Friday, December 19, 2014

A Christmas story from yesteryear

By Charlie Pottenger

Recently I was invited to Dining on the Edge for a Christmas luncheon celebration with the Clearwater Tribune staff. While enjoying the festive, happy mood I realized that the beautifully decorated Christmas tree with its fantastic red beaded garlands reminded me of days long ago and my mom.

Back in the 1940’s, Christmas was, as it is now, a very special season when we rejoiced in the truth of the Savior and celebrated as a family. In our family there were four kids, a devoted mom, a hard working dad, and not too much money. We were just like everyone else I knew, and although each family had different traditions, all celebrated and shared their love with each other and all that they contacted.

At our house Mom ran the show. Beginning about now, say a week before Christmas, she would organize her little tribe of “elves” into squads working under close supervision. She had us mix ingredients to make fantastic gingerbread cookies. The dough was then refrigerated (or if it was cold, set outside on the open porch to stiffen before rolling).

Then, each of us in turn were allowed to roll out huge dough sheets, and then we all gathered around with cookie cutters to punch out gingerbread men, stars, Christmas trees, bells, circles and half-moons. The circles and half moons were cut using a drinking glass. We also made shaped sugar cookies. Naturally she insisted that we make four batches of each type.

Of course we had to add colored sugar sprinkles to some and place dried currants on the gingerbread men to represent buttons. When each kid’s dough was processed into cookies and the leftover dough had been consumed by some of the sneaky elves, that batch was baked to perfection. We were each allowed to sample one warm cookie. Then we were put to work with needles and red thread to attach little loops to each cookie so it could later be used for tree decorations. Then she carefully packed the finished edible-decorations in wrapped containers for later use.

The next job was to follow the same procedures to work as a team to produce delicious cookies called thumbprints. Each cookie was topped with a bunch of chocolate chips set into a thumb made depression and topped with a half of an almond. When cooked the melted chocolate surrounded the nut. She had a hard time hiding these well enough to have them still around by Christmas.

She also made a delicious, round, powdered sugar, rum-soaked cookie. We were able to shake the hot cookies in the powdered sugar to create the finished look. Like the thumbprints, these were hard to resist.

As we moved closer to Christmas day, she would “force us” into the duty of popping huge bowls of super-big fluffy corn kernels. When each of us had a bowl of popcorn, which we made ourselves, she would place a bowl of fresh cranberries, our bowl of popcorn, and a big, empty bowl on the table in front of each kid.

We were provided with a needle and ten feet of red thread, which we used to make popcorn-cranberry garlands. The process was simple. You doubled the thread, tied a knot, and then started alternating cranberries and popcorn kernels until you had your own five foot garland carefully placed in the empty bowl. When done she had 20 feet of edible garland ready for the tree.

In addition, it seemed that each kid had decorations made at school. Some were paper art works, some were colored construction paper chains, and some were plaster shapes similar to the cookie cutter shapes, but bearing dates and love messages, mostly directed to Mom and Dad. Some of the plaster decorations had actual black and white photos of the maker for long term memory.

When all was done Mom would get Dad to put the tree up on the night before Christmas, actually on the morning of Dec. 24. After she had put on our two strings of the big, hot lights of the time (the little lights we now have weren’t yet invented), she would add the garlands of cranberries and popcorn, plus any paper garlands that showed up from school art.

The few beautiful glass ornaments she had were then placed high on the tree, and finally we were turned loose to hang up gingerbread decorations to finish it off on the lower branches. When done we felt, each year, that we had the greatest tree ever!

On Christmas Eve we would all gather around the tree with its gleaming lights and sing carols until Dad decided it was time. Then he would get us all together on the couch—Mom, Dad, and the four of us—and he would read us the Christmas story from the Bible. We would recite the Lord’s Prayer, followed by him reading us The Night Before Christmas!

After the tree was decorated we could pick the cookies from the tree and she would replace them until the stock was depleted.

We followed this routine for years, until life’s callings began to take aging kids to new places like college, careers, and marriages.

After Christmas Mom would leave the garlands of cranberries and popcorn on the tree and place it in the yard for the birds and squirrels.

I know that those memories were largely practiced as I raised my family; however, I failed to pass on the carefully thought out program my mom used to slowly approach the Christmas celebration with the cooking traditions and the garland crafts.

I think back now and wish I’d had the discipline to engulf my kids into the old tradition, which really enhanced the family togetherness, which I still crave.

We did continue the celebration with the Bible reading, carols, and The Night Before Christmas. Also at our house we always made the kids wait until Christmas morning to open presents. Boy did they have trouble getting to sleep and did I have trouble staying awake long enough to make it really believable!

I love Christmas and wish anyone that has read this far the merriest Christmas ever!

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