Monthly Archives: December 2016

THE MEANING OF HOLIDAYS, THEN AND NOW

Just before Thanksgiving (2016), my older brother, Jim, texted me to ask what I was doing for Thanksgiving. They, he wrote, were going out for dinner with another couple.
We, I texted back to him, are having a roast chicken dinner, here at my place, along with salad, mashed potatoes*, green beans and choice of pumpkin pie or angel food cake. My youngest son, Kelly, is on a restricted diet and can’t eat turkey. However, he can eat chicken. He can’t eat pumpkin pie (no milk or dairy products including no butter) He can eat margarine, such as Imperial, which we can put in with the mashed potatoes. He can’t have milk or dairy products in the mashed potatoes. My daughter in law, through trial and error, has discovered she can drain off the potatoes when they are soft enough to mash, and then put the potato water back in with the potatoes to get a desired mashed texture (plus margarine, not butter).

Not long ago, my daughter in law, Keara, sent me her recipe for roasting chickens with 4” lengths of celery stuffed into the cavity, salt and pepper inside and out and some onion powder. I roasted two chickens on Thanksgiving Day and sent them home with the leftover angel food cake (something Kelly can eat) and the leftover chicken to go in one of my daughter in law’s many recipes like burritos and tostados made with shredded leftover chicken. Oddly enough, none of us missed having turkey. Time was when I would have made turkey and rice soup with the leftover turkey carcass, which was my son Steve’s favorite soup. But Steve and his wife live in South Dakota now. Son Chris and his family live in the San Fernando Valley. (Kelly and Keara live around the corner from me).

There was a time, also, when I would have trekked out on Black Friday to find some wonderful discounts—but my bad knees and feet keep me from venturing very far. I will try to order as many gifts on the Internet as possible. Amazon.com knows when I am coming.

Now, let me back up to a time when I DID roast a turkey on Thanksgiving. I was a bride at the age of 18. I tried my best to make a decent Thanksgiving dinner but my then-husband found fault with every meal Holiday or not. “Potatoes didn’t have enough salt” he would say.

Then around in the mid-1960s we became friends with a Hungarian man and his wife who, along with her extended family, came from Missouri. We were invited to the wife’s family’s huge Thanksgiving dinner which included ham, turkey, a wide assortment of pies and cakes—all I was asked to bring were homemade biscuits. We enjoyed being a part of this family’s Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t think I cooked another Thanksgiving dinner after that. (in the 1980s, when our marriage was on its last legs, my husband and I took marital counseling. Inevitably, the salt or lack of salt in my potatoes came up.

Our counselor was baffled. “Couldn’t you just add salt to the potatoes on your own plate?” she asked.

“That’s not the point my then-husband said, “Then how would she LEARN that the meal wasn’t well prepared?” I think our counselor saw the handwriting on the wall before I did. My husband dropped counseling. I continued for another seven months, trying to save something that HE, OBVIOUSLY, DIDN’T WANT TO SAVE.

Getting back to my brother’s text messages my brother Jim lamented when we were children how a huge dinner would be prepared on Thanksgiving. Sometimes we went to my grandmother’s for dinner, sometimes my grandmother came to our house. When we were very young, after a hearty meal, the adults would play cards while we children were given enough money for a movie and either a coke or popcorn (I think a quarter per child was usually enough for everything) – and I think our Uncle Al gave us each a quarter (we thought he was rich) and one of the adults took us to the West Hills Theatre where, hopefully, we would stay for hours.

I remember Thanksgiving dinners at both my mother’s and my grandmother’s homes, and I just barely remember being shuffled off to a movie theatre. When I was very young, there was a movie theater on Carl Street, walking distance from Grandma’s or our house on Sutter Street. The only movie I can remember seeing there was something called Johnny Belinda. I was too young to understand the plot.

I can just barely remember holiday dinners at my grandparent’s home on the second floor of their house on Baltimore Street where, after dinner, the adults played cards. I would try to fall asleep on a day bed in that room—hopefully where I would fall asleep and be allowed to spend the night.

Holiday events changed when my grandfather became ill and passed away on February 18, 1950. I was nine years old at the time.

My grandmother moved downstairs in two rooms at the front of the house; she rented out the two rooms at the back of the house and the entire second floor as well. (our Uncle John (Hans to the family) and his wife and sons lived in the rooms on the third floor.

We children went to grandma’s almost every school day for lunch. On Mondays after school, my sister Becky and her children as well as I would go to Grandma’s for dinner and I would spend the night with her. We were all terribly spoiled on good food – a combination of German and Hungarian. Whatever it was, we called it German food, not having any knowledge of the distinction between German and Hungarian cuisine. All we knew and maybe it wasn’t until later, was that my grandmother came from Germany and my grandfather from Hungary.

I continued having one night a week spent at my grandmother’s, all the way through high school. Regretfully, I married in December of 1958; my grandmother passed away about a year later. I didn’t see her before she died; my brother in law came to tell me and take me to good Samaritan Hospital but she had already passed away by the time we got there. Grandma’s recipes were never written down—she could barely write anything in English. I have tried to resurrect her wonderful strudel recipes but the exact recipes passed away with her.

My Aunt Evelyn (whom we called Aunt Dolly) learned Grandma’s recipes by standing by her and watching how grandma made everything. But those recipes died along with Aunt Dolly who passed away in 2012. My sister, Becky, managed to copy some of those recipes but there are precious few that have survived. Becky and I compiled a family cookbook and managed to get it published before Becky died in October of 2004.

We called it “Grandma’s Favorite” as a nod to our beloved grandmother who managed to make us all believe, growing up, that each one of us was Grandma’s favorite. It was not something ever spoken, but each of us knew that “I was grandma’s favorite”

We discovered this one day at my sister Becky’s house, all of us sitting around the kitchen table where we were discussing favorite memories and one of us spoke up an said “well, you know, I was grandma’s favorite”.

“Like heck you were,” someone disputed . “I was grandma’s favorite” and so on until everyone at the table had laid claim to being grandma’s favorite. (I didn’t enter the dispute, knowing only too well that I was really grandma’s favorite.

Years later my sister and I reflected on this wonderful gift our grandmother had given to all of us—and how we were endeavoring to be the same kind of grandmother to our grandchildren.

When I was about ten or eleven years old, I began taking my two younger brothers Biff and Bill, downtown to do our Christmas shopping at the 5&10 cent stores. We also checked out the Santa Clauses in the department stores—you got a free candy cane by waiting in line to see Santa Claus. (We figured that we increased our chances of getting what we wanted for Christmas, if we stood in line to see all of Santa’s helpers. (We KNEW that the real Santa Claus was busy making toys in the North Pole).

After we completed our shopping for presents for our parents, grandparents and siblings, we took our gifts upstairs where we wrapped our presents in ironed-out gift wrap. I think my favorite gift, from my older brother Jim, was five brand new Nancy Drew mysteries. It was the start of a collection of books (from which I have never recovered).

Downtown Cincinnati was awash with all the decorated department store windows— and I remember going to see a “living nativity” – that I think was held in Garfield Park. I haven’t been downtown at Christmas time in many years. I wonder if any of my brothers have been downtown during the Christmas holidays—I don’t know the answer to that. –

Sandra Lee Smith