Tree Lighting 1979

Tonight the tree in Rockefeller Center will be lit in a 90-minute ordeal.


There was a time, however, that the tree was lit shortly after five pm so that people could stop off on their way home.


I used to be one of those people when I worked in Manhattan, but in 1979, I was teaching at St. Vito School in Mamaroneck and living in New Rochelle.


So, it took a little more effort to witness the tree lighting.


Eileen and I were planning to go, and I coaxed a friend of mine, Deacon Bob, who was the Deacon at St. Vito’s. So, we all set out on a train from the Larchmont Metro North Station heading to Grand Central.


We arrived a few minutes before five PM, and Rockefeller Center was jammed with eager witnesses hoping to see the spectacular tree. At one point, I had my right foot on the curb while my left foot was floating next to it with no visible means of support.


There was a young woman with a child in a stroller, and I wondered if this was a safe place for her to be.


Bob, Eileen, and I were no more than three feet apart from one another as the countdown began.
We kidded afterward, wondering if we actually saw the moment when the tree went from dark to lit.


We stood there for five minutes before we started to leave.


It was an hour before we all got together in the same place.


The crowd was like a river with its powerful current that you had no alternative but to ride it out.


Uptown, Downton, Eastside, Westside, we were pushed and prodded in all directions.


I thought of the young woman and her child in the stroller, but I never saw them after that first time.


It was kind of scary, but we were young and had a good laugh as we made our way to the train and back to Larchmont.


Later that evening, Eileen and I watched the news.


The lead story was a horrendous account of how twelve people were crushed to death at a Who concert in Cincinnati.


Having experienced the pushing and shoving at the tree lighting and being totally out of control, I vowed never to put myself in that type of situation again.


There wasn’t a mass shooting or terrible fire, just eager fans trying to get the best seat for the concert.


I never saw the tree lighting in person after that night.


The fact that it is a ninety-minute extravaganza has as much to my missing the lighting as anything.


Still, I can still feel the angst of not knowing where Eileen was for that hour.

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