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In the Good Old Days Antiques Corner This Week in History
In the Good Old Days

Trivia Question

Elvis Presley had five songs in the top 10 of one particular year. What year was it, and what were the songs?

Christmas Treasures

Click here for larger image.
Credit: Mary Beth Weisenburger

As I retrieve the colorful box from beneath the basement stairs and lug it up to the living room, I can't help but smile. I know as soon as I open the box its contents will whisk me back to a different living room -- the one that was my paternal grandmother's.

Inside the box is the Nativity scene that graced the area beneath her Christmas tree long ago. As a child I would lie on my stomach and gaze at those figures all aglow with the lights from the tree above them. I imagined I was right there, with the donkeys and the sheep in the wooden stable, watching the momentous events unfold. I played with the figures for hours. When my grandparents passed away and their things were distributed, I was the lucky recipient of Baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and the assorted kings, shepherds and four-legged observers. I take extra time each year placing them just so on a cleared shelf of honor.

In the next box I retrieve is another treasure. It contains a group of worn cardboard "putz houses" that were my mom's at one time. Though the word "putz" in English is sometimes considered to be a not very nice word, the German word with the same spelling is perfectly acceptable; it literally translates to "plaster," but it just means to decorate or embellish, and that's the way my family (and, apparently, many other families of German extraction) has always used it.

For many years, people who decorated with so-called "putz houses" would use toy wooden houses or house-shaped cardboard candy boxes from Germany to set up winter scenes. But, according to the website, "the advent of 8-bulb electric Christmas light sets brought about a new kind of putz house -- Japanese-made cardboard houses decorated with sparkly materials and/or fake snow and equipped with translucent (usually cellophane) windows that glowed when you stuck a light through a hole in the back. For over 30 years, beginning in 1928, mass-marketers like Sears-Roebuck offered fairly simple versions of these, usually in sets of eight."

My mom's cardboard houses (pictured in the photo above) are multicolored versions purchased in the 1960s from the local five-and-dime store. The houses are still covered with some original glitter and "snow." Their residents include tiny pinecone people and some random miniature dogs and cats. This set, too, gets loving attention as I arrange it at the bottom of the buffet, and I recall the time I spent playing with it as a child.

My Christmas treasures are not worth much in real money, but they are priceless to me. My children were also allowed to play with these cherished decorations every year, and they speak wistfully about the imaginative scenarios they created with them. I hope their children will get to play with them too. I am grateful that these simple, inexpensive Christmas decorations have the power to bring together four -- and someday, five -- generations in a sweet, nostalgic way.

I wish you a sweet, nostalgic and merry Christmas too!

'Til next time,
If you would like to give a special Christmas gift this year, check out the ad in this newsletter for the Good Old Days Audio CD!

Mary Beth Weisenburger,
Good Old Days® magazine

PS. Do you own a set of old putz houses, a family Nativity set or another treasured Christmas heirloom? We want to hear about it! Send a brief response to me at and it could appear in a future newsletter or in Good Old Days magazine! Here are several email responses from the Oct. 29, 2014, newsletter question: What was your favorite (or most memorable) costume?

Jackie R. responded: "My most memorable costume was in 1962 when I was 7 years old. My parents could not afford to buy me a costume, but I wanted to go trick-or-treating. My mom gave me my cousin's clothes. I was dressed as a boy. My cousin was dressed as a girl. Everyone made fun of my cousin because he was wearing my dress. I got mad that he tore it, but we had fun that night. We laughed, we ran and got lots of candy. I felt bad for my cousin dressing like a girl, but he was a good-looking girl!"
Bob L. shared: "My most memorable costume wasn't from when I was a kid. Back then I did all the traditional stuff -- cowboy, hobo, ghost, etc. The one I remember best and liked the most was when I went dressed as the title character from The Phantom of the Opera. I went all out that year. I rented white tie and tails, and I went to a costume company in Milwaukee and got a full-length black cape with a white satin lining. I also bought a 'phantom' mask and a black felt fedora. I carried a red rose with a black ribbon tied around it. I do have to admit I looked really good. The other costume that was very memorable and probably got the most reaction was the year I went as a priest. I actually had one lady believing that I really was one. That year got me the nickname 'Father Bob.'"
Melinda E. told us: "My mother was always creative about costumes. My most memorable one was from the year I was dressed up like Anne Boleyn -- after her execution. We used an old wooden coat hanger (hook removed) and padded it so I could balance it on my head. Then we draped an old cape of my mother's over it with a scarf that I could see through to help hide the padding. I wore a long skirt, and under my arm, I carried a paper lunch sack that was stuffed with newspaper, with a grisly mask and wig on it. It was great! When I rang the bell at a house, the people would open the door and say 'Yuck!'"

Mary Beth Weisenburger has been with Annie's since April 2011. She has 25 years of experience in the marketing, advertising and publishing fields. In addition to her job as editor of Good Old Days, she has been writing a family humor column for over a decade. She and her husband, two college-age kids, two dogs and various other critters live on five acres in the country, where she enjoys reading on the back porch, refinishing furniture, feeding the birds and digging in the dirt of her perennial gardens.

Fill out the easy feedback form and let me know your thoughts, questions and ideas.

Trivia Answer

In 1956, Elvis Presley's songs Don't Be Cruel, Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel, I Want You, I Need You, I Love You and Love Me Tender all hit the top 10. In January of that year, Elvis was only a "regional sensation," but by the end of the year, his name was known across the country. His first No. 1 hit was Heartbreak Hotel. Elvis also made his famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1956.

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