Christmas Memories 2010

Christmas was the most magical holiday of my childhood; in retrospect many years later, I realize that my mother went to great lengths to make Christmas special, even though there was very little money.
I remember my dolls disappearing around in November and reappearing on Christmas Eve with new dresses that my mother had sewn for them. When I was about 5 years old, I received a doll house for Christmas. (*When I was about 11 or 12, my mother gave my dollhouse away to a friend’s daughter). I never got over it. Consequently—we have about half a dozen dollhouses today, but the most treasured one is a Christmas dollhouse that Bob & I spent about a decade putting together. My girlfriend Mandy & I discovered it in a thrift store, in about five pieces. I bought it for $10 and we gingerly carried the wooden pieces with protruding nails out to my car. It’s always Christmas Eve in the dollhouse and Santa Claus is taking off the roof in his sleigh with his 8 little reindeer). And dollhouses have become a shared hobby between the two of us.
When I was a child, we celebrated the Feast of St Nicholas on December 6th, hanging my father’s long white socks (because they were the longest) on nails on the pantry cupboard door. It was the only time I remember having a tangerine, and there would be hard candies in your stocking too and maybe some unshelled walnuts. The Feast of St Nicholas meant that Christmas would soon be here. (*I forgot about the Feast of St Nicholas for many years—until my four sons were little boys getting into a feverish pitch waiting for Christmas to arrive, thanks to commercials that start airing around in September—so we reinstated the Feast of St Nicholas to help the anxious little boys bridge the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas—but their stockings always contained a lot of little Hot Wheel cars).
When I was a little girl, we sometimes made ornaments for the Christmas tree out of walnut shells and construction paper chains, and I remember making things for our parents in school. In particular, I recall making a tie ‘rack’ out of a paper towel cardboard tube.
My mother waited until Christmas Eve day to buy a tree, because by then whatever was left on the lot down on Beekman Street was marked down to something like 25 or 50 cents. The Christmas trees I remember were beautiful but as I look at an old photograph taken one Christmas when I was about five years old, I see that those Christmas trees were really spindly and sparse. Bare spaces were filled in with a lot of tinsel.
We didn’t have great expectations, in the 40s and 50s—intuitively knowing that anything expensive would be out of the question. We would go through the Sears catalog oohing and ahhing over all of the toys—for me it was all the baby dolls. Many of our gifts would be underwear and socks, articles of clothing always needed. I remember one year receiving Days of the Week panties in different colors.
We celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve and my mother managed to get all of us out of the house for the day. Some of those Christmas Eve days, I took my younger brothers downtown to do our own Christmas shopping. We probably never had more than a dollar each saved up but somehow we managed to find presents for our parents, grandparents and siblings, at the 5 & 10 cent stores. My brothers and I loved going downtown in Cincinnati, especially during the holidays when all of the stores were gaily decorated and Fountain Square was the most festive of them all. We visited all of the major department stores (Shillitoes, Pogues, Mabley & Carew) so we could go see all of the Santa Clauses and get free peppermint sticks. (We knew they weren’t the real Santa Claus – these were just helpers – but my brothers climbed on each Santa’s knee and told him what they wanted (a Gene Autry cap gun and holster and a authentic cowboy hat for Bill—but I can’t remember what Biff asked for).
How we ever managed to buy gifts for everyone in the family with our meager savings is a mystery. My girlfriend Carol Sue sometimes accompanied us downtown and years later confessed to being jealous of us. Jealous? I was incredulous – how could anyone be jealous of children who might have only a dollar to spend on all of their family members, never mind needing a nickel for the streetcar ride to and from downtown? Carol said it baffled her that we managed to find gifts for everyone. AND if we had enough money left over, we shared a grilled cheese sandwich from the luncheon counter at Woolworths. I can only liken it to Jesus and the loaves and fishes. Somehow there was always enough. We would tote our treasures home and then wrap them in old gift wrap that we ironed to make it look as good as new.
Christmas Eve generally found us children at my grandmother’s waiting for a telephone call. Then my father came to pick us all up in the family car. At least on one occasion, perhaps more, his cousin Barbara, who was called “Babe” by the family, would be with him. Babe was my godmother and I think I only saw her once a year, at Christmas. I knew I would receive a special gift from her, for me and me alone. When the Chevie pulled up in front of our house on Sutter Street, we could see the decorated tree glowing from a living room window. My mother met us at the porch, exclaiming “You just missed him! He just left!” and we’d dash through the house hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa Claus—not worrying too much about missing him when the living room was filled with PRESENTS.
I especially remember the year when the first thing I spotted in the living room was a desk. I had SO wanted a desk of my own. “My desk! My desk!” I cried.
“How do you know it’s for you?” my mother asked.
“Oh, I know!” I exclaimed, running my hands across the top of the desk. I was about ten at the time and already had my career as a writer planned.
I may have been about the same age when my mother gave me a copy of Little Women for Christmas. It was the very first book of my own (not counting books I had found in my mother’s bookcase and commandeered for my own). Another Christmas, a few years later, my brother, Jim, gave me five brand new Nancy Drew mysteries – by then I was off and running. It wasn’t enough to read the books; I wanted to own them too.
I don’t remember my mother ever doing a lot of holiday baking; my grandmother did, however. What I remember most vividly were butter cut out cookies all cut into diamond shapes; she would dip each cookie into egg white and then into a mixture of granulated sugar and chopped walnuts, before baking them. My sister, however, remembered Grandma making many different Christmas cookies which were packed into a dress box. I have a lot of cookie cutters today, perhaps three hundred of them – but you know what I treasure the most? Yes, of course – grandma’s diamond shaped cookie cutter and another that is heart shaped.
Christmas morning we attended mass at St Leo’s Church on Baltimore Street; the older children were allowed to go with the adults to midnight mass the night before. When I was in the 8th grade, most of my classmates were in the choir and there was an added joy to singing the hymns on Christmas morning. If we were especially lucky – snow would begin to fall on Christmas Eve.
I became a Christmas maniac, once I got married and began having children of my own—I would shop for bargains throughout the year and hide them in a closet so that my sons would have a lot of great presents to unwrap on Christmas morning. I began collecting Christmas ornaments, and started baking cookies and freezing them in September. I began collecting recipes for fruitcake and trying many different recipes. I would also stock up on butter, sugar, flour, unsweetened chocolate and chocolate chips, coconut and walnuts and pecans – all the things needed to make a lot of special holiday cookies. Years ago, I had a girlfriend named Doreen who lived around the corner from us when we lived on Terra Bella Street in Arleta. Doreen and I began mixing and freezing cookie dough in September—by the first of December we’d have both our freezers packed with neatly wrapped and labeled packages of cookie dough and would go on a cookie baking marathon at either her house or mine, at night, when our children were all asleep in their beds. Then we evenly divided up our baked cookies and packed them in tins and our largest Tupperware containers. We had a good thing going until she & her husband moved to Kansas. ***
Gradually, my Christmas collection grew…and grew. Asked what my hobby was, I would reply “Christmas”.
You can’t have too many ornaments or too many Christmas cookie cutters; you can’t have too many angels –or, in our case, you can’t have too many trees. Before we moved into a much smaller house in the high desert, we were putting up eight Christmas trees!
This is what I remember most about Christmas – not the presents so much although some—like the desk and my first books–have remained vivid childhood memories; it was more about the time I spent shopping for Christmas with my younger brothers and myself, those trips to downtown Cincinnati, our surreptitious trips upstairs to my bedroom where we wrapped everything, while my mother’s Crosley radio played Christmas music…it’s the memories I have of the marathon cookie baking with girlfriends – and in more recent years, with my grandchildren – making and decorating cookies and candy, baking and decorating gingerbread houses.
More than anything, though, it’s remembering what we are really celebrating; the birth of the baby Jesus.


