Wednesday, December 11, 2013
I don't collect recipes on a regular basis. I don't buy cookbooks like my mother used to do. I don't enjoy cooking so when I find something I do enjoy making I keep the recipe. In this case I kept the whole magazine because there are so many simple and simply delicious recipes along with Dolly's. Loretta Lynn's Oatmeal Drop Cookies are delicious-and easy to make. Barbara Walter's Chocolate Coconut Cookies are amazing-and easy to make. There are no multi-steps in the process. There's nothing to be sauteed or strained. All you have to do is get out a bowl and get busy.
Because that Christmas Sugar Cookie Recipe was so easy my kids would join in the fun when they were little. Once the dough was out of the refrigerator, they would take turns rolling it. Then they'd get the cookie cutters and cut out Santa shapes and Christmas tree shapes-along with snowmen, snowflakes, and gingerbread men. The leftover dough would be scraped off the counter, made into a new ball, rolled out and cut into more shapes. This process was repeated until there wasn't enough dough left for any kind of a shape. That's when whatever was remaining was rolled into a very small ball-put on the baking sheet and baked alongside Santas, snowmen, snowflakes, and gingerbread men.
The sweet aroma of those cookies baking filled the kitchen. Anticipation would be high. Waiting for them to be light brown on the edges seemed an eternity. Ten minutes took forever! But sooner than not, out they came. Once the cookies were cooled some were frosted and some were covered in sprinkles-and some never lasted long enough for either process. Recipes-favorite ones-like the ones inside that old Ladies' Home Journal-tell a story. And making them even more enticing are the stains and smudges from years gone by of kids helping to pat and roll and cut-out; then decorate and enjoy!
Tuesday, December 10, 2013
Sitting on the sofa in their pajamas as snow fell and popcorn popped, each page turned became a journey into that Wonder called Believing. Details were executed magnificently-with Mrs. Claus patting the dough before rolling it out on the old wooden table-and elves carrying trays of cookies to and from the small, brick ovens. Santa's workshop drew them in to the hustle and bustle of last minute preparations-from painting to nailing to packing a certain oversized sack for a long night's journey. They were in awe of elves blowing glass ornaments and firing them in the ovens. They took note of Santa sitting back in his chair reading letters as elves brought in more and more sacs overflowing with even more letters. "Does Santa read them all?" they'd ask.
They could almost feel the cold when Santa and his elves were in the woods after Christmas trees. They'd really get excited when Santa was preparing to climb aboard that amazing sleigh as reindeer were being hitched and the sleigh loaded down with gifts-so many gifts and so many elves helping. Of course what made those pages magical were the little hands turning them and little voices asking questions and their laughing with eyes full of Christmas magic. (That's the sort of Magic a parent notices.)
Now as I look at Mr. Hinke's illustrations I am struck by the fact that none were computer generated. Obviously there were no computers back then and that's what makes them so very Wondrous-perfect for little imaginations to curl up on the sofa with-in their pajamas-and a bowl of popcorn as Christmas nears and pages are turned.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
The place was jam packed. An overflow of parents and grandparents were standing in the back and as the curtain rose the Christmas program in that little school was underway to cheers from tired children and tired adults as well. After all, Christmas was near. Class parties had been held. Gifts exchanged. The program was the last event before school recessed for the Holidays. I couldn't tell you a single thing about that particular program except for the last few minutes. That's the part I'd been anticipating. That's when my older brother stood up in the audience and sang-all by himself. He had a solo part-singing a verse of We Three Kings. I was so excited! I didn't understand a thing he sang-'myrrh is mine: it's bitter perfume' made no sense to me but it didn't matter. That was my older brother standing with everyone looking at him. And when he sat down, everyone clapped and cheered just like me. As life would have it-years later I was back there as a parent and each time I attended a Christmas program I thought of when my brother sang that Christmas verse in that little neighborhood school.
Sadly, this year will be the first year there will be no Christmas program in that auditorium. There will be no tired students and tired adults gathered to celebrate the Season. There will be no yawning Santas or crying elves or little girls dressed up in pretty dresses or little boys with white shirts and dark pants or grandmothers grinning or parents snapping photos because the school is closed. It's for sale. The auditorium is quiet-empty. But if I try, I can still hear my brother sing that strange stanza-still see my daughter dressed as Mrs. Santa Claus-still see my other daughter in a pretty dress. Over the years that auditorium presented Christmas magic to so many families-including a little girl listening to her older brother sing.
Friday, November 29, 2013
Getting the tree, putting it up, and securing it was just the beginning. Decorating it was like watching a Broadway show unfold. Out came the ladder. This led to my father stringing the lights. He was very good at this. He took his time-a lot of time hiding the wires way back in the branches. The strands of lights were always blue lights-his favorite. Then the boxes of ornaments packed neatly away the year before were brought out. Because the boxes holding the ornaments were the original boxes bought from Woolworths, Newberry's or Grants, they were handled carefully as out came glass ornaments and fancy-blown ones appearing as if they'd been hand-painted. The smaller ones hung at the top. After the ornaments came little plastic-type icicles.
