Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sentimental Sunday - Dad

December 28 was the 53rd anniversary of my dad's death.  He was 49 years old and had never been sick.  He had complained since Christmas day of pain in his arms and indigestion.  It was the holidays and we got a pool table for Christmas that year, so who knew?  Overnight mom became a 42 year old widow with 9 children between 17 and 2 years of age.

I was the 17 year old and was just beginning to know my dad as a person.  Then children remained children, and were treated as such, until they had finished school.

Who was my dad?  Dad was: someone who wrote little poems commemorating life's events, the birth of a son, mom's illness, a sprained ankle, family travels, etc.  He was "Uncle Don" who would visit his sister and her family and empty the change in his pockets by pulling them inside out to make it rain coins so he could watch the kids scramble for the money.  Dad was the husband who worked late on Thursday nights and always brought home the new issue of "The Saturday Evening Post".  Usually there was a pint of butter pecan ice cream or a Mounds Bar included.  Dad was the man who dearly loved walking his family into church on Sunday morning and watching us fill an entire pew.  After church on Sunday, Dad would walk to the bakery to get bismarks (jelly filled donuts covered in granulated sugar) and the Sunday paper.  Dad loved children and babies.  Dad was the official family chauffeur who would take various grandparents and aunts and uncles to the train station for their trips.  In fact, the day he died, the plan was for him to take Aunt Kathy to the train for a trip to Adrian, Mi to watch her niece Sr Marie Mercy (aka Helen Hardie) take her vows as a novice.  Dad was an athlete.  He played on the YMCA state championship basketball team and was always up for a game of driveway hoops or baseball at the beach.  He loved watching the Bears football games and playing poker.  One year dad ordered a set of custom, handpainted plates for the dining room.  They were white plates with faces representing each of us with our names on them.  The faces were in the style of the 1890s with top-knot hairdos and mustaches.  The only colors used were black and red on the white plates.

These have been random memories of dad, in no particular order of importance.  They are just my attempt to show the person I proudly call Dad!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Holiday Happenings

Often times December to mid-January birthdays and anniversaries get over shadowed by the Christmas/Hanukkah/New Year holidays. So we’re going to shine a spotlight on those family members and ancestors this time around. Select one or more December to mid-January birthdays and/or anniversaries on your family tree. Write a short tribute to or memory of those birthday guys and gals and write a toast to the anniversary couples.

In my family there are lots of celebrations in December and January and we have always made a real effort to make sure that Christmas and New Years celebrations did not overshadow the other events.  

For starters we have birthdays of two sisters, Peg on Dec 16 and Alice on Jan 1, in addition to the Dec 6 birthday of brother Tom.  Moving to the next generation we celebrate the birthdays of Nieces and nephews Leslie, Nicole, Holly and Nicholas. (Do you see a Christmas theme here?)

There was also the family of my dad's only sister Dorothy.  Dorothy's birthday was Dec 26 and two of her daughters were also born on Dec 26.  Dorothy's husband Robert (Bob) Murray was born on Dec 16.

Overshadowing all of the celebrations was the death of my dad on Dec 28.  He was only 49 and had never been sick.

Dad was extremely proud of his family of nine children and loved to walk us down the main street of town on the way to church on Sunday.  We would fill an entire pew at Mass and then some of us would walk to the bakery after church to get bismarks and the Sunday paper.

I was 17 when dad died, so I can't evaluate him on an adult level, but I don't ever remember seeing him angry.  He worked hard and played hard.  He loved sports of all kinds and wrote poems about events in our lives, births, illnesses, successes etc. 

I often think of him beaming as he looks down on how each of his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren have developed.  He would be VERY proud of each and every one! 

Friday, December 14, 2012

Fruitcake - Friend or Foe? Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories

I have always liked fruitcake.  Well maybe not always, if I am honest I would have to admit that the candied fruit took some time getting used to, but when touted as a grown-up acquired taste I was eager to like it!  Besides as an afternoon treat served with cream cheese and a cup of hot tea I really did enjoy it.

After I was married and had my own household, I actually made fruitcake as gifts for several years until I realized that others didn't share my enthusiasm.  It was even worse with my kids.  For about ten years they had a fruitcake that they shared by re-gifting it every year.  One year it was left on the floor too long and the ants got it.  End of fruitcake.

