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5. Christmas '87: After making many (and I do mean MANY) promises to Santa to be on my best behavior until the ends of time should he deliver a sweet baby sister to our house, my family was blessed with the arrival of a new little girl a month prior to the holiday--which made for a pretty fabulous Christmas. I even delivered on the 'being good' part--for a week, anyway.
4. Christmas '92: Even though my mother did her best to hide one of the best gifts I have ever received, she could not thwart my eighth grade intuitiveness and extra sneaky hands. I found the gift a month before the holiday, but that didn't lessen the surprise. That fated Christmas I received a wooden black piccolo--and was the envy of the school band's flute section.
3. Christmas '95: No gift is ever as sweet as the first time you hear those special 'three little words' uttered--even if they are over the phone. My then boyfriend (who is now my husband--what can I say? I fell hard for the guy) gave his declaration of love---and made the Christmas of '95 the sweetest one ever.
2. Christmas '97: It took a few years (and a high school graduation to boot), but my boyfriend delivered and gave me his grandmother's diamond set in a beautiful gold band that currently resides on my left ring finger. He even got down on one knee--BEST CHRISTMAS EVER.
1. Now, I could go on and on about the Christmas's since '97 and give them all a rank on this list. The first time each of my three boys celebrated the holiday, each time our family shares the festivities with our exchange students, or the first time my husband and I enjoyed our first Christmas together all rate high, but this year, yes, the Christmas of '10 was extra special.
This year our family gathered around one strategically placed web cam and watched the birth of our future puppy--four states away. My boys (including the big one that I'm married to) were glued to the computer screen for a majority of the day--watching the large litter of pups (a whopping ten!) and bonding with their soon-to-be best friend. It is a memory I will treasure for many more Christmases to come.
Who knows what the Christmas of 2011 will bring, but until that time, I'm content with the ones I've been given...and I hope that you are as well. Many Christmas blessings and warm holiday wishes to all of you!
Merry Christmas Eve to you all. When the topic of Worst Christmas Ever was suggested, I about fell out of my chair, I laughed so hard. You see, my family has a joke, “It's Christmas time. What's going to happen this year?” Since my husband, Reed and I shared our first Christmas while dating, some crazy thing has happened every year since. Like most families, over the years, we endured airport delays, illnesses, family squabbles, turkey issues, etc. When it came time to select the worst, I had several to choose from. I thought I would list our top four and let, you the readers, decide which one should be chosen as “The Worst Christmas Ever” for our family.
Heart Attack Christmas of 2003
Suppose to be a memorable Christmas because our daughter, Emma was born in 2003 and it would be her first Christmas. Reed, Emma, and I traveled to my in-laws house. On Christmas Eve, my brother-in-law had a heart attack and Reed's sister rushed him to the hospital. Reed, his aunt, and I are left to care for our niece and nephew (8 and 5) and Emma (7 months). We found ourselves taking up the role as Santa which included me gnawing on carrots (for Santa's reindeer) and eating cookies left for Santa. There was also the turkey debacle that I won't go into.
My brother-in-law had surgery Christmas day and underwent the same procedure that Reed's dad died from several years before. Stressful! I'm happy to report that BIL's surgery went fine and we celebrated a couple of days later, so maybe not the worst Christmas.
Helicopter Ride of Christmas '05
Again, suppose to be a memorable Christmas because our son, Duncan would be celebrating his first Christmas. Even more so, because by October, Duncan already had two open heart surgeries, so we will thrilled he was alive to share it with us.
After his second surgery, Duncan went home with a chest drain. Imagine a curvy straw with holes in it. We hoped Duncan would have the drain out by Christmas. Two weeks before, the nurses debated whether or not to remove the tube. They decided to wait. Duncan disagreed and pulled it out just enough to cause problems. A drain should be pulled out by a trained profession, not a six month old. We left Emma with neighbors and rushed Duncan to the ER. There was not a single doctor who had a clue what to do with a baby and a chest drain or who wanted to take charge. So after the ER doctor finally pulled out the tube, we all took an elevator ride to the top of the hospital. Imagine if you will, Reed and I looking out the window of the door to the roof of the hospital, as our son is wheeled onto a helicopter and flies off to Kansas City. Could one of us go with him? No. No room. Could I hop into a car and ride up to KC that very minute? No. It was midnight and the ground covered with snow and for those of you who have driven along the stretch of road between Wichita and Kansas City know that would have been a bad idea. I had to wait until the next morning before heading to the hospital hoping my son was okay by the time I got there.
Duncan remained at the children's hospital for a while and the doctors and nurses let us go home just before Christmas. I was thankful we didn't find ourselves opening presents around Duncan's hospital bed instead of a tree, so maybe not the worst Christmas.
