Chocolate Can Kill (Emily Harris Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
Okay, I admit it. I LOVE Christmas. Not the Black Friday madness, not the long lines at the UPS store, and certainly not the stress I so often see on the faces of those around me. What I love are the magical moments of my childhood that are made real again each year by the carols and traditions that surround me.
Now, granted, that was over half a century ago, which means that I’m halfway to being declared an antique, but let me tell you, those memories are still fresh. The sights, the sounds, the tinsel and glitter, all I have to do is close my eyes, and I’m right back there. So, in response to the repeated requests for more posts about those earlier times, I am going to encapsulate the essence of those magical Christmases for you here. Those of you who have been kind enough to purchase and read either One More Christmas Past (Annie Acorn’s Christmas) or One Last Gift To Go (Annie Acorn’s Christmas) or both will certainly recognize the background from which they were drawn.
As is so often the case when it comes to my memories, place was an important component of these early days that were spent for the most part in Columbus, Ohio, where my father was earning a PhD in Chemistry at Ohio State.
From this base, we usually ventured forth in our two-tone blue, 1951 Pontiac to spend Thanksgiving at my maternal grandmother’s house in Crawfordsville, Indiana. As soon as we had given the turkey its due each year, though, my grandmother would switch gears and pull out her Christmas magazines and idea books.
Instructions for a decoration made from a tin can, a red and green layered Jello trifle, a never before read Christmas story, all of these were as grist to her mill. Fudge and divinity and a wonderful confection that we knew as Five Pound Loaf all had to be made, as well as cookies and bars and enough pies to cover the ironing board that stood open and waiting on the home’s unheated, enclosed back porch. Sunday afternoon, we would pile into our car with a packed lunch and a few hundred “samples” and leave her behind, happily engaged in her work, knowing that one or two boxes of goodies would be following us to our house during the coming weeks for our further enjoyment.
Back in Columbus, my sisters and I were surrounded by a bevy of activity on both sides of The Double, as we called it. If we tired of tasting the latest batch of Mamie Eisenhower’s Millionaire’s Fudge that my mother had just poured into a buttered 9” X 13” Pyrex baking dish, then we could pop over to the other side of the duplex and sample the Thimble Cookies our paternal grandmother and great-aunt were pulling from the oven.
As the oldest child, I was often roped in to help, no matter which side of the double we were in. Sometimes my task was to spoon a dollop of green mint or red cherry jelly into the depression made in the cookie dough with a thimble. Other times, I was allowed to roll wedding cookies in confectioner’s sugar. And then, there was the memorable occasion when I was taught how to properly crimp a pie crust with my short, stubby fingers. Afterwards, I was allowed to roll out the leftover scraps of pie crust dough into a large oval, spread it with butter and sprinkle it liberally with sugar and cinnamon before forming it into pinwheels to bake. Delicious!
Back on our side, our small world was undergoing a complete metamorphosis. Early on, a new range of colorful storybooks had been brought out, each one sporting a picture of an angel, a snowman, or a Santa Claus. Mother’s best crystal candy dish now took up residence on the coffee table, hard candy disks decorated with bells, holly berries, or tiny wreaths nestled beneath its lid.
My uncle, who was earning a degree in Fine Arts, painted a picture of a jolly Santa Claus in tempura paint on brown paper, and this masterpiece was given pride of place on the wall behind our dining room table. Christmas cards arrived from family and friends, filled with handwritten notes about their year. Some of these were taped to the front door, while others lined the living room fireplace mantle before spilling over onto the bookcase under the dining room window.
In an effort to keep her brood occupied, Mother would pull out sheets of red and green construction paper, pairs of blunt, minimally effective plastic scissors, and a large bottle of Mucilage glue, whose red rubber tip had inevitably hardened, its tiny slit of a mouth long ago stuck together. With a determination rarely seen in children of our ages, we girls would bend to our task and, after several hours of intense concentration, we would have linked and glued together enough strips of red and green paper to form three long chains that were more than sufficient to decorate our bedrooms.
On the elderly side of the double, the decorations were more subdued. Wine-colored tapers now graced the oak mantle, a sprig of holly surrounding the base of each heavy brass candlestick. A green velvet runner spread along the length of the upright piano’s lid, and a carved nativity scene held court at its center point, flanked by two china angels. Christmas carol sheet music was lined up ready to be played above the keys, and Bing Crosby crooned White Christmas from the massive radio that stood to the right of my paternal grandmother’s favorite chintz-covered armchair.
Outside, twin wreaths were hung on each of the front doors, ready to greet the guests we were sure would arrive. The fall during which I was in kindergarten, Borden milk offered a free ruby red cup if one purchased a gallon of milk, along with a matching punch bowl that required a larger purchase. With so many of us, we had easily qualified, and our fine, complete set now stood ready to be filled with frothy eggnog sprinkled with nutmeg. A plate of my maternal great-grandmothers sugar cookies, cut into the shape of a tree or a reindeer or a bell and sprinkled with red or green sugar, would certainly be served alongside it. I still have the punch bowl and its matching cups, all of which have managed to survive despite being moved more than thirty times over the years, and I treasure it.
As wonderful as all of this sounds, as magical if you will, it remained early days in our Christmas season. Believe it or not, the best was still yet to come, and if you’ve been nice and not naughty, I’ll share the rest with you in my next post.
In the meantime, look at the children in your life. You know, the ones who are glued to a TV or texting a friend. Share with them the joy of baking some cookies or wrapping a special gift. Pop some corn and snuggle on the couch as you watch a classic Christmas movie. Turn down the lamps, light a candle, and tell them stories of the magical Christmases of your childhood.
Murder With My Darling (Bonnie Lou Mysteries) by Annie Acorn
A Tired Older Woman: Loses Weight and Keeps It Off! by Annie Acorn
Annie Acorn’s 2012 Christmas Treasury (Annie Acorn’s Christmas Anthologies) edited and stories by Annie Acorn