Saturday, December 21, 2019

Dishes That Tell A Story of Christmas

When you’re young and gathered with family around the table, you don’t think about the dishes used to serve the meal. Some of those dishes are pulled out from kitchen cupboards. They’re the everyday dishes. Others are taken off shelves in a china cabinet. Those are the ones used only for special occasions. They need to be washed before they’re put to use. Some are quite old. Some have been serving meals for generations. Some have offered more than food; serving comfort in times of sorrow; joy in times of celebration.
As a child, our attention is elsewhere especially on Christmas. Santa Claus and reindeer and overflowing stockings and presents under the tree take precedence over dishes. They’re just dishes. But that changes as we grow older. Those dishes start to mean something. Those dishes and bowls and platters somehow turned into traditions as we were growing up. They’ve become old friends. They’ve earned a chapter or two in our family story like the yellow bowl that held the coleslaw made by an aunt who never married and the platter that sat in the middle of the table holding the turkey sliced by an uncle who always wore a bow tie and fell asleep after dinner. China serving bowls, some with a few nicks and scratches, held potatoes and squash, turnip, stuffing, cranberries and dumplings. Crystal dishes held pickles made from garden cucumbers by a grandmother who also shared her scrumptious pickled pears in another serving dish and slices of her infamous Christmas bread in yet another.
Pies in familiar pie plates with homemade crusts were made by the family pie expert. Crusts were crimped around the edges in lightning speed as if the baker was playing a piano. Along with the pies came coffee served in cups with saucers matching the plates sitting in place around the table all decked out for the occasion.
Besides the dishes earning a chapter or two in a family story, supporting players such as tablecloths and candlesticks and aprons worn by those preparing the feast and original artwork taped on the refrigerator-some showing colorful scribbles and some showing Santa in his sleigh or Frosty with his broom-complete the family story for another year.
Every year is different as a family grows and changes. But if we’re lucky, some of the dishes remain the same. That part of the story continues on. That’s what traditions do.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

When In Line At The Post Office

I told my son Brian I wouldn't be long. I only had a few things to mail. I told him not to worry. I'd get him to the gym on time. Hurrying towards the post office I noticed two women helping each other up the steps. It wasn't snowing. The steps weren't icy but I slowed down while they made it to the door. One pushed the handicap lever and the door opened. That's when they noticed I was waiting behind them.
They told me to go ahead. One explained, "We're just two old friends coming to mail our Christmas cards. We've been doing this for years. Don't wait for us. You'll be here all day!"
I thanked them and went inside and stood in a long line. I thought about leaving but decided there'd be no good time to mail something with Christmas getting closer.
I could hear those two older women chatting. I turned around to see where they were. They both saw me. They both smiled and waved. That's when I noticed what they were wearing. The two were all dressed up with clip-on earrings and long wool coats and hats. Not winter hats but dress hats with veils. They reminded me of my father. He loved going to the post office and when he did, he always wore a tie and if it was cold outside, he'd wear his dress hat. He'd always run into people he knew and would spend time talking to them and others he didn't know. Going to the post office was a social event for him as it seemed to be for the women in dress hats chatting with all who walked by them.
The post office was really busy. Some people were waiting with arms full of boxes. Some held onto piles of cards and letters. Many had questions once they reached the counter and that took them even longer. I noticed a few people getting restless. A few muttered to themselves and to others in line. A few left and that made the rest of us happy. When one person reached the counter with many big boxes to mail, a subdued moan went around the lobby. That's when I saw one of the old ladies standing near me reading greeting cards for sale on a display. I noticed the ones that had her attention were all Christmas-themed.
One really caught her fancy. She brought it over to her friend. They both started chuckling and giggling and then laughing-laughing so hard like a belly-type laugh with tears falling down their cheeks. They tried stopping. They'd take a breath; then they'd start laughing again. Their laughter became contagious. Others started laughing. Strangers were smiling and talking with one another.
It was a wonderful experience. It felt like Christmas had arrived early in the historic old post office where I imagined my father standing in the line waiting to mail the Christmas cards my mother had addressed. When you think about that's what a post office does. It delivers Christmas just like I delivered Brian to the gym-on time!
(Hope you enjoy The Saturday Evening Post cover. I love those covers and that magazine. My grandparents always had a stack of them when living in their farmhouse).

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Getting The Decorations Out

We all have our ways of decorating the Christmas tree. My way begins with bringing down the box that holds many of the decorations. It’s an old box. It once held a VCR made by RCA. At the time, it was an exciting gift for the family. I should retire the box. I know there are better ways to store the decorations but I’ve yet to make the move. You see, that old box has become a part of the tradition of trimming the tree. After all, it has the responsibility of holding the decorations all year long. And most of those decorations are priceless-not in the money sense of the word. Rather, in the memory sense. They each tell a story of a time or a place in our family history.

