Column: I remember it well ... but when exactly did it happen?WORTHINGTON — The crowd at Prairie Elementary school will tell you one of the heavy human challenges is remembering dates. Most of us don’t do this well.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The crowd at Prairie Elementary school will tell you one of the heavy human challenges is remembering dates. Most of us don’t do this well. We forget anniversaries. We forget birthdays. (I do.) We remember birthdays but we can’t remember the year the birth occurred. “I know she was born on June 28 — that must have been 1950, or 1952. Maybe it was 1949.”
We sometimes tag days with names to help us remember. In the month past we observed Nov. 11 once again. In the beginning the nation called it Armistice Day to help keep it in mind. November 11 at 11 a.m. 11/11/11. No one could forget. Oh, but year was that? Hmmm. You remember?
It was judged that “11/11/11 device” would serve us in remembering the day terrorists crashed two jet airplanes into the towers of the World Trade Center. That was Sept. 11. 9/11. But what year? Oh my — was that 10 years ago?
Very many people still remember Nov. 22, the day John Kennedy was murdered at Dallas, Texas. About half-a-century ago. (What year was that? Was it 50 years ago this year?)
I was having this problem lately when I was thinking of Christmas lights. Gay Hower — Gay and his family — brought Worthington the wondrous State Theater on Third Avenue and the great marquee with climbing and flashing neon tubes and lights in half-a-dozen colors. What year was that? Was it 1936? Was it 75 years ago last year?
The State Theater came and, sadly, the State Theater went. Gay Hower has a legacy which is much more enduring, however. Gay Hower built the brick house behind the Dayton House — 416 13th St. It was Gay Hower who introduced Worthington to outdoor Christmas lighting. Never had there been such a spectacle on Worthington lawns or steps or eaves or railings. Every kid in town knew about it; it was right across from The Grade School. I suppose nearly everyone in Worthington drove by that Hower house on one night or another in that memorable Christmas season.
“Memorable Christmas season.” So, what year was that? Well — it probably was not 1936 if that was the year the theater opened. It probably was after 1936 — maybe 1937, or 1939. It could have been 1940.
Here we go again. As the students at Prairie Elementary (and Minnesota West) will affirm, remembering dates is a great human failing.
George Dayton was long gone from the local scene on that Christmas when colored lights were first flicked on in what once had been his backyard. The Christmas season contrast between the Hower home and Dayton House is worth considering. For many and many years — for many decades — Americans decorated their homes in the Christmas season with wreaths in their windows and on their front doors. Some people (you can scarcely believe this) pressed candles into their wreaths and lit those candles on Christmas Eve.
I remember an interview — I don’t know the year — when I was told of the Fire Christmas at the Pfingsten church (Immanuel American Lutheran church) north of Worthington. It was in that time when Christmas trees still were decorated with candles. The Pfingsten church families had come together for their Christmas Eve worship and for the children’s Christmas program. Suddenly, the gorgeous evergreen at the front of the church burst into flames.
Undoubtedly everyone experienced a shot of adrenaline, but there was no panic. Half-a-dozen men rushed forward, lifted the flaming tree, rushed it down the center aisle and hurled it into a snowbank.
Today — oh, happy day — there are Christmas lights along nearly every street in America, and they pose no peril. The total of colored lights and blinking lights and hanging lights surely numbers in the billions.
People are drawn to lights in the dark, no matter the season. This is one of the reasons we set off fireworks on the black nights of the Fourth of July.
For two or three years (don’t ask), Worthington’s 10th Street was crowded with spectators who came to see Turkey Day eve torchlight parades.
Now we have Christmas lights. More of them than ever. Plus an after-dark Christmas parade.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.