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A Christmas Past Comes Home
Report to Moderator Old 05-31-2002 09:17 PM
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By Allison Dubois

Christmas was my mother's favorite holiday. She brought an enthusiasm and happiness to that special day that I have missed since she passed away over twenty years ago. It's hard to concede how much time has passed since we last shared such a merry occasion but the calendar reminds me dutifully.

When I look back on those days, it feels as if I am removing a film of dust from my memory like Windex removing grime on glass. The more I rub my eyes, the clearer it all becomes.

Christmas at our house was always a careful maneuver. With eleven children and farm animals to boot, there was always a lot that needed to be addressed long before the joyful exchange of gifts.

Cooking for the holiday actually began days in advance. There was no other way to accommodate all the people who would visit. I remember those days easily.

As with every season, we had an abundance of apples. Usually a trail of boxes would clutter the worn, muddy path. Gifts from our uncle's place. He had an orchard he rarely picked, which left the fruit in need of harvesting. That's where my family came in. Each harvest we'd free his trees of their burden and in return we'd have a bounty of Jonathan's, Gravensteins, Spitz and Delicious.

Come Christmas time, those apples would be made into a myriad of tasty treats. You could smell the aroma of pies, cobblers, cider and strudel wafting through the house and around the yard like a halo. One whiff and my stomach would start rumbling.

Of course there would be bowl upon bowl of peelings, cores and seeds, as we began this annual undertaking. But pastries weren't the only traditional edibles we prepared each year. Spritz and gingerbread boys, chocolate chip and raisin-oatmeal were just some of the cookies we'd bake. There was also a hearty supply of homemade fudge on hand. Our homemade confection always out-shined the anemic commercial varieties you could purchase at the store. Ours was plump with walnuts and pecans. One bite and you knew you were having a piece of fudge.

Naturally all that baking made for a monolithic clean up. It seemed that pans that laid dormant all year suddenly were unearthed from our collection of wares stuffed into over-crowded cupboards to be magically brought to life again. Talk about elbow grease!

Then when all the goodies were made, we would wrap, ship, or freeze most of them for the big day. Only a few, usually the broken or over-baked portions would be laid out for sampling.

Unlike many families, we actually celebrated the good tiding on Christmas Eve. First there was the tedious task of firing up the wood stove (our only source of heat in those days) to make sure guests were warm enough when they came for the Yule festivities.

As our annual group of stragglers began to arrive, food would be set on the table. The respective fragrance of the turkey was blending with potatoes and vegetables. Trays of cookies, pumpkin bread and fudge stole most of our counter space. Any free space left we'd squeeze in a few apple and pumpkin pies.

There were never enough chairs to go around so the piano bench was a convenient accommodation that spared most of our guests from having to stand or seek seating outside the main dining area. Some of the chairs were as wobbly as a three-legged dog; those chairs were saved for us kids.

After the customary blessing, conversations would begin to piece together the gaps between visits from our relatives. Adding to the mix someone would inevitably crack a few jokes and the merriment would go on for hours. Eating, drinking and talking to our hearts content.

When alas everyone had had his or her fill, we would dissemble. Some would remain at the table that became transposed into an entertainment center for playing cards while others would gather around the piano for a sing along of carols. Usually I was assigned the perfunctory duty of playing the piano. I did my best to play the right notes as voices strained to stay on key.

During the course of our chorale of music the repertoire would include Silent Night, my mother's favorite. Without fail, each time it was sung my mother's eyes would get misty. Now it gets me misty-eyed to remember her, sitting in her maroon chair, singing along, cheering us on. I will cherish that moment always. And this year, when I share gifts with my family, I will say it in a whisper; I will say it in a prayer: Silent Night, holy night, my mama, I love you …always.
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