Christmas Memories

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Hard candy cooling


It was the day that Christmas arrived from Indiana. Each year, my uncle from Indiana would drive the 500 miles from Rensselaer to Lincoln, Nebraska, and deliver Christmas. No matter how much we had decorated, or baked cookies, or shopped and wrapped presents, it was not Christmas until my Uncle Bill pulled into our driveway and delivered Christmas.


This was before my sister was born, so I shared the front bedroom with my two brothers. Late in the afternoon on the appointed day, I would begin a vigil, watching and waiting for him to arrive in the late afternoon of early winter. The sky would be streaked with purple and orange across the high clouds that reflected the last glows of sunlight. I would breath on the window, and my breath would condense on the cold surface of the single pane glass. Overnight, the window would show the spidery trace of ice crystals on the bottom of each pane, but during the day the ice stayed away.


I never knew what type of car my uncle would be driving, other than it would be a Chevy. He was a bachelor, never married after his service in Europe and Africa during the war, and it was his one luxury to buy a new car each year as the models turned over. So I kept my vigil as the shadows grew, and finally saw a car turn down our street from 33rd street, then slow and pull into our driveway. I would yell and race down the stairway, saying "He's here", and soon he would come up the steps towards our door. He always had a couple of big bags that he brought in first before he'd ever bring in his old suitcase.


There were the presents from him, and my other aunt and uncle, and my grandmother who all lived in the town of Rensselaer. That was the place we went to in the summer, to renew relationships forged decades ago. He always brought a weekly calendar from the Farmers and Merchants bank from his town, and that calendar with its space for notes for each day became the family planner for the next year. But the most important thing was the big box of chocolates that would soon have a place of honor on the table in our living room. It was like a 3 pound box of chocolates, and that was one of the highlights of our season.


Memories can be triggered by many things, but memories from smells are often the strongest. Of all of the smells of Christmas, nothing compared to the pungent cloud of anise-scented steam exploding out of the kitchen and permeating the entire house. As soon as the anise oil was poured into the sugar and water mix nearing hard crack, the mix would erupt in a boiling mass, and the smell escaped into the air. Anise candy was always dyed red in our house. Many years later I took to making it myself to bring back the memories of the aroma. I've added cinnamon oil for a cinnamon variety as well - the odor of cinnamon is almost as strong as anise.


Christmas eve dinner was traditionally chicken and noodles. No store bought noodles, though. My mother would make the noodles by hand, rolling them out and laying them on towels before they would be cooked. This year is the first Christmas since my mother died, so this piece is in honor of both my parents who helped to form the Christmas memories that bring back a sense of joy and longing.


Here's my contribution to the stories coming out at this time of year. Originally posted on my blog at


