My Christmases at the White House

When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in the White House. No, not the one at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., but rather on the 1600 block of Wilkinson Ave. in Marquette. Actually, there were two White Houses on Wilkinson Ave.

You see, my mother’s maiden name was White, so she actually grew up in the White House. My great-grandparents had lived on the 1800 block of Wilkinson Ave—the White House Sr. you might say, while my grandparents lived two blocks down the street at the junior White House. In fact, my great-uncles always answered the phone as “The White House” which made telemarketers think twice.

The White House - Christmas Day 1982, a rare Christmas without snow

Christmas was a busy day when I was a kid. My brother and I would get up early at our home in Stonegate and open our presents from Santa. Then our parents would drive us to our grandparents’ house to pick up Grandma to go to church at St. Michael’s while Grandpa stayed home to get breakfast ready. Then we’d have breakfast and more presents would be open at Grandpa and Grandma White’s house. Later, we would go to Great-Aunt Sadie’s house for dinner around noon, and then drive to Hardwood to Grandpa and Grandma Tichelaar’s house for supper. It was a very full day.

Christmas morning at the White House was always special because my grandparents were always so wonderful to us, not just in giving us presents, but just that they always treated us very well. We couldn’t have had better grandparents—they also were very loving toward one another.

Grandma loved Christmas and especially Christmas trees. She always had Grandpa find the biggest, widest trees possible, always live ones. He would put up the tree and then Grandma would be concerned about bare spots, so he would cut off branches, poke holes in the tree, and reinsert the branches where they would make the tree look its best.

Christmas 1978 - My brother Danny and me - I love our matching blue socks!

Grandma had numerous old ornaments, many of them dating back to the 1930s, and she always had bubble lights, which have since made a comeback, but in the 1970s and early 1980s when I was growing up, her bubble lights were already antiques.

And then there were the gifts. I honestly don’t remember much about the presents except one year, it must have been about Christmas 1981, when I got the “Smurfing Sing Song” record and my brother got the “Smurfs All Star Show” record—at least, those were the records we each wanted, but Grandma put my brother’s name on mine and vice-versa. I knew enough just to switch them and not say anything but my brother didn’t and Grandma looked worried that she had messed up. She also had a tendency to lose presents, forgetting where she had hidden them. After she passed away, we found a bag of chocolates she must have hidden away for Christmas and forgotten about that had to be at least a decade old and no longer edible. As for my grandparents, on their presents to each other they always wrote out gift tags that said things like “To Dear Hubby from Crabby Wifey” or “To Wifey from Lovey Hubby.”

One final thing about those Christmases I recall is the Christmas records. Grandma had lots of Christmas records but the one that we seemed to play the most was the Tijuana Brass Christmas Album. Those tooting horns made for festive Christmas mornings. I also remember the song, “Go Tell it on the Mountain” playing a lot. And the first record I ever owned, a 45 Peter Pan record of “Jingle Bells” I got for Christmas about 1974 when I was three, and I first played it at my grandparents. That record had four songs in total—“Jingle Bells,” “Sleigh Ride,” “The North Pole Express,” and “10,000 Santa Clauses” (a very odd song about a girl who doesn’t get to see Santa Claus even though there are Santas all over town because she gets the mumps). “I still own it and bring it out to play every now and then.

My first record - "Jingle Bells" from Peter Pan records

I think the childhood Christmases are always the ones you remember best. Unfortunately, I had little luck finding photos of Christmases that included my grandparents in the photos. The only one I could find with Grandma in it she was in her curlers, so she wouldn’t have wanted anyone to see that one. But I do rather like the picture of my grandpa with his mother (my great-grandma), plus my brother and me. I’d trade just about anything for one more hour with my grandparents on Christmas morning. They are now gone but not forgotten at Christmas or any day of the year. I was glad the other day to drive by their house, now in other hands, and see a large Christmas tree in the front window, just like Grandma would have liked.

I don’t think Christmas at the Pennsylvania Ave. White House could have been any better.

Christmas 1974 - Tyler and Danny Tichelaar, Grandpa Lester White, and Great-Grandma Barbara White

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