Last year my daughter surprised me with a very good fruitcake that she had ordered.  It is wonderful but I could only eat about one fourth of it.  They truly do last forever.  I am enjoying a slice as I write this!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Saturday Night Genealogy Fun - The 2012 Christmas Geneameme

  1. Do you have any special Xmas traditions in your family? While it is not a unique tradition we used to do a pinata and Advent Wreath.
  2. Is church attendance an important part of your Christmas celebrations and do you go the evening before or on Xmas Day? Church attendance has always been an important part of Christmas and has varied between Christmas Eve and Christmas morning depending on the age of the children.
  3. Did/do you or your children/grandchildren believe in Santa? Doesn't everyone believe in Santa?
  4. Do you go carolling in your neighbourhood?  As a child we went caroling in the neighborhood but I think it is a disappearing tradition.  Maybe I can get my granddaughters and their friends to try it this year!
  5. What’s your favourite Christmas music? I LOVE all Christmas music.
  6. What’s your favourite Christmas carol?  That is a hard one but I think I would choose Silent Night.
  7. Do you have a special Xmas movie/book you like to watch/read?  Just introduced my granddaughter to "It's a Wonderful Life" never tired of it.
  8. Does your family do individual gifts, gifts for littlies only, Secret Santa (aka Kris Kringle)?  We have had a grab bag for many years since there are nine of us but always for the littles that we see during the holidays.
  9. Is your main Christmas meal indoors or outdoors, at home or away?  Christmas dinner is inside at the home of the host.  Our family rotated the hospitality duties.  Every four years we got to host Christmas dinner.
  10. What do you eat as your main course for the Christmas meal?  That has varied over the years, sometimes turkey or ham, one year my husband and I did roast goose and beef wellington, this year as we celebrate in Texas it will be smoked brisket.
  11. Do you have a special recipe you use for Xmas?  The only time I make Rum Balls is at Christmas and we do Gingerbread Houses at Christmas.
  12. Does Christmas pudding feature on the Xmas menu? Is it your recipe or one you inherited? No.
  13. Do you have any other special Christmas foods? What are they?  I remember spiced peaches and spiced apple rings.  Fruitcake was always present.
  14. Do you give home-made food/craft for gifts at Christmas?  I used to make cinnamon bread and rum balls and sometimes our family grab bag required a homemade gift.  I remember doing a fish shaped clock and etched beer glasses among other gifts.
  15. Do you return to your family for Xmas or vice versa?  When we lived within commuting distance, we rotated between siblings but now we live too far to travel.
  16. Is your Christmas celebrated differently from your childhood ones? If yes, how does it differ? It is different in  that it is smaller without the extended family and we will include others who are far from family.
  17. How do you celebrate Xmas with your friends? Lunch? Pre-Xmas outings? Drop-ins?  Usually we concentrate on family for Christmas but send cards to friends to wish them Merry Christmas of Happy Holidays.
  18. Do you decorate your house with lights? A little or a lot?  We decorate with lights but not over the top.
  19. Is your neighbourhood a “Xmas lights” tour venue? No but most of the houses decorate with lights and lawn displays.
  20. Does your family attend Carols by Candlelight singalongs/concerts? Where?  No.
  21. Have any of your Christmases been spent camping (unlikely for our northern-hemisphere friends)? No I haven't but I believe one of my sisters did in California.
  22. Is Christmas spent at your home, with family or at a holiday venue?  We have always spent Christmas with family whether at our house or theirs.
  23. Do you have snow for Christmas where you live?  When I lived in Illinois we usually had snow, not so much in Florida and Texas.
  24. Do you have a Christmas tree every year? Yes always except the year we did a cruise in December and that was just wrong.
  25. Is your Christmas tree a live tree (potted/harvested) or an imitation?  We have had both real and artificial trees depending on the circumstances.
  26. Do you have special Xmas tree decorations?  The toy soldiers my husband made.
  27. Which is more important to your family, Christmas or Thanksgiving?  Both are important in different ways but the winner is probably Christmas.

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Christmas Cookies

When I was growing up as the oldest of nine children, I don't remember mom doing a lot of Christmas cookie baking.  There were the occasional batches of oatmeal, chocolate chip, brownies and so on through out the year but I don't remember a concerted effort of Christmas baking.  What I do remember is Maurice Lenell Cookies.  Usually a two pound tin of them.  The tins featured a different Currier and Ives type of Christmas scene each year and were always saved!