When I was first married, I bought a paint-by-number Christmas kit holding small wooden Christmas decorations complete with a small hole for the string to hang them on the tree and little plastic containers with the paint and two paint brushes. I started painting them late in the season. When Christmas came around some of the decorations were only painted on one side. That didn’t stop me from putting them on the tree. To this day, a few, like an elf and a teddy bear and reindeer are still only painted on one side. And that’s okay. They tell the story of a first Christmas of long ago. One of the wooden decorations is Mrs. Claus. We named her Giddy after my grandmother. They have the same, warm and happy smile. Their eyes are full of love and you get the sense they both share a passion for baking cookies.

The biggest item in the VCR box is the tree skirt. My mother made it for us years ago out of felt. In its younger days, it was bright red and the snowmen were pure white but the years have taken its toll. Some might have replaced it by now, trading it in for a new one. But I can’ do that. Every time that tree skirt is unfolded and put around the bottom of the tree, I envision my mother cutting out the pieces and putting them all together when we lived atop the funeral home.

There are elves in the VCR box. They look just like those elves on shelves but they aren’t. They’re just elves. They’ve never been hidden. They’ve never told Santa who has been good or bad. They’re just elves full of memories. They were my father’s; probably bought at Newberry’s or Grants. I know a few of the decorations came from Woolworths. My father told me he and my mother went shopping at that downtown store for decorations to put on their first Christmas tree. They are beautifully painted and their shapes are unique. I take extra care when I pack those decorations away in the VCR box. Each is wrapped in paper towels and newspapers as are the cookie dough Santas I purchased years back when I had a little store selling Hello Kitty and so much more. I couldn’t sell the Santas. I fell in love with them the minute I saw them. I did the same when it came to little horses and pigs made of cloth and placed inside half of a walnut shell, looking as if they’re in bed covered in a tiny little cloth blanket.

One decoration came straight from Santa’s Workshop at the North Pole. It wasn’t planned. It was an accident. Brian was maybe two or three. We didn’t notice him taking a red wooden heart off one of the decorated trees and putting it in the back of the stroller holding his youngest sister. Later, when we were leaving, we found the heart. We were way off in the parking lot and made the decision to keep the heart. I’m so glad we did. Every year when the red heart is on the tree, the story is told again about that day at Santa’s Workshop. I do believe Santa had lots to do with that memory.

So many decorations—so many memories like the decorations made in nursery schools where scribbles and colorings are considered Picassos and a handmade decoration with a reindeer drawn inscribed with “Gra-Gra Reindeer” extends the memory making to yet another generation. (My two grandchildren call me Gra-Gra).

There have been a few Christmases when I wasn’t in the mood for decorating the tree. To be honest, I wasn’t in the mood for Christmas until I brought down the old VCR box and opened it up and found all those priceless, family stories waiting for me to get them out and hang them on the tree where they could be told and enjoyed again. The wooden ornaments painted years ago, some only on one side and one named after my grandmother, and a tree skirt made of felt that was showing its age and elves that were just your regular elves my father bought at Newberry’s or Grants and treasured ornaments my parents bought at Woolworths and cookie dough Santas and walnut shells turned into beds for miniature-sized horses and pigs and a red wooden heart direct from the North Pole selected by a little boy one summer day so very long ago and scribbles and colorings and so much more—they were all there waiting for me like they are every Christmas-like they were yesterday.

Soon there will be gifts under the tree. But there is no greater gift than the stories told by ornaments and treasures packed away in an old box that once held a shiny new RCA VCR.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

When Wonder Stirs

Two little ones came to stay for a while this afternoon. The first thing they asked was if they could make cookies. I'd anticipated the question. I had the dough chilling in the refrigerator. It wasn't long before the cookie cutters were on the counter and the fun began. It was obvious from the start that thing called Wonder had returned. The Season of Christmas was in their eyes, their smiles, their laughter.
It was contagious. After they'd packed up their cookies and headed home, I discovered some of that Wonder was still about the kitchen; inspiring me to make my little, faceless gingerbread men and put them in the old tin sitting on the table by the front door. As I mixed the dough and smelled the molasses and cut the little guys out, baked them, cooled them down and filled that tin, my mind wandered back to that precious time of Wondering. We remember the red suit, the beard, the ho-ho-ho. We remember leaving cookies and milk on Christmas Eve. But when you're a child, there's so much more when you Believe-when that Wonder stirs.
You're certain you hear the sleigh land and the hoofs pawing and Santa sliding down the chimney. Peeking from under your blankets, you're sure he's filling the stockings and placing presents under the tree and eating the cookies you made. You smile as you hear him going back up the chimney.
In an instant you hear the jingling of bells. The pawing of hoofs intensify as those magnificent reindeer pick up speed right above you. The ho-ho-ho echoes over the land as Santa leads that sleigh to yet another rooftop of another family with children nestled under blankets while snow softly falls.
Anything is possible-when Wonder stirs-even the baking of precious little gingerbread men; then placing them in an old tin can and sitting the can back on a table by the front door, thus carrying on a Christmas tradition of long ago.