A good old Nashua Christmas

Guest Columnist

Picture it: Main Street, Nashua – December, circa 1960s. The hustle and bustle of our downtown was the essence of the classic holiday tune “Silver Bells.” Our city sidewalks were busy sidewalks and they were indeed dressed in holiday style. Tinsel-like strands, featuring a large round lighted star in the center, spanned Main Street from sidewalk to sidewalk. The tree on Library Hill (yes, that building was once a library) was covered in large multi-colored lights. In the air, there certainly was a feeling of Christmas. You might have even heard the tune itself being played out on the old corner clock that serenaded us from the historic Nashua Trust Building on East Pearl and Main. If you were one to shop after a snowfall, to really feel that Christmas spirit, you may have even had to dodge the mounds of snow piled down the center of main street, placed there until snow removal crews could clear them.

Cars were angle parked and we’d cross the street between them, carefully watching for oncoming traffic and any icy spots ahead. (nowadays that could prove disastrous, with most noses buried in cell phones). You might have stopped into Martha’s Sweet Shoppe to get those special treats for someone on your shopping list, or grabbed a quick bite at Woolworth’s snack bar, complete with its retro stools and Coca-Cola decor. Or, J.J. Newbury’s? Back then, we called it a 5- and 10-cent store, or a five and dime. Think back to those memorable aromas wafting in many downtown stores, particularly those whose wares included candy, nuts, popcorn and cookies.

At W.T. Grant’s, one could find a well-stocked cookie counter with everything from chocolate chips to those special vanilla, chocolate and strawberry wafers. Hot cashews, pecans and walnuts were available by the pound and scooped into white paper bags to take home to share. Shoppers we’d meet on the sidewalks would even make eye contact and say hello or Merry Christmas!

Gift wrapping was standard fair for most merchants then. Friends would “Meet You at Miller’s,” a downtown institution for decades and the elite of fashion for the ladies of the city, while Avard’s, Lynch’s and Bergeron’s serviced the gentlemen. Remember watching that curious looking cash and receipt delivery system at Marsh Parsons? Whoosh – your cash is gone. Whoosh – your receipt and change returned! Some folks would visit just to marvel at such a “high-tech” wonder.

At every other street corner, there was a merchant crudely set up selling Christmas trees for about $5. Many of those trees were sold at gas stations (or, filling stations as we liked to call them). The trees were not at all like the perfectly manicured $75-plus specimens of today, but they were still a mighty symbol of the hope and spirit of Christmas, with every home happy to have one. We decorated them with anything from handmade paper chains or strings of popcorn and cranberries, to tinsel and angel hair (I can still feel the itch on my fingers) or very fragile antique glass ornaments. Remember the magic of those oil-filled lights resembling an inverted glass test tube that would appear to boil and bubble after warming up?

But today, we can sit in the comfort of our homes, in our PJs if we choose, make a couple of clicks, fill in a few blanks and order everything from clothing and jewelry to dinnerware or even cars. I guess it’s called progress. But is it really?

There is little to no human contact. We cannot try on clothing to confirm that perfect fit, and we’re not even sure if the color is right, as the color on our computer monitors “may not be as shown.” No one is sharing a hello, good morning, good evening or wishing you a Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays. OK, the occasional banner across the top of that Web page says, “Happy Holidays!” But seriously? Does it bring you back to a memory of that classic Christmas tune? Does it kindle that inner Christmas spirit with the oft dreaded message, “Sorry … error detected … please try again?”

So, for those who choose to muddle through the quagmire of online impersonality, just in case you missed hearing it, or haven’t yet heard it, let this be your first greeting for a very Merry Christmas and a Happy and Healthy New Year!

Don Canney is a longtime Nashua resident and occasional columnist for The Telegraph.