And then came the final act-strands and strands of heavy lead-looking tinsel. It was so heavy that it would have taken a hurricane to make it move-and that's what made it as perfect as the perfect tree from which it was hanging. After my father-standing on his ladder-strung the tinsel up high-my mother hung each strand below. She was so meticulous-holding the strands in a certain way in one hand so she'd be able to hang the strands-one at a time-with her other. And she was just as meticulous when taking each strand off-one by one-and carefully placing the strands back in their boxes until the curtain rose again on this Broadway Show in a living room out in the country at Christmas time.
Monday, November 25, 2013
Void of any special effects, movies back then were more about the story and most of those stories were westerns-so many westerns and so many famous cowboys like Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and John Wayne. But a cowboy who wasn't quite as famous was my favorite. I don't know why I liked Lash LaRue so much. Maybe it was because he dressed all in black-or had a horse with fancy accessories and a saddle which I loved. I wanted my parents to buy me one just like it. I didn't have a horse but it didn't matter. I wanted one just like his. He could ride his horse with ease while getting the bad guys. And he got those guys more often than not with his whip-a bullwhip that he could snap or swirl and save the day-or the damsel in distress.
He could do other things with his whip. I know because I saw him do those things in person. Lash LaRue came to my hometown. He really did. I went with my older brother to one of those theaters to watch him perform stunts with his bullwhip. Despite the size of the audience my brother and I somehow ended up on stage with Lash LaRue. I don't remember how that happened but there we were-me in my pigtails and my older brother in his very own Lash LaRue attire. My brother didn't have a whip but it didn't matter because Lash LaRue let him hold his-and then he let me hold it too! We stood there while Lash LaRue did stunts with his whip just like he did in his movies. No stunt men needed for this genuine cowboy!
From that day on I pleaded even harder for that saddle. I never did get one. I did, however, get some Lash LaRue comic books now and then-and that was fine with me.
Saturday, November 23, 2013
The Christmas edition of that magazine was an art form. From amazing photography to creative decorating suggestions-beautiful illustrations-seasonal music-poetry-and short stories, that magazine offered something for everyone all wrapped up in a big red bow or better yet-a poinsettia as poinsettias were always featured throughout the pages. When I could pull it away from others, I'd slowly make my way from the front glossy cover to the back. I'd read everything even though I was young. That didn't matter. It was the Christmas Ideals issue!
After studying the magazine my mother and aunts would get busy creating. They'd go to a local florist and buy Styrofoam squares-a few different sizes. They'd buy all kinds of decorative accents like shiny balls-some big and some small-in seasonal colors attached to tiny wooden stick-like things with one end pointed so they'd would go into the Styrofoam. Ribbons and bows were also purchased unless it was my grandmother who saved such things year after year. Branches sawed off of Christmas trees being readied to come inside were the last items needed for creating centerpieces that would sit on tables and hutches and mantles-just as centerpieces had year after year.
For awhile my mother, aunts, and grandmother met one evening a week. They called it their Busy Fingers Club. They'd do all sorts of creative projects. One of my aunts was very good at making candles by using milk cartons and little bits of used crayons. Her most beautiful candles were white-covered in glitter and wrapped in tissue paper. She somehow whipped the paraffin to get a certain effect. I don't know how. I just remember loving them. Maybe they were in one of those Christmas Ideals magazines-maybe not. It really didn't matter because when I think about it-my mother, aunts, and grandmother always put their own twist to whatever they created. I bet that magazine just got them in the mood-and they took it from there!
Thursday, November 21, 2013
My mother was very organized. She had a special box where she kept the list of names she intended to send cards to, sheets of postal stamps-each with the same Christmas image, a telephone book, and decorated Christmas seals she would lick and adhere to the fronts of the envelopes-the last step before having my father take the cards to the post office to be mailed. Organizing the list took her a long time. She'd have to make calls to relatives for updates to some. I loved looking at the list. It would be all scribbles; some names crossed out and some new ones added. She had the neatest penmanship-very small letters but very legible.
The Christmas cards my mother sent year after year most always featured Grandma Moses artwork. My mother loved the artwork. There was a little store downtown that was part bookstore and part gift shop. It was a ritual for her to go there to pick out her Christmas cards and then go next door to Woolworths or Newberry's for the Christmas seals. Sometimes I went with her.
Besides sending cards, my mother enjoyed receiving them. She'd open each one as if it was a present. She'd read the inscription-and sometimes make a remark or two. She always made sure my father knew who sent them cards. That way he could say thanks if he ran into them. Later she displayed some of the cards; kept others in a basket. I can't imagine how many hours my mother put into her Christmas cards-from selecting them to organizing the list-to addressing them and licking the stamps and seals. She never complained. Christmas cards were important back then-as much a part of the Season as was getting the tree-another tradition planned and executed to perfection as only my mother could.