When I married, my husband worked for the telephone company and the Telephone Pioneers sold the cookies every year as a fund raiser.  We bought them every year and saved the tins.  I used the tins for the cookies I made with my children.  In my house we made rum balls, spritz cookies, and sugar cookies to supplement the cookies which arrived from Ohio every Christmas.  My husbands Hungarian made wonderful cookies filled with apricot, prune, nutmeats,and poppy seed.  I have tried to replicate her cookies to no avail.    I recently came across what I believe is almost exactly her recipe thanks to Lisa of the Smallest Leaf blog and I am anxious to try them.

The first time we went to visit our grandchildren in Germany we began building gingerbread houses with them.  The first ones used a rectangular butter box as a base and instead of gingerbread we used graham crackers.  It didn't matter there was a lot of candy to decorate with!  This year the girls will build five gingerbread cottages.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Santa Claus

Our family always believed in Santa Claus!  Around Thanksgiving as the days grew shorter, we began watching the frosty windows to see if we could catch the elves peaking in.  Before Santa Clause came, there were other special days to celebrate and add to the mystery and suspense of the season.

December 6 is the feast of St Nicholas and the day to put your shoe on the doorstep for an early surprise.  There were usually a few nuts, an orange and maybe a small toy.  My kids sometimes got something that resembled a prize from a cereal.

December 6 has always had another special meaning for our family - it is my brother's birthday.
Happy Birthday Tom!

santa photo credit

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Advent Calendar of Christman Memories - Outside Decorations

In the 1950s it was not common for individual homes to have outside decorations where I grew up.  Most families tried to put the lit and decorated tree in front of a window so it could be seen by those passing by on the street. There were however wreaths on front doors everywhere.  Wreaths were usually green with red ribbons on them.  Sometimes they had holly berries and pine cones on them.  Occasionally you could see a white wreath or a green one with flocking or fake snow on it.

Our wreaths were very unusual since they were made of candy.  Really!  Aunt Ruth made them for us and we loved them.  They looked like this. Note the scissors attached for easy removal of goodies.  Our front door was very popular with the kids in the neighborhood.

photo credit

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Christmas Cards

Growing up, Christmas cards were a very important part of the holidays.  At the time our mail was delivered twice a day and close to Christmas that included Sundays!  If the card was addressed to Mr and Mrs and Family one of us kids got to open the card.  After the card was opened and passed around to be admired, it was added to the burgundy tray on an end table.  The tray was similar to the one above but also had gold fruit on the edge.  As the number of cards increased they were placed between the books in the living room bookcase with the fronts facing out.  I know Mom sent out cards every year to all of their friends and family.

When I had my own home, I followed the same tradition, even keeping a list of who we received cards from every year so I wouldn't forget someone.  In several of our homes we had louvered doors in a dining room or hall.  Our cards were slid into the louvers for display.  Other times we taped a ribbon to the top of a door and stapled the cards to the ribbon.

Now that we use social media, I send out fewer cards but there are still some long time friends that I send a card.  Some years I have done a newsletter and some years not.

photo credit victoriasatticca via google images,

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Day 1 Der Tannenbaum

O Tannenbaum is how the song begins.  While we think it means O Christmas Tree it actually means O Fir Tree!  Because of my German heritage, I have long been aware of the German custom of Christmas trees and using candles to light the tree.

Over the years we have had various types of trees.  Usually our trees were about 6 to 7 feet tall.  They have been real, artificial, long needle, short needle, purchased from a tree lot and self cut.  My husband and I as well as out kids grew up in the Chicago area so getting the tree always involved boots, gloves or mittens, and usually hot chocolate afterwards.

Growing up we always had real trees but when my children were little and wanted the tree up from early December onward, we switched to artificial trees for safety reasons.  Much later after we moved to Florida, we actually drove to Georgia to go tree hunting with Dave's sister and her family.  It was still snowy and the area was a forest of trees.  We made our selections and had help tying the trees to the tops of the cars.    It worked pretty well going back to town but driving down I-75 back to Florida beat up our tree pretty well.  After that it was back to the artificial trees since there was no hope of keeping a real tree alive for a couple of weeks in south Florida.

Decorating the tree was done in parts.  Dad did the lights and usually the ornaments and the kids got to add the tinsel.  Dad was a perfectionist about the tinsel and wanted each strand individually placed.  As kids we were much more interested in throwing handfuls at the tree to get finished faster.  With the artificial trees the tinsel was replaced by silver and gold garlands.  Dave always adjusted them to his vision.

photo from World Map Switzerland Valais Mund   via google images