Another Chapter in Why I am
I always get a bit misty this time of year. This year I am taking the holidays to heart and even baking old childhood cookies. I can’t do them as well as my mom did. She added 1 cup of magic to everything.
I grew up in Chicago. We moved into our wonderful house when I was about 17 months old and stayed there until I was 17. I never wanted to leave and I probably would still be living there if I could.
We lived in a wonderful neighborhood called Old Edge Brook. I think you can google it and get a tour. My parents bought an old Victorian badly in need of remodeling. Being the fussy guy that my dad was, he took one room at a time and did it up right. We had a house like none other and I loved every window and nook.
My mom created Christmases to match this setting. They would start with Thanksgiving when we visited our grandparents in Mt Morris Illinois. This was a very small town about 2 hours away. We would make the Thanksgiving pilgrimage with all our pets, even the skunk and monkey would go. Pets are another chapter. After Thanksgiving we would drive home with a trunk full of treasures. Grandma and Grandpa sent back a lot of their gifts because they would take the train to visit us for Christmas. We would line up the gifts on the dining room buffet and stare at them until the tree went up. I think we did more than stare.
Then Mom started baking. She made endless batches of cookies. We had a closed in porch that was not heated and she stored boxes and boxes of cookies. We got good at sneaking out and steeling some but she made plenty so I think she ignored our sneaking.
My sisters and I spent hours looking at catalogues and dreaming of what we would find Christmas morning. Honestly, we did not always get what we wished for but we got so many gifts it was embarrassing.
We made gifts for family so we had evenings at the kitchen table following Mom’s instructions for making lovely home made gifts. I remember wrapping gifts and having small pieces of Scotch tape lined up along the table.
One year when we were old enough to dream up a good gift for Mom and Dad, and also save some baby sitting money, we got them a set of dishes. A neighbor helped us, they were delivered to her house and we dragged them home on a sled. This makes it sound like I lived in covered wagon days but not quite.
I think the tree went up 2 weeks before Christmas. I know we had real trees when I was very young but when I was about 10 we got a foil tree. We had a light that sat behind a wheel that turned and the wheel was filled with four colors. As it turned it looked like the tree was turning and changing colors. Since I saw light and especially moving light quite well, this tree seemed magical to me.
I got sick every year around Christmas and spent days on the couch watching the tree look like it was spinning.
Mom had lots of other decorations she put around the house but beg as we might, we never got outside lights.
We had the first leangle Christmas cookies on the night we put up the tree.
My grandparents would arrive on Christmas Eve or the day before. This was the signal that we girls had a job to do. We needed to carry in the wood for the fire that would burn starting Christmas Eve and through Christmas Day. The wood was dirty and it was cold and we wined a lot.
After the wood was stacked, Dad would take us girls for a walk in the woods. Some times neighbor kid’s wood come with us. We were surrounded by forest and there was a little frozen river. Honestly, I am not making this up.
Christmas Eve was a big dinner, usually ham and lots of extras. Mom and Grandma would cook and Daddy and Grandpa would clean up. Now, these two never did dishes but on this night they polished every surface in the kitchen. We could not open gifts until they were done. How they could drag this out and how we would beg for them to finish.
When dishes were done, Dad still had one more task he could drag out; he made us grasshoppers to drink. Even us kids had tiny little glasses of this Christmas specialty and we felt so grown up.
Then the present opening frenzy started. We had stacks of gifts and this would not be the end of it. I think someone always fell asleep before we were done. All the paper went into the fire and suddenly it was over. Well it was not quite over.
Now, remember, Grandparents are sleeping over so we girls usually crowded together in one bed. We listened as hard as we could for sounds of Santa. We usually heard him walking around in the attic. Of course we had left cookies and we hoped he would like them. I think we left whisky instead of milk.
We were not allowed to go downstairs on Christmas morning until my dad was done setting up the silly movie camera. However, Grandpa and his three little elves had a secret. Santa did not wrap his gifts, I guess even he was daunted by the huge amount. So, at about 4:30 am, Grandpa and my sister and I would sneak down and open all our gifts. We would do it very carefully and quietly so we could put everything back the way we found it. Then when Dad would set up the camera we would act surprised.
We had other guests for the big Christmas dinner. And of course it was turkey. We had a fire all day and all the cookies we could eat. We moved from the land of don’t touch the cookies to please get rid of them.
The last and most dreaded ritual was writing thankyou notes. I had trouble doing them because I could not read what I wrote but I had to do them over and over again until they passed inspection. I hated this so much that I never made my kids write them and there must have been some kind of meeting in the middle because now they don’t even mention they got the cards or gifts we send.
I am sorry this is so long. I just needed to write it all down and whoever reads it will just have to forgive me.
Now I need to get back to trying to come close to creating my Mom’s Christmas.