By Mike Pound
JOPLIN, Mo. —
When Carol Parker thinks back to Christmases during the 1950s, she can almost hear her mother playing “White Christmas” on the piano.
“That was her favorite, but she played all the Christmas carols,” Parker said. “She would play the piano, and we would stand around her and sing. Whenever I hear ‘White Christmas,’ I think of her and Christmas.”
Parker recalls several holidays when her mother’s piano playing was accompanied by a small orchestra.
“My dad would play the trombone, my Uncle Tom played the saxophone and my Aunt Pauline played the violin, and my cousin Jane (Benson) and I would sing,” she said. “It was really fun. It was fun to get together.”
Parker, a longtime TV hostess on KSNF-TV, was in high school during the early 1950s, and she remembers Christmases during that time as simple and relaxed.
“It was just fun. It was a fun time,” she said. “The gifts weren’t the big thing. The big thing was just being together.”
In those days, Parker said, the downtown was Joplin’s hub, especially during Christmas. Red and green Christmas lights were strung across Main Street from First Street to 10th Street. While Joplin had several retailers such as Woolworth, Kresge and Newberry, the really important stores in those days, she said, were the Newman’s, Christman’s and Ramsay’s department stores.
“They all had toys,” she said. “That’s where you got your Christmas toys, at those stores.”
Department stores also made it a point to decorate windows in their storefronts for the Christmas season. Parker remembers walking downtown from her family home at Seventh Street and Sergeant Avenue to look at the decorations and to shop.
The big brick house where she grew up is gone now, but the memories of the home, which originally served as the office for her grandfather, Dr. A. Benson Clark, remain with her. The large house with an intricate wraparound porch was a great place for Parker — an only child — to grow up and celebrate Christmas.
As special as Christmas was for Parker, it almost was a bit more special. Parker, who was born on Jan. 5, was supposed to be born on Christmas Day.
“That’s why my parents named me Carol,” she said. “I was supposed to be a Christmas Carol.”
With the dark days of the Great Depression behind them, times weren’t as tough for most people in the 1950s. The economy was humming and people had money to spend, but Parker said she still remembers Christmases in the 1950s as low-key affairs.
“It wasn’t as commercial as it is now,” she said. “You really didn’t ask for much, and you were happy to get what you got.”
And unlike today, when so many people complain about the “stress” of the holiday season, Parker remembers the Christmases of her teenage years as peaceful, relaxing times.
“I can’t ever remember my mother talking about being stressed during Christmas,” she said. “It was a simpler time, I guess. You just really enjoyed Christmas for what it was. You enjoyed it more, it seems.”
ON THE RADIO: A number of novelty and lighter tunes for the holidays emerged in the 1950s, including “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Frosty the Snowman,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Santa Baby.”
AT THE TOY STORE: Many toys that debuted in the 1950s are still top Christmas sellers today, including the Frisbee, Play-Doh, Tonka Trucks and, of course, the Barbie doll, which made its first appearance in 1959 at the American Toy Fair in New York City.