By Richard Mabey Jr.
The Christmas of 1964 was a most memorable Christmas for me. It was the very year, that in September I had joined Boy Scout Troop 170. My Dad had joined the troop committee and we had both attended the big District Wide Boy Scout Camporee in October of 1964. I was beginning to see my Dad in a fullness of character, that I had never really noticed before. But it was the Christmas of 1964 that gave me a golden opportunity to see my Dad, as a man with a very vulnerable side. A man who had a sensitive, sentimental perspective on life.
It was in early December that my heart and mind filled itself with a vision, a dream, an energetic desire to build a little village beneath the family Christmas Tree. I had told my Dad about my plans to build the little village and Dad kind of smiled and a hint of a sparkle came to his eyes. And, on the Saturday morning before Christmas that year, Dad and I walked down the basement steps. Dad told me that he had a box of old Plasticville houses and stores to give to me.
Many of you, no doubt, remember the little Plasticville homes and stores. Each one came in its own little box. You had to assemble them by yourself. You didn’t need any glue at all, as they simply would snap together. They were brightly painted and for a boy of 11 years old, a great source of imagination and wonder.
In a corner of our old basement, stored upon a shelf, was a big box with big, thick, black writing on it, that simply read, “Plasticville.” Dad had written that one single word with a big magic marker, many years ago.
I remember Dad carried the big box to his wooden workbench. A kind of sadness filled with my Dad’s eyes and he opened the box and took out each Plasticville home and store. Most of them were no longer in the original boxes, but rather were now wrapped in old newspaper. Dad unwrapped the first Plasticville home that he took out of the box. I remember him looking at the newspaper page that had been used to wrap up the little plastic house.
“1949, Richie, 1949. That’s the last time I ever looked at any of these little houses and stores. 1949,” I remember my beloved father saying to me as he looked at the old yellowed, frayed newspaper page.
As I looked up at my father, I saw the quiet sadness in his eyes. The moment deeply touched my heart. I had always seen my Dad as a man who was bigger than life, a strong man, a man who could do almost anything. But now, in the basement of our old home, at the age of 11, I saw my father as a man whose little joys in life were put on the back burner for the sake of the somber reality of working hard to make a living.
On that Saturday morning, back in late December of 1964, my Dad’s voice was filled with joy and splendor as he told me all about the train set up that he had at the end of the hallway in the home he grew up. And then, the happy song in my Dad’s voice turned to a more solemn and earnest tone as he told me that it was back in 1949, that he took down his train set to put a little desk and filing cabinet at that little nook in the upstairs hallway. Dad made the sacrifice so that his sister could have a little office set up to do the bookkeeping for the trucking company that Dad and his brother, Edward, owned and operated.
That morning, on Dad’s workbench, my father and I assemble a dozen or more of the old Plasticville homes and stores. It was such a fun-filled little time. Dad took great pride in telling me the story behind each little Plasticville building. Some of them, he had gotten as Christmas gifts. Some, he had purchased himself. And, the one of the little stores had been given to him by one of his aunts.
After lunch, Dad helped me to paint the streets, the sidewalks and the lawns, of our village, on a big piece of plywood. We both had a blast that day. We created and built our own little town. It was just a lot of fun. Outside the snow covered the lower part of the basement windows. There was a certain comfort of the warmth of the old coal burner. That Saturday, my Dad and I became closer in spirit and in friendship.
My Dad was a kind man. At times he was very strict with me. Dad always wanted me to do my very best in school. He expected me to go to Sunday School, except if I was really sick. Dad did his very best to live up to the ideals of his faith and the tenets of the Boy Scout Oath and Law. I loved my Dad with all my heart. To this day, I remember with great fondness, the joy and splendor that my Dad and I shared when, together, we built our little Plasticville town.