By Kevin McClintock
Globe Staff Writer
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Christmases during the 1990s were an especially busy time for Ted Conn. In fact, each year he celebrated not one but four Christmas events over a busy seven days.
The first came a week before Christmas, he said, and involved his father’s side of the family.
“The weekend before Christmas (was) the annual Conn get-together in Aurora,” he said. “To attend, I first had to make sure I had the day off from my various mall jobs. With that handled, I was able to anticipate the gathering and think about what I’d get my dad and grandparents — usually some odd trinket for the former and a gift certificate for the latter.
“Back then, we’d meet at my grandparents’ farm and celebrate the holiday. Looking back ... they didn’t gaudily decorate the house. Ornamentation usually consisted of Christmas cards on the mantel and a huge bowl of mixed nuts on the table. They’d decorate a tree they’d cut from the side of the highway, and we’d joke that Charlie Brown’s tree looked about as full.”
It was a chance for Conn, who grew up in Webb City, to see his father, cousins, aunts and uncles from that side of the family.
Next up was meeting with the relatives of his stepfather, Larry Hansen. They often would meet at the Shoney’s restaurant in Joplin.
“There weren’t any gifts exchanged, just cards with perhaps a check or cash inside,” Conn said.
The third Christmas was the most traditional, when he would get out of bed, and open presents and eat breakfast in the family home.
“My mother (Millie Sue Luke Conn Hansen) loved decorating the inside of the house with all sorts of arts and crafts,” Conn said. “Historically, my brother, sister and I would wake up early as many children do and rouse our sleeping parents to tear into gifts waiting under the tree.
“My mother would be the ‘elf’ passing out the gifts, usually wearing some ridiculous Christmas hat she’d found to put us in the right mood.”
After the gifts were opened, Conn and his family would tidy up the front room and prepare for the fourth and final celebration. His mother’s family — the Lukes — would meet at the First Missionary Baptist Church on 20th Street.
“My grandfather helped build the church, and a large part of my extended family was part of the congregation, including me,” Conn said. “This meant that we had a place to host the annual family gathering, free of charge and open to all. We’d eat, play games and open gifts while making small talk and answering the inevitable question of, ‘So, how’s life?’ My mother was infamous for writing a ‘play’ every year and finagling some of my relatives to act out some ridiculously hilarious and embarrassing skit.”
There was one holiday tradition from the 1990s that Conn doesn’t remember as favorably.
It was during that decade that Black Friday was launched on the day after Thanksgiving.
At the time, Conn was working at Northpark Mall, and he got a taste of the Christmas crush.
Conn is now in his early 40s, a married father of two children who works as a speech pathologist and therapist for the Lee’s Summit School District
Now he has new Christmas memories — involving his son and daughter — from their delighted expressions when ripping open presents sitting beneath the tree to those quiet Christmas Eve toy building sprees in the basement.
Popular in the 1990s
ON THE RADIO: Christian and pop singer Amy Grant had a number of Christmas hits during the decade, including “Breath of Heaven” from her album “Home for Christmas.”
AT THE TOY STORE: The second generation of electronic gaming systems became top sellers during the 1990s. In a span of a just a few years, children could choose from the Sony PlayStation, the Sega Genesis, the Nintendo 64, the hand-held Nintendo Game Boy and the Sega Dreamcast.