Dehydration Christmas 2009
Let's jump forward a few years to 2009. I was 9 months pregnant with our fourth kid and Reed and I decided that with our track record for Christmases, that we would stay home for Christmas. This proved to be a wise decision. On Christmas Eve, Emma came down with a stomach bug. By the time, my parents and sister showed up, we were all sick. I got so dehydrated that my stomach cramped and then the cramps occurred every two minutes. Uh, oh.
Reed rushed me to the hospital. What's Christmas without a hospital visit? The nurses just thought I had the flu, but once they got Gwinn and I hooked up to the monitors and I started dry heaving, they changed their minds. Gwinn was getting stressed. The nurse filled me with two bags of saline stuff and put an oxygen mask on my face.
Do you know what happens when you get dehydrated and are 36 weeks pregnant? The baby decides “Forget this, I am out of here,” so it was a good thing we came to the hospital. Once I was re-hydrated, the contractions stopped.
I checked out of the hospital the next day. Emma was bummed we didn’t bring Gwinn back with us and my poor parents and sister got sick too, but Gwinn came a month later two days before her due date, so maybe not the worst Christmas ever.
Turkey Debacle Christmas 2008
I believe this Christmas may be the worst Christmas ever for our family. It is certainly the most infamous and most talked about. You may have even heard about it. It made the local news.
My in-laws were visiting us. Reed rose early to smoke our turkey for Christmas dinner. Just before lunch, I took Rebecca and my in-laws shopping for the after Christmas sales. Reed stayed home with Emma and Duncan. Reed called a little while later.
“Mel, come home.”
“Come home now.”
“Reed, what's wrong?”
“I set the house on fire.”
When I got home, I saw several fire trucks, two ambulances, a news van, and many of my neighbors gawking at our house. Reed dumped ashes from the smoker into the plastic garbage can outside. Bad idea. The fire went from the garbage can to the garage and up the wall of the house to the attic. A neighbor saw the smoke and fire on his way to work. He called 911 and rang our door bell. Reed and the kids were in the basement and had no idea about the fire. Reed put the dogs outside, but our cat, Smokey (his name has a whole new meaning, now) hid. The firefighters eventually found him and gave him some oxygen.
The roof was toast (pun not intended), but most of our stuff survived. There was more water and smoke damage than fire damage. Emma’s room got the brunt of the damage to the bedrooms. All her new Christmas toys were gone along with her other toys. Luckily, her favorite bear survived. He had taken cover under Emma's backpack in the kitchen.
With weather, insurance squabbles, and contractors, we were out of our house for eight months while our house was repaired. At least, we were in the house for Christmas 2009.
So, readers, which of our Christmases should be named the Worst Christmas Ever? Heart Attack Christmas of 2003, Helicopter Ride of '05, Dehydration of 2009, or Turkey Debacle Christmas of 2008?
Oh, and if you are curious, we have already had Christmas Stomach Bug of 2010. Quite tame compared to other Christmases. No hospital visits. ;0)
Here is my gift to my fellow WARA members and any other of our blog followers at this special time of year: A new Blossom story. Also, here is a picture of the "Blossom" Christmas tree in my office.
“Rockin’ around the Christmas tree,” Blossom moo-sang in her loudest voice, swaying her flank—which, she admitted, could stand a little trimming down—from side to side. “At the Christmas party hop.”
For Elsie’s benefit, Blossom did a fancy little hop, first the front legs and then the back legs. Something she’d perfected in the last few days. Much, of course, to Elsie’s continual eye-rolling at her practicing.
Elsie gave her typical harrumph and turned the other way in the field. No “party” mood for Her Highness, Blossom thought with a smile. The cranky Jersey paid as little notice to the whole holiday season from Thanksgiving through New Year as possible. Same thing every year. But not Blossom. Oh no. She loooved holidays, especially Christmas.
“You will get a sentimental feeling when you hear voices singing.” Happily singing away, she strolled off toward the corner of the field where Ferdinand would, hopefully, be waiting to greet her. To heck with Elsie and her sour mood. The same went for the foolish dozen other cows who she knew yearned to be happy and heart-free like herself, yet who were wary of crossing Elsie. She could hold one devil of a grudge. Most cows didn’t want to risk facing it day-in and day-out, but Blossom didn’t mind at all.
“Let’s be jolly.” She did another zippy little hoof two-step, bopping her head around in pure delight. “Everyone’s dancing merrily.” Okay she didn’t know all of the words to the song she’d heard Farmer Sam’s daughters singing occasionally, but did it matter. No.
“Let the Christmas Spirit ring,” she mooed and picked up her pace. The wind really was kind of biting this morning as it blew across the snow-free field.