opher goodwin Added Dec 21, 2017 - 10:38am
Gosh - that's so different to our experience. Me and my sister were beaten on Christmas Eve and thrown outside into the coal shed, in the cold without warm clothes or a blanket. We heard the key turn in the lock and huddled together in the corner, thirsty, hungry and freezing in the total dark.
We could just hear the festivities going on in the house as my parents and their friends got drunk inside. They didn't want us disturbing them as they had their fun.
The concrete was like ice and so hard. It was so cold that our teeth chattered and flesh trembled as we clung on to each other. Sleep was out of the question but at least the chill distracted us from the gnawing hunger and parched thirst. All we could do was try to make it through the long dark hours until late morning when that key might just grate in the lock and we'd be dragged back into the house.
Just kidding.
The Burghal Hidage Added Dec 21, 2017 - 10:42am
"......and when he got 'ome our dad would kill us and dance about on our graves singin' 'allelujah!"
The Burghal Hidage Added Dec 21, 2017 - 10:42am
EABC -  Nice tale. Thanks for sharing it with us
opher goodwin Added Dec 21, 2017 - 10:51am
And we'd ave to lick the motorway clean! Breakfast was gravel!! An' we lived in a cardboard box. We had it 'ard.
opher goodwin Added Dec 21, 2017 - 10:53am
EABC - Sorry - I didn't mean to distract from your piece. It was delightful. A great reminiscence.
Tubularsock Added Dec 21, 2017 - 11:59am
EABC, wonderful writing. And great memories expressed. The descriptive quality almost brought Tubularsock to eating that candy!
But then the "evil-twins" expressed "their" Christmas experiences and it all came down to being happy that Christmas only comes once a year.
And Tubularsock skips it.
The Burghal Hidage Added Dec 21, 2017 - 12:05pm
You hear that Opher? We've been elevated to evil twins! On the Solstice of all days. It must be a sign...
The Burghal Hidage Added Dec 21, 2017 - 12:07pm
To mine ears sound nothing worse than
The fool that speaks in third person
:) Merry Christmas Mr. Sock
opher goodwin Added Dec 21, 2017 - 12:39pm
Burger - it is a portent!!  I shall treasure it!! Well done my twin!!
Merry Solstice Tub - May the sun shine on you, over you and under you!! I raise a glass!!  Bottoms up!!
opher goodwin Added Dec 21, 2017 - 12:40pm
Sorry again EABC!!
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 21, 2017 - 3:14pm
Hey, some of us viewed living in a cardboard box as LUXURY! I wonder how many of the memes of my life are centered around Python. I never mind the full Monty.
It is fun to have a platform where I can put anything from personal reminiscences to science pieces to political commentary and receive genuine feedback regardless of the type of piece. Thanks, WB community.
opher goodwin Added Dec 21, 2017 - 3:37pm
Well I say a cardboard box - it was more like a soggy paper bag! We had to share it with a pride of man-eating lions!
Thanks for being so understanding!
Have a great solstice!!
Dino Manalis Added Dec 21, 2017 - 4:23pm
Enjoy those Christmas memories and have a Merry Christmas!
opher goodwin Added Dec 21, 2017 - 6:54pm
Merry Solstice to you Dino!!  Bottoms up!!
Katharine Otto Added Dec 21, 2017 - 8:52pm
Thanks for the memories.  
Mark Hunter Added Dec 22, 2017 - 3:42am
I grew up in northern Indiana, about a two and a half hour drive from Rensselaer, and that sure brought back a lot of memories. The relatives arriving and the scents of candy and cookies being made--that was Christmas, for me.
Even A Broken Clock Added Dec 22, 2017 - 10:07am
Mark, I had relatives in Lafayette, and DeMotte as well. Where did you grow up?
One of the things that helps in the longing and helps keeping the memories of those times sweet is that life was so much simpler then. The responsibilities of life had not fallen onto our shoulders yet, and we could revel in the excitement of the anticipation of Christmas morning. Tinsel glinting in the colors of the lights.
I was prompted to think about those aluminum trees with a color wheel. When was the last time anyone saw a color wheel?
Mark Hunter Added Dec 22, 2017 - 12:46pm
I grew up out in the country about halfway between Albion and Kendallville, which is northwest of Fort Wayne. I visited Rensselaer and Lafayette while I was writing Hoosier Hysterical, but I don't believe I've ever been in DeMotte.
And yes, my parents had an aluminum tree--and a color wheel! Life did seem simpler then, to us kids who didn't have to pay the bills, and didn't do nearly as much of the work as we complained that we did.
wsucram15 Added Dec 24, 2017 - 12:11am
Food fights...and food everywhere. Eating out that day.
No food because the guys went out hunting, girls got mad ate dinner fed leftovers to dogs.
Fight over my shoes..
Fight over my nephew being on heroin..and my sister in law not dealing with it.
Fight over ham vs turkey..
Huge Christmas's when I was young because of my older brother and sister. Grandparents also, huge Christmas party every year.  I remember the oranges they gave away were so big and sweet that I would trade my other gifts from the party just for them.  I have never had oranges like that ever again.  The closest I came were Cara Cara oranges, sweet enough, but no where near as large.
My kids had a smaller family but Christmas's were decent, I had help from a good friend and my Mom. It was nice. 
wsucram15 Added Dec 24, 2017 - 12:20am
I forgot a memory..baking with my Mom, Grandmother, both Aunts and my cousin Patty and I were in training. Cookies from no bakes to Chocolate chip and peanut butter to lady fingers and petit fours.  Dont forget the cakes, pies and kolachi (with a variety of fillings) that we baked for months --> my mother was paid for them.
Christmas...and baking.  Ive been baking for two days and shopping for my son because his baby is sick.    Its gonna be a happy Christmas.
Mark Hunter Added Dec 24, 2017 - 5:21am
I’d forgotten about those huge oranges. We each got a bag of goodies from the bus driver on the last day of school, and each one had a huge seedless Orange, this at a time when wintertime oranges were very expensive.
Jeffry Gilbert Added Dec 31, 2017 - 12:31am
I recall the luck of being at sea all but two years and the joy of not having to put up with all the shoreside holiday nonsense. Standing a watch with my lookout in quiet appreciation of how lucky we were will always be one of my favorite memories.

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