Christmas Past

Christmas Past

Holiday get-togethers were the cornerstone of maintaining family ties
when I was growing up. We gathered for all the major holidays:
Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, the 4th of July, Mother’s Day and of
course, the opening day of deer hunting season. My favorite was
always Christmas.

We lived only a couple miles from my dad’s folks and there was always
lots of excitement building up before the big day. Montgomery Wards &
Sears sent out Christmas catalogs every year and they were usually
pretty well worn out by the time Christmas rolled around. Actually, I
don’t remember getting any of the presents that I admired in the
catalog but that wasn’t really an expectation.

My grandparents lived on forty acres seven miles out of Rainier. When
the big day came, it was off to grandparents, up the well rutted
driveway that ran along side the barn lot, then around the big circle
to park the car in front of the woodshed. The old house was a
weathered board and batten structure roofed with hand split cedar
shakes and there was a big root cellar next to the porch.

We always entered through the kitchen and next to the door was a wash
stand with a basin and a bucket of water with a dipper. All of their
water was carried from a spring that was about a 100 yards away. Above
the wash stand was a mirror and granddad’s razor strap. Behind the
door there was a loaded 30 leaning up in the corner. The kitchen
stove was originally just wood but later on it was a combination of
wood and electric. A little fire in the morning heated the kitchen and
they cooked on it if the power was out. The counter next to the stove
was used as a work area and there was a big metal dishpan for washing
dishes. There was a pantry just off of the kitchen that they used as a
cool storage area.

We were generally met by our two maiden aunts who always showed up a
day or two ahead of time to help grandma get ready. We were generally
the first group to show up for our Christmas Eve celebration and my
uncle and his family would come along a little later. My third aunt
and the cousins who were my age were always the last ones in and we
generally had to wait dinner on them. They always had a car trouble
but fortunately for them, the car usually broke down near a tavern and
that gave them a warm place to hole-up while the car was being
repaired.

There was a big wood stove in the living room and behind it was always
a box of mixed nuts. We cracked nuts on a block of wood with a hammer
and then tossed the shells in the stove. Grandma had a piano for as
long as I can remember and there was a writing table with a little
wooden penguin in the drawer that could wobble walk down an incline.
On top of the table was a candy dish with white and pink solid mints
and hoar hound candy.

Granddad always cut a Christmas tree from the nearby woods and my
aunts decorated it with bright lights, pretty bulbs, tinsel and
icicles. The best part of course, was the mound of presents under the
tree.

There was no smoking in grandma’s house and the men would go out to
the woodshed and stand around re-telling old hunting stories until
dinner was ready. Somebody would usually have a bottle of something
under their car seat and they would pass that around to keep their
throats from getting too dry.

We never had what I thought of as a dinner. What we had was what I
remember as a sumptuous feast. Ham, turkey, spuds and gravy, Jello
salad, candied sweet potatoes, coleslaw, fresh cranberry and orange
relish, pickled beets, green beans, olives and more. Then, there was
dessert. Grandma’s specialty was pies and we had to make some really
difficult choices with pecan, chocolate, lemon meringue, pumpkin,
apple and mincemeat pies on the table. The mincemeat was homemade from
venison out of the garden and she canned it in big fruit jars that
they stored in the root cellar under the house.

After dinner the adults liked to sit and talk over a cup of coffee but
of course us kids were anxious to get started with the presents.
Waiting for them to finish their story telling was always difficult
but eventually we would get to the main event. The kids got to hand
out the presents and then it was the excitement of opening them.
Granddad always watched the kids open their presents before he opened
his and then it was a contest between him and my dad as to who could
open their presents the slowest. We always got lots of nice presents.
They weren’t big or expensive but they were ours to take home.

When things settled down, grandma played Christmas Carols while we
stood around the piano, harmonizing as best we could. When we got
tired of that the adults would haul out their musical instruments and
they played and sang until well into the morning. The kids played
Parcheesi and caroms until we got tired and then dozed off on the
couch. Eventually the musicians (probably after several hours of
encouragement) would pack up their instruments and we would head home
to get a little sleep before Santa showed up.

Santa never brought a lot of fancy presents, but we always got
something. One year my folks were feeling a little pinched and they
cleaned up my sister’s doll that Santa had brought the year before,
put a new dress on it and a little rouge on the cheeks and gave it to
her again. They cleaned up the little car that they had given me and
repainted it, wrapped it up and put it back under the tree. Now that
was the ultimate in re-gifting but I wouldn’t begin to consider
trading my memories for all the fancy toys and gadgets that we now
have but if somebody were to surprise me by repainting my car, that
would still be an acceptable gift.

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