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TideWriters Tales
Christmas Memories
By Catherine C. Brooks

     We knew that Christmas neared when the aroma of Momma’s fruit cakes flowed through the house on Thanksgiving Day. We did little celebrating in November since my parents did all in their power to see that we had a bountiful Christmas celebration even during the depression years. However Momma thought of Thanksgiving Day as fruit cake baking time—a custom handed down probably from her aunt who helped raise her. She baked more than one cake. Momma filled a large-blue-agate pan, having placed a jar of water in the center for a tube, for the main cake, a large tube pan held the second cake and a small tube pan held the last cake. Having eggs, butter, milk and nuts on the farm kept the expenses down. 

     We ate large servings of the small cake on Thanksgiving evening for dessert. She wrapped the two larger cakes in cotton cloths made from washed feed bags, placed them in tins with slices of apples and stored all in a cool-dark area.

     Sister and I tried to be obedient as the December days crept. Early the week before Christmas, Momma began baking the “regular” cakes—pound, raisin, walnut and three kinds of layer cakes. It took one day to make pies and store them in the cold pantry. On Christmas Eve’s Eve, Momma plucked and cleaned several fowl from the farmyard after Daddy killed them. We always had giblets and dumplings with our vegetables that evening for supper.

     The day started early on Christmas Eve with a whole ham from the smoke house on the wood-burning-cook stove in a large boiler where it would simmer all day. The fowl went into the oven to bake until golden brown and tender. If a farmer had come by with beef (a rarity in those days), Momma would roast that the following morning after Daddy cut steaks off the large end for Christmas morning breakfast. I thought the late breakfast with steak (a treat), smothered in onion gravy the best meal of the day. If the animal had been an old milk cow, one had to chew it a little longer than a young animal. But that didn’t matter because we got to savor the flavor a little longer.

     Artificial trees didn’t exist in our part of the country, if anywhere. Everyone used trees they cut from the woodland, and no one put them up before Christmas Eve in our community. If Daddy hadn’t cut one before, he left early to find a suitable cedar in Grandpa’s woods. He left it by the smoke house for Santa Claus to find, bring in the house and decorate. 

     Granddaddy and Granny Richardson, and sometimes Aunt Jane, Momma’s younger sister, arrived in the afternoon. If they planned to stay down the lanes and across the country road with Aunt Rite, Momma’s older sister, they stopped by our place first or vice versa. We had a large Christmas Eve supper either at Aunt Rite’s house or our house with Christmas dinner in early afternoon at the other, rotating each year.
I can’t remember ever going to bed late on Christmas Eve in my childhood, but sleep evaded me from excitement and fear Santa wouldn’t come because I laid awake. If Momma or Daddy peeped in the room, I kept my eyes closed and didn’t even wiggle a toe. I slept in an ice cold bedroom where ice would form in the water pitcher many nights—that is if I had any in it. Therefore I had to pull the heavy quilts well over my head to keep warm.

     Before 6:00 a.m. Christmas Day, one of my parents made the fire; and when the living room grew warm, they called, “Merry Christmas, time to get up.”

     Wrapped in our bathrobes and slippers on our feet, we girls tumbled down the stair steps. If our grandparents spent the night at our house, they followed us from a down stairs guest room, wearing their clothes. We entered the living room together, and we children ran to the tree. The grown folks seated themselves and watched as we looked at one gift after the other since Santa laid them in two separate piles. We tore papers from gifts our aunts and cousins had left. Granddaddy Richardson had seen that Momma had money to buy us each a quality toy from those we had named. I remember a red wagon, a big doll, a toy cook stove, a toy sewing machine, and a tricycle for Sister and other years, dolls for her. Momma and Daddy gave us several pieces of clothing even if Momma had stayed up late at night sewing them. My purchased camel’s hair coat stands out in my memory as a big gift—the warmest coat ever. 

     Then we looked in our stockings that hung by the mantle. We never had new fancy stockings but Momma’s worn cotton ones after they had been washed. We looked forward to the trumpet-like horn that Granny always bought for the top of the stockings, and we could blow it only once that morning in the house. Rather than emptying the entire stocking, we felt the banana, the apple, the orange, the bag of hard candy and the nuts to eat during the holidays. Momma’s step-cousin, known as Brother Sled to us, often sent large tins of filled hard candy that Momma stretched through the winter months. 

     While Sister and I played, sitting in the floor near the tree, the older folks opened their gifts. Momma opened hers first so that she could start breakfast—maybe we’d eat by 8:00 or 9:00 a.m. The day continued as busy as it had begun since we always went to Aunt Rite’s house, saw our cousin’s gifts, and they to our house to do the same. Sometime in the afternoon we found time to visit Grandpa and Granny Callis’s house to take their gifts and receive what they had for us.

     When bedtime arrived, sleep came quickly but every minute had been a delight. 

© 2001 Catherine C. Brooks. All Rights Reserved.

Readers may contact Catherine Books via email cbrooks@ccsinc.com

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