She shivered and breathed in the cold air. Instinct told her there would soon be snow covering this land. Most of the herd—including Elsie the opinionated—hated snow. Blossom didn’t particularly like being cold when she made her daily round about the field, but she would venture forth in rain, sleet, hail, snow… Well, in most any inclement weather to go see her beloved Ferdinand.
Thinking of her handsome one-ton prime bull had her almost skipping now. “We sing a love song…Your nose is a chilling…We’ll frolic and play…walking in a winter wonderland.”
She hesitated and blinked. Were those words right? Had she combined songs? Did it matter? Nope!
A familiar deep bellow pulled her from her wandering thoughts. Warmth curled through her. Ferdinand.
Donning her most beatific smile, she sped toward him. Her hunka-hunka burning love had already nudged down the weak part of the fence so that she could join him. He stood watching her, proud head held high, anticipation dancing in his large brown eyes. Heat, too. Naughty, naughty bull. She knew just what he was thinking, wanting.
“You should play harder to get.” Elsie’s words of disgust so often spoken to her crawled through her thoughts. “He only wants you for one thing.”
Not exactly true, although Blossom knew he really did enjoy that one thing. So what! So did she. But she also knew he really liked spending time with her. How many times had he stood patiently letting her babble on—and she did have a tendency to babble at times—about this or that? Did he ever make fun of her spinning tales of fancy? No. Did she manage to get him past his stoic, too serious moods with a bout of teasing or tickling that special spot just behind his ear with her tongue? You betcha!
“Last Christmas I gave you my heart…I gave it to someone special,” she sang, her heart fairly bursting with love. Her hoofs danced over the rest of the distance between them.
“Ah, my sweet Blossom,” Ferdinand rumbled, tenderness lighting his eyes. “You own my heart as well.”
As she stepped carefully over the downed fence and snuggled next to him, he heaved a relieved sigh. “Merry Christmas, my love.”
She tucked the words inside her and playfully nibbled at his ear. All was right with her world. “Back at you, my love.”
Six years old and in first grade. Back in the day when clothes from the dry cleaners came in long, paper bags, I really liked my teacher. She was beautiful. She was fun. She was a nun. And she came up with the neatest idea for a gift we could each make for our parents. We each would lie down on a dry cleaning bag, and she would draw around us, then we would get to "decorate" ourselves with crayons. (Hair, facial features, even our clothes!) The day I was to be drawn around, I didn't go to school. I had the mumps, and I didn't make it back to school again until after the Christmas holiday. No nifty gift for my parents, only pain and looking like a squirrel ready to carry the latest haul of nuts up a tree. Not my favorite Christmas.
Seven years old and in second grade. I really didn't like my teacher. She was a nun, too. And she didn't like me, because I had earaches and couldn't always go out to recess---doctor's orders. That meant finding a place or someone to watch over me, while everyone else went outside in the cold. That year for Christmas we made our parents Christmas cards. We began with our choice of red or green construction paper, folded in half. Sister Mary Christette (or however it was spelled) would hold the folded, colored paper against the wall with a stencil of our choice over it. We each then sprayed "snow" on our card, revealing a beautiful, snowy image when the stencil was removed. I stepped up and was handed the can of spray snow. Holding it out toward my card with the pretty angel stencil, I pushed the button. Only the button wasn't pointed directly at the card. It was pointed at Sister Mary Christette. In her long black habit, which was now covered with white snow. To say she was angry would be an understatement.
One Christmas was definitely not one that I'd want to skip. Three older kids lived next door to us, and they were like the brother and sisters I didn't have. One year for Christmas, they gave me a 3x5 index card that read: "We didn't finish the boxes of cereal fast enough, so Linda will be a little late arriving." They'd saved boxtops to get me a doll that represented Danny Thomas's daughter, Linda, on the TV show Make Room for Daddy. I cried and cried, I was so happy. Another year the two older girls were making a cute little quilted skirt and vest for their cousin for Christmas. When Christmas arrived, I learned that the "cousin" they'd made the roller skating outfit for was me.
My own children have their own memories of our Christmases, and now we're all making new memories for their children. I hope your memories of Christmas are as good as ours!
Sunday, the 19th we loaded the kids in the car and headed to see friends. On the spur of the moment we decided to stop by my parents’ home as my dad hadn’t been well. When I walked into my parent’s bedroom I had the strangest sensation I’ve ever had. A chill went up my spine—before then I always thought that expression was more figurative than literal but never again. The thought flashed through my mind that I would never see my father alive again. I shoved it aside as impossible. After all Mom said he was better; that plans were on track for our usual Christmas Eve family party.
