Gifts of time love
are surely the basic ingredients
of a truly merry Christmas.
- Peg Bracken
With it being the Christmas season, I’ve been waxing nostalgic. Memories of Christmas Past trickle through my mind—most of them leaving warmth and happiness. Every Christmas of my childhood had a popcorn ball making night. Mom would start the Karo syrup mix on the stove while we washed and dried the dinner dishes. Daddy filled two big brown paper grocery bags filled with popcorn. We weren’t going to go through all this trouble to make a measly dozen or two! With heavily buttered hands to keep the syrup-covered popcorn from burning us, we packed scores of popcorn balls until the wax paper-covered table looked like we were ready for a dry-land snowball fight!
I have other memories of Christmas—but the truth is, almost all of them are connected with what the women in my family did—my grandmothers, aunts, mom, sister…because for the most part, in our family women are the ones who create, foster and pass down traditions…
There’s my Grandma Peggy. She, more than my biological grandmothers, was my grandma. When Daddy was serving in Korea and Mom was a lonely Navy wife in San Diego, Genieve “Peggy” O’Brien worked in the same doctor’s office as my mom and broke the news to her saying, “Oh, good! I’m going to be a grandma!” Every year at Thanksgiving, Grandma Peggy decorated the Thanksgiving table with our handprint turkeys and after the meal always had us stand up next to her to measure how tall we’d grown. Why? Because she’d lie down and mark our height on the floor after we went out to play. Then, without a pattern, she’d make us flannel pajamas for Christmas. Every night of my childhood, I got tucked in wearing a reminder of my grandma’s love.
There’s my Grandma Smith. She and grandpa flew down to spend Christmas with us every Christmas. No one loved hats like she did. No one. One time, she arrived wearing one hat *almost* entirely atop the other so she’d have both. Why? Because her favorite hat took up an entire suitcase and she didn’t have any other way to bring them. Her comment about Daddy’s look of disbelief? “If you’re going to be a fool, be a fancy one.” Daddy hadn’t said anything because his mother wore bilateral hearing aids, but she was entirely deaf. Even so, each Christmas Day, she was the one who gathered us all together and started us caroling. Incredibly, she still had perfect pitch and always began with her favorite, “O, Little Town of Beth- LEE-hem.”
Grandma Gering, my maternal grandmother, was a Mennonite woman who wore her never-cut salt-and-pepper hair in a braid she pinned into a bun at her crown. I only had the joy of spending one Christmas with her. We tied on aprons and baked to our hearts’ content. Recipes that once were “Butter the size of a hen’s egg” became modernized to tablespoons. Nonetheless, the legacy lives on. I’ve been able to share with my daughter the history and heritage of using sour cream to make her Great-Grandma Edna’s Apfel Borogie. Even more, I proudly tell of how, after suffering a devastating stroke, my grandma set out a goal in her rehabilitation: to be able to roll out dough. Pie dough, Apfel Borogie—Any kind—the sheer determination she showed and her victory made me proud of her.Mom baked cookies every week—but at Christmas she pulled out the stops. The house smelled of the fresh Christmas tree, vanilla, and cinnamon. She firmly believed her daughters belonged in the kitchen, so my sister and I helped in the kitchen to the utmost of our capabilities. We learned to bake, but also to cook a turkey and all the trimmings. Some of the aunts always help dish up and clean up—others don’t lift a finger. Same with cousins.
Me? I’m richer for the women who have gone before me… they tied on their aprons, saved egg money, churned butter, and gave of themselves. They sewed, they sang, they cooked. They reared their families through the Great Depression, lost everything in a house fire, and in two floods, were in the very center of the very worst of the Kansas Dustbowl. From all that, though, they made choices—to view Christmas as a sacred time spiritually, but also as a time to foster traditions and made the time memorable.
I hope and pray I will do half as well.