniors looking for a means to fill time, we suggest you write your memories, your grandchildren will love it. It’s our opinion it may be the most appreciated gift you could give. Include lots of detail including names and locations. Use Carl’s article as an example. The following account is in the writer’s own words.
MUNCY – There were two big events every December in the Bieber household, the annual deer season and Christmas. As a child, I waited for the hunters to come home so I could see the bucks and listen to them tell of the kill, or the sad stories of the one they missed.
As a child, I also awaited the coming of Christmas which at our house revolved around family. The Bieber family, or the “we,” consisted of my parents Warren and Helen (Houseknecht) Bieber, and siblings Robert, Gene, Marjorie, Meriam and me, Carl.
Dad was a subsistence farmer with very little reaching our table that we did not grow or produce in some way on the farm. The only money crop was 10 acres of wheat. Dad was a master butcher having learned from his ancestors. Each year we butchered two to three steers and six to eight hogs. Some reached our table while some was sold.
We resided in Muncy where father owned and operated the Rendering Plant where animal hides were sold for leather. The bodies were cooked to a fine powder which we called ‘tankage.’ Both aspects of our business were labor intensive.
It was Dad’s job to get the Christmas tree. It was not purchased unless absolutely necessary. In the Bieber home you did not pay for a tree you could cut in the woods. Dad and I would see a tree somewhere and it would become our target. If on our land in the Muncy Hills, no problem, just get the saw and begin. If the tree was on land of some farmer friend or relative, Dad would ask if we could cut it and the answer was always “yes.” Dad would offer to pay but most times it was free. It was considered a favor and they knew they could call on Dad in their need. After all, It’s Christmas! Once the tree was on the back porch, Mom was in charge with my sisters as helpers.
Our tree was 4 – 5 feet tall, secured in a gallon can with coal. I was often called upon to get the coal from the bin, amazed by how well that worked.We always put water in the can to help the tree keep fresh.
I don’t ever remember a tree tipping oven once Mom was finished. To prevent causalities, the Bieber kids were not allowed to mess with the tree. The decorations were applied by the ladies. There were times my sisters allowed me to help with the lights which were two ten foot sections, the old kind when one went out they all went out. Finding the blown light was a real trick.
Next came the balls, about four dozen in boxes and lastly the silver tinsel. We didn’t have elaborate decorations as the culture of the time was much more moderate in all things those days. A pure white cloth covered the can and the table on which the tree sat. There was a special “star” attached to the very top of the tree.
On Christmas morning, farm chores were done after breakfast. Cows must be milked and stock fed. My father and I would drive to the farm and complete the milking and chores. I would not try to tell you that I did not hurry m chores, maybe even cheated the animals a little! Then, back to the house for more chores where three laying hens and three dogs were fed. We had to run the milk through a separator where the cream was separated by a spinning process called centrifuge. The heavier skim milk went to the outside and the lighter cream drains out the center. We sold the cream and fed the skim milk to the hogs.
Although Christmas in Muncy in my day did not have all the hype of today, it was fun and exciting. The tension would build as the traditional music began to play. Some gifts were placed under the tree as the cooking and baking began. As I was the youngest in our family, I was last to know what was happening. In those days you were seen and not heard, often not even seen.
From 1945 onward, my older brothers were off serving our country with Robert spending about eight years in the Army. Gene had a mega career spending 30 years in the Navy. In 1945 as WWII had ended, Robert sent me a special gift in a pre-Christmas gift box. I was elated when opened on Christmas morning to find inside a little WWII jeep. There was a soldier in the driver’s seat. The jeep was green and could actually be steered by the steering wheel. Underneath the jeep was a small apparatus to wind-up enabling it to have mobility. Now remember, the war had recently ended. My brothers are heroes to me and I now possess an authentic looking jeep one of them gave me. I was a very happy little Muncy kid on Christmas.
In the early 1940s, someone gave me a six inch high walking Santa. When set on the correct decline, he would walk down the decline. I recall being fascinated by this toy which I watched for hours. I experimented to see how slow it would walk on a small decline and to a point the reverse was also true. Like all of us, my walking Santa had limits.
On Christmas Eve for over 30 years, my mother visited three families who’d been neighbors at one time. Their names were Homer Balliet, Roy Mauer and the Taggart’s. Mother would prepare cookies, candy and other baked goods. Her special treat was roasted peanuts which she shelled, laid on a cookie sheet and roasted in our wood-fire oven. This was her treat and way of saying, I love you. She went along and would travel to each home for a visit being gone for a couple hours. Dad sat home reading his two favorite magazines, The Pennsylvania Farmer or Full Cry, the latter geared to coon hunters. Meanwhile, the Bieber kids played games, listened to the radio or Victrola music.
One Christmas Eve while mom was visiting, Dad and I picked up her new washer from Rollie Bartlow’s Appliance Store located on North Main Street near the Glade Run bridge. As we were a family with not a lot of cash, this was a big deal. As there was no financing wth dad, he’d somehow set the money aside. This new May-tag washer had motorized ringer rollers compared to the old one someone had to crank to press excess water from the garment. We hid the washer on the back porch until Christmas morning.
Mother usually had a 16 – 18 pound turkey in the oven cooking by Christmas Eve. Catching the turkey at the Bubb Farm was a loud scary event. With room full of squawking, wings flapping, feathers flying, turkeys can be scary. The attendant had a long pole with a hook on the end to snatch the bird by one leg which is when the commotion really started. The turkey was put in a sack and taken home for further preparation. (Omitted is the step by step means as to how it got to the table) Along with turkey and stuffing, Mom served mashed potatoes, gravy, succotash, green beans, cranberry sauce, bread, butter and a plate of sweet pickles, olives, carrots and celery. Dessert consisted of mincemeat pie, apple or peach pie and maybe pumpkin.
Those who sat at our table of abundance were blessed. For Christmas, we expanded the table with four, twelve inch boards to seat 12 – 14 people. As the family increased we added card tables for children in another room. My immediate family was joined by my mother’s sister and her family. They were Mildred and Earl Houseknecht and daughters Ruth and Lona from Clarkstown. One year they would eat with us and the next year we’d eat with them. This dear aunt and uncle operated a gas station and uncle earl drove aMid-West Freight truck between Chicago and New York City.
Most gifts in our home in the 40s and 50s were clothes, books, and perhaps a toy. Sister Meriam tells of receiving a doll and buggy with older sister Marjorie getting the same. They were told to take care of the toy because they would be on he one they would get. I received a colorful spinning top in colors of red, blue and yellow, pained with circus animals. The objective was to get it spinning fast and then it spins itself out. I spent hours with this toy always trying to increase the spinning time. One year I received a Hardy Boys mystery book and a pair of buckle boots.
As a boy, I received two other books, Gene Autry and Zane Gray western novels. Meriam and I were so excited one year when we each got and new Lightening Glider sled. We’d previously shared a three-foot sled, now we each had our very own five-foot sled. We might have been the two happiest kids in Muncy. Other gifts were shared; Chinese Checkers, puzzles and America’sGame, Monopoly.
My parents did not make a big deal about Santa. They were extremely practical and did not have a lot of time for the fantasy world. I do not remember specific gifts from Sand, it might have been implied or understood. I do recall my personal struggle with the Santa question, he was certainly a popular figure then as he is now.
In 1947, my hero Gene Autry, wrote and recorded, “Here Comes Santy Claus which sold more than two million copies from August to Christmas. It made number five on the Pop list that year. I remember listening to that song over and over on our Victrola. Here was my cowboy telling the story, so how could he not be telling the truth?
(Continued next week – Memories from Church and School)