When we got home that night there was a message on the answering machine that Dad had gone into the hospital. Around 3 AM the phone woke us. A call at that hour is never good news but I was astounded when it was the hospital, that my father was dying and they could not reach my mother. My hand shook as I hung up the phone and told my husband. I dialed Mom’s number. She answered almost at once. I told her the hospital wanted us to come in and that I’d meet her there. After calling my brothers’ and getting our neighbors to watch the kids we headed in. By the time we got there we were told that Dad was on a ventilator but there was no sign of life. Shortly thereafter the machines were turned off and he was declared dead.
Because of the nearness of Christmas he had to be buried on the 23rd. My mom, brothers, sister, and I met at the mortuary to pick out the coffin later on the 20th. Somehow everything that needed to be done got done.
My dad had wanted a wake so Mom insisted there be one. He was almost the last in the community to be brought home for a night vigil after the rosary at church. Between rosaries we reminisced. I heard many new stories about Dad but the very very late night didn’t help anything.
The morning of the 23rd was clear and cold. When I had my kids (ages 3, 5, 7) ready to go I picked up the three year old and followed my husband and the other two towards the door. As I passed our Christmas tree—a 7’ long needled cut pine. My daughter, on my hip, reached out and grabbed for a branch. To this day I can close my eyes and see the tree falling in slow motion and hear the tinkle crinkle of breaking ornaments. I don’t remember what I thought, just that I kept on walking. The actual funeral is a blur of memories. Rather unreal. Picking up the tree that night and setting it as right as we could was very real.
Christmas Eve was surreal. Mom insisted we have our traditional family party just as if nothing had happened. There’s nothing more bizarre than forty children and adults in a house celebrating Christmas while ignoring the funeral that just took place. Despite the under laying atmosphere the kids had a good time with gifts galore. There were even moments for the adults with matching blue Stetsons all around and Looney Tune sweaters.
We headed home early that evening as our oldest was to be in the procession to bring the baby Jesus to the crib. We had everyone dressed and I was brushing out our eldest’s long hair when I notice a red dot on her neck. Checking her face and arms I found a few more. I had never seen chicken pox before but I knew what it was. She couldn’t go to church that evening or the next day. There was no choice but for either my husband or I to go to church that night and the other in the morning. I won the toss. It was the most miserable experience I’ve ever had. I had never before been to a Christmas Eve Mass without my husband since we married. For that space of time I couldn’t count my blessings, only my lacks.
The patina of time has softened the memories. We even laugh about that falling Christmas tree (It really didn't look to bad after we set it rights -see photo above) and the kids getting chicken pox one after the other. What I did learn that Christmas is that all things change; that everyone is mortal; and that the birth of the baby Jesus is to be celebrated no matter what. He after all, gets me through the “worsts” in my life.
To those who are wondering (tisking) about the title—I mean no disrespect by it. It just seemed fitting in a straight-faced, tongue-in-cheek, and deliciously wicked sort of way. Wishing you all a Merry Blessed Christmas!
Trying to pick out a favorite holiday memory would be like trying to pick out a favorite child. Impossible. I love them all equally—although usually not at the same time. Each of my Christmas memories are a bundle of good and bad, bittersweet and sugary sweet. From the memorable Christmas mornings when I was a kid to each holiday we welcomed a new baby or grandbaby into our lives all the way to the first Christmases spent without the ones we love.
Life is good like that. So, feeling blessed beyond belief, I did what every reasonably normal person does when feeling nostalgic. I took liberties and composed a song. Feel free to sing along as I present my revised version of The Twelve Days of Christmas.
On the First day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Third day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Fourth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Fifth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Sixth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Seventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Eighth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the sau-rrr-us.
On the Ninth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, nine muses dancing, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Tenth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, ten go-od pag-es, nine muses dancing, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Eleventh day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, eleven extra days ‘till deadline, ten go-od pag-es, nine muses dancing, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
On the Twelfth day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, twelve Godiva Chocolates, eleven extra days ‘till deadline, ten go-od pag-es, nine muses dancing, eight hours of quiet, seven new plot lines, six ink cartridges, five gold Rita’s, four reams of paper, three back rubs, two mocha lattes and a new-ew the-sau-rrr-us.
My memories of some things reach back to when I was three years old. (Funny how I can't remember what happened two days ago!) It's been almost six decades since I was that age, so I've seen traditions shift and change, many times. I expect to continue to watch them for a few more years.
My earlier blog post this month was about Thanksgivings (and Christmases) when I was a child and visiting my great-aunts' homes for the holidays. Those traditions lasted through my high school years, although we did move closer and didn't have to drive what I'd thought as a child was hours and hours. But as the elders of the family began to pass away, and those my age began to grow into adults, new traditions were made. I married, and