Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Past

I'm sitting here this evening remembering the Christmas seasons of my childhood.  In this world where most folks feel as though they must shop until they drop, it surprises me that I can recall very few gifts of Christmas past.  I remember mostly other things.

I remember when I was very small, while my family lived in St. Paul with my Grandmother, my Dad would take Mother and me downtown to see the Christmas displays in the store windows.  They were a wonder.  There were scenes set up in the windows where Santa filled stockings or flew in his sleigh over the rooftops or the elves hammered and sawed in the North Pole workshop making toys.  These were mechanical moving pieces, as this was waaay before computers were used.  There were beautifully decorated Christmas trees and all sorts of wondrous things to see.  It was all magical to a child.

When I was older, living in Willmar, Dad would pile the family into the car and take us on a drive around town to see all of the houses decorated with Christmas lights.  We always drove through a neighborhood that Dad called "Pill Hill," because a number of doctors lived there and that neighborhood always had some of the best light displays.  I still enjoy seeing all the decorated houses this time of year.

Sometime during the holidays we always made molasses taffy.  Dad would cook it up on the stove, pour it onto a buttered cookie sheet and set it out on the porch to cool, and then each of us would grab some and pull and pull and pull until it was just right.  We cut the taffy ropes into pieces and wrapped them in waxed paper.  Then if we were lucky, Dad would make his "World Famous Peanut Brittle."  I swear that it was so much better tasting than any other.  I miss Dad and his peanut brittle especially now.

Mom made tons of Christmas cookies - gingerbread men, red and white candy canes with real crushed peppermint candy sprinkled on top, date filled cookies and always, sugar cookie cut-outs decorated with red and green sugar.  She made divinity and old fashioned fudge, enlisting me to beat the fudge with a spoon until it was just right.  We made popcorn balls, wrapped them in colored cellophane and tied them with ribbon, for treats on Christmas Day with relatives.  And then there was the smell of baking bread as Mom made buns and cinnamon rolls for our dinner with aunts, uncles and cousins on Christmas Day.

We always had a real Christmas tree, with the exception of that unfortunate year when Dad brought home this silver, shiny aluminum tree that looked like rolls of tin foil had exploded.  There was the smell of pine in the house, what with the tree and Mother's decorating every available space with pine boughs and shiny Christmas balls and red velvet ribbons.  The tree had some of the old large-sized lights and some lights made to look sort of like candles, but when they heated up a bit, liquid inside the glass tubes would bubble.  There were beautiful, shiny glass balls and tons of tinsel.  I think the tinsel was to mask some of the bare spots in the tree, but I loved it.

Dad always read the Christmas story from the Bible before we opened gifts on Christmas Eve.  He and Mother wanted to be sure that we children understood just what it was that we were celebrating.  I sometimes feel that the reason for our Christmas season has been forgotten, what with news reports about how many of millions of dollars have been spent on holiday shopping, advertisements of some stores staying open for the entire 48 hours before Christmas in order to rake in more money, and the TV commercial that shows people dancing through a mall, shopping bags in hand!  I guess that the lesson that my parents wanted me to learn was, indeed, learned.  For it is the memories of family and love and and the shared moments that have nothing to do with gifts, that are uppermost in my mind this Christmas Eve.

I pray that my grandchildren, when they reach my age, will remember less about whatever gadget or toy is under their Christmas trees and more about family being together and enjoying each others company.  David has taken his wife and children to spend Christmas Eve with his Grandmother, and I am so glad that he did.  I have many good memories of Christmas spent with her and I am happy that his children will also have those memories.  For no present can compare with the memories made with family.

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas with the hope that you all make good and lasting memories with your families, and wish for nothing but good things for you throughout this coming year.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cousin Curt

I received word this morning of the death of my cousin, Curt Matheny.  The news was not unexpected, for he had been very ill for quite some time, but no matter how prepared we think we are, the loss of a loved one still hurts.

I had known Curt my entire life.  He was just a few years older than me, and we played together as children.  I remember as a small girl, playing in his playhouse in the woods on his parent's farm in northern Minnesota.  I think his father must have built it for him out of pine slabs, and there was furniture in it that was made from logs.  I always thought how lucky he was to have such a wonderful place to play.

We stayed in touch in our younger years through letters, and I would see him on our family trips to visit relatives, at family reunions and more often when I lived in northern Minnesota for a number of years, for it was his at his family home that I liked to spend time.  Curt had a talent for woodworking and made some beautiful cabinets and furniture.  He made his living this way for many years.

I guess I am feeling a bit melancholy today.  Also a bit nostalgic.  It seems that so many of my father's family have gone on to their reward and there are so few of us left now.  I understand that this is the natural order of things, but that doesn't make it any easier.

Good-bye Curt.  I treasure the memories.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Memory is a Wonderful Thing - When it Works

So, this morning I get ready to leave my apartment and head downstairs to see what wonderful advertising junk mail is in my mailbox.  The box is more than likely full to overflowing by now, as I stayed in all day yesterday and didn't check the mail.  No wonder my mailman is so grouchy.  I would be, too, if I had to haul around all of those sale fliers and catalogs this time of year.  The same ones that I haul out with my trash.

Anyway, I reached into the little glass bowl that sits on the buffet next to my apartment door.  The bowl that holds quarters for the washers and dryers, a stray cough drop or two, some miscellaneous odds and ends and most importantly, my keys.

I always drop my keys in the bowl when I return home.  Always.  Well, almost always.

I reached in keys.

The search was on.  Turned the bedroom upside down.  No keys.  Shoveled various and assorted papers and, yes, junk off of my desk top.  No keys.  Did I drop them in the one of the desk drawers?  Nope.  Not there.  Checked cushions on the couch and chairs.  Nary a key was to be seen.  Nowhere in the living room did I find them.  Even checked the little doggie bed that Lily the Yorkie snoozes in.  She loves to find a scrap of paper or a ball of yarn or a quilt piece that is within her reach and haul it to her bed, where she hides it under a toy or her blanket.  Nothing there except three toys, a very old used bone, three pieces of kibble and a doggie treat she must have been saving for later.

Next was the kitchen.  Not on top of the fridge (Good Lord - I really need to climb up on a chair and clean that!)  Not under the table.  Not behind the buffet.  Not in the freezer.  Nowhere.

So I poured a cup of coffee and sat down.  There is no problem that can't be solved with a good cup of coffee.  Now, what did I do the day before yesterday, which was the last time I saw my keys.  I walked to the store three blocks away and bought dog food.  Had the keys when I got back.  Then I took the dogs out for some air.  Jesse walked and loved it.  Lily didn't.  Typical dog outing - walk one and carry the most stubborn one.  Unlocked my door with the keys.  Then I did a couple loads of laundry.

That's it!

Yep.  There they were.  Inside the pocket of the pants I put in the laundry basket that evening.

Now I understand why ladies of my vintage wear their glasses on a chain around their necks.  It has come full circle.  I used to,  more years ago than I care to think about, have to wear mittens that were attached to a string, to keep from losing one.  Never lost two - always one.  Wonder if the string thing works for keys.