26 responses to “Christmas Memories 2010

  1. Your memories are wonderful, Sandy. I have so many great ones, too and I wish I could express them the way you do. You are so very talented.

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  7. Richard Grupenhoff

    Enjoyed your Christmas memories very much. I grew up only a couple of miles from you in South Fairmount, right where Westwood meets Harrison Avenue — up on Moellering Avernue, which led up to the C&O railroad tracks at the foot of Bald Knob. We would go to Christmas Midnight Mass at St. Bonaventure Church on Queen City Avenue.I suspect we are also very close in age — I was born in 1941.

    • Richard – are you still at this email address? I’ve been trying to find your email address – wanted to tell you I am planning a trip to Cincinnati next spring – Maybe in May. Please write! – Sandy

      • Grupenhoff, Richard

        Hi, Sandy — so good to hear from you again! I sent my reply on your Chatter’s “Reply.” Let me know if you got it. Merry Christmas! Richard Grupenhoff

        From: Sandy’s Chatter <> Reply-To: Sandy’s Chatter <> Date: Monday, December 8, 2014 at 8:08 PM To: Richard Grupenhoff <> Subject: [New comment] Christmas Memories 2010

        Sandy commented: “Richard – are you still at this email address? I’ve been trying to find your email address – wanted to tell you I am planning a trip to Cincinnati next spring – Maybe in May. Please write! – Sandy”

  8. Hello, Richard! Thank you for writing! Yes, we are close in age. I was born in 1940. (My brother Jim, born in 1937, used to set up pins at St Bonnie’s in the bowling alley). My mother & some of her family were parishoners at St Bonnie’s for many years earlier. I think my cousin Pete might have been at St Bonnie’s the same time as you–I think he is a year younger than I (Vincent Laehr?) I know exactly where Westwood meets Harrison…when I was first married, my husband & I lived in his mother’s house on Biegler St, right off Harrison–and down a short ways from Fairmount Ave. Back in the day–when we were all kids–we walked ALL OVER North & South Fairmount and all the way to Northside & Camp Washington–& my cousin’s family lived in English Woods during the war when their father was in the af.
    I am going “home” in August; one of my sons sent me a plane ticket; he & his wife are driving there from Sioux Falls – the first thing we are doing on the 10th is going to a Reds game. I wasnt planning on going back to Ohio until 2013, for my next high school class reunion (Mother of Mercy) so looking forward to seeing everyone! Thanks again for writing! Sandy

    • richard grupenhoff

      Dear Sandy,

      I am sorry that I missed your response to my post of July 14, 2011. Just today I hunted it down and saw your remarks. Now I feel like your nest-door neighbor! I too have numerous memories of South and North Fairmount that I would like to share with you sometime.

