Guest Post — Dec. 9, 2013
Note from Dan: Garnette Bane is a former reporter at The Roanoke Times who now lives in Greenville, S.C.
By Garnette (Helvey) Bane
This morning, I shared my childhood memories of the holidays in Roanoke with my husband. I am guessing that not too many people remember the pomp and circumstance of the Star City’s Christmas parade. The season was welcomed with area high schools’ marching bands, the Drum and Bugle Corps and, obviously, St. Nicholas, himself.
I recall the parade heading west up Church Avenue where my family always had a vantage (and warm) point for viewing. My father worked for the E. I. DuPont Company retail store that was located somewhat adjacent to The Texas Tavern. My parents, along with my brother, Wallace, and I observed the activity from the second floor window. It reminded me of today’s Macy’s parade in New York with the cartoon characters and possibly Disney-themed overhead balloons.
As I described the parade, it came to mind that 60-70 years ago, there had to be power lines along the route – Salem Avenue to First Street, and then, down Campbell (there may still be, as far as I know). I am wondering how parade organizers managed the balloon situation.
Even after I was an adult working at the Times (think Bob Fishburn, Woody Middleton, and John Eure time period), I recall shopping downtown and standing in awe with my nose pressed on the windows of the N. W. Pugh Co., Miller & Rhoads, and Heironimous watching the animated reindeer, elves, Santa, tin soldiers, Christmas trees, and other characters come to life as they captured the wonder in children’s eyes. Whatever the setting, you could count on the landscape surrounding the figures to be covered in snow. Fake, of course.
These memories were relieved when, in 2004, an ornament (glass French horn) I painted as part of the international Society of Decorative Painters was chosen for the Official White House Christmas tree. It would be the second time that year, I was invited to the White House, but this time was for the official Holiday Reception hosted by First Lady Laura Bush. She is a most gracious host, but what amazed me the most were the Marines. One was seated at an antique grand piano playing Christmas carols as we entered. I was permitted to take photos of the Christmas decorations throughout, except for the Blue Room, where the tree was. (The reason for not taking the photos, there, was because the official photographer took photos of each of the 250 winners with Mrs. Bush.)
As we entered the Blue Room, each artist was introduced to the First Lady and asked to stand while the photographer snapped a photo. Then, we walked around the tree to a Marine who asked our names. Without referring to any paperwork, he pointed high on the tree and stated, “Your ornament is right there.” Amazing! What a memory (or, quite possibly they were put on the tree in alpha order).
The reception was unbelievable. There was champagne, shrimp cocktail, a variety of nibbles and cheeses. Waiters in tall white hats mingled among the crowd replacing the turkey and ham that was quickly devoured by those in attendance.
Each holiday season, I open my photo album (actually the computer, these days) and relieve the memories once more.