A proper Christmas snow is falling now. It started Christmas Eve, coming down in large, wet flakes like in the movies, paused so we could have a snowball fight, and then it continued during the night as we slept. In the morning, the Midwest was cold and clean and white, a precious Christman cameo we take out once a year. Soon, though, no one will come here anymore.

The family gathers at Uncle Bob's. He is, like the rest of them. Midwestern back to some Great Lakes pilots-heroic men of my imagination. of Bob's three children, all but one have left for other places. They come back for Christmas, but soon they will leave again.

The paper says that 25,000 jobs have left this town since 1950. The rubber companies keep closing the plants, and now General Tire says it will only build a new factory here if the union agrees to a 50-cent-an-hour pay cut. The union will probably agree. Everyone knows you can't find a job here any more.

In the basement of Uncle Bob's place, the kids opened their presents. The adults, almost all of them, recalled the old days. They went to the same schools-the same high schools and then later the same colleges. They sing the same "fight songs" and root for the same team and they all have lived here for so long that when a tree dies, they recall its planting. God. they know their trees.

It is like this nowhere else-nowhere that I know. It is not like this in Washington or Los Angeles or Florida or New York. The Sunbelt is all new. A collection of strangers coveting their neighbors' wives. Who knows from trees? In Washington it's amazing just to find someone born in the town. Almost no one goes back more than one generation. Here, one generation is nothing. One generation entitles you to a visit from Welcome Wagon.

On the day before Christmas they closed Polsky's Department Store. It had been sold long ago to a chain. but it was founded, everyone knew. by Abraham Polsky, a peddler who had come to town. His sons ran it after that and then the chain bought it and now they sold it. Bob's wife worked there for years and. of course. zillions of Christmas presents have been bought there. Now it's gone. Another vacancy in downtown.

Bob's wife serves the food, stopping now and then to delight in the children. The men talk of the situation at General Tire. The company was founded by old man O'Neill, whose family started the other department store in town-O'Neill's. Their son broke away and went into the rubber business and now his son is threatening to take the whole thing away. Can you imagine-an O'Neill of the O'Neills and an O'Neill of General Tire moving out of Akron? Anything is possible. Firestone no longer will be owned by the Firestones and last night a nonrubber member of the family asked about a certain brand of tire and was told they were made in Japan. His face dropped.

The matriarch is Lillian. She is 94 years old and will be over tonight for Christmas dinner. This has been herroughest year. Suddenly she is