      I was born in 1941 in a house at 1805 Queen City Avenue, directly across from St Bonaventure Church, which was to have such an profound influence on my early life.

      Briefly, I went to St. Bonnies (1946-55), Roger Bacon (1955-59), then to the Navy for three
      years “to see the world.” In ’62 I came home and went to Xavier University (62-66, BA -English),
      Then marriage and Purdue U. for my M. A., then to Ohio State for my Ph.D. in Theatre. In 1975 I began teaching film and theatre Rowan University in New Jersey, and retired after 35 years in 2010. I live in Sewell, N.J., 20 miles outside of Philadelphia.

      I am writing my memoirs (in fits and starts) about growing up in South Fairmount. I have written an article about growing up as a German-American, called “You Can Go Home Again” for a sociological textbook that I would like to share with you. It is not on-line, but I could send it by snail-mail, if you would be willing to share your address. I think you would like the
      article very much! Well, that’s all for now. If possible, please respond by email to

      I hope to hear from you soon!
      Richard Grupenhoff

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  14. Please let me know if you’re looking for a article author for your site. You have some really good articles and I feel I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d love to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please blast me an email if interested. Regards!

  15. Richard, just received this message on my blog–I will write to you directly. Thanks for writing! Sandy

  16. richard grupenhoff

    OK… thanks!

  17. Hi, Sandy! Good to hear from you. At present i am arranging a speaking engagement in April of next year at the historical society of New Knoxville, Ohio, about 100 miles north of Cincinnati near Wapakoneta. If that goes through I will be coming back to Cincinnati then for a week or so. If that falls through, then I will wait until mid-late-May to go back “home” again, and maybe we could get together then. Please let me know you dates as soon as you nail that down, and if I can I will try to arrange to be there at the same time! In the meantime, I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and a very Merry Christmas…. Richard Grupenhoff

  18. Thanks, Richard, I was delighted to see your response. I think I can easily arrange to go in late May–that is usually a pretty good time to be in Cincinnati. I will start checking the internet in January & try to find something good on Southwest. One of my brothers moved not long ago to Kettering, Ohio & he wrote that my flying into Columbus would work for him–he also retired not long ago–and that Kettering wasn’t too far from Columbus. SW is my favorite plane to fly on even though they don’t go into Cincinnati–but they go to Columbus, as well as Indiana & Kentucky–about 2 hours from Cincinnati no matter which one you go to but Columbus has always been the most convenient for relatives meeting my flight. will be great to meet! – Sandy

  19. Richard Grupenhoff

    Did you get back to Cincinnati this May? I went a little earlier in April. Spent three days in northwestern Ohio in Minster, New Bremen and New Knoxville. Spoke to the New Knoxville Historical Society concerning German immigrants who came through Cincinnati and then went up to establish these towns on what was going to be the path of the Miami-Erie Canal. Send me your email address again and I will send a newspaper review of my presentation. Don’t know when I will return to Ohio. Maybe once more this year, but I am not sure. What are you up to?

  20. Richard – I will send you a private email with my email address rather than post it on here.
    I didn’t make it to Cincinnati–am still grousing about not going – but one of my nieces, who lives near Seattle, is getting married & asked me to do the cakes. Her father is my brother Jim who will meet me in Seattle with his lady friend and we will rent a car to keep us from inconveniencing anyone else. He found a $206 airfare for me on SW – and they like to fly on SW too so we wont be chasing around terminals looking for each other. The wedding is in August. (and my doctor was OK with me making one trip but didn’t think I should push the envelope too much with a second trip. (Cincinnati in autumn is calling my name). But never fear! we’ll get it all worked out eventually! I am fascinated with your lectures–I think Jim would be too – with our own German heritage. anyway. look for a private message from Verizon.
    Sorry to miss seeing you this year!! (next year for SURE?)

    • Richard, I hope you find this – I think your email address was lost when I dropped EarthLink (paying $23 a month when the service had gotten deplorable…my only downside is that I have lost a lot of my contacts. I don’t know if I told you, I flew to Ohio a year ago in April, for a great-niece’s wedding. I was only in town 5 days counting getting there and then getting back home. My brother Bill is now retired so he was free to schlep me around, going to the wedding and then visiting as many friends & relatives that a short visit could fit in. (I used to write messages about my trips to Ohio and elsewhere–I don’t know right now if I wrote one about the wedding–and now it has been a year next month.–yikes!)
      So, fill me in – how are you doing and have you made it back to Cincinnati lately?
      Regards, Sandy
      ps am on aol and right now I can’t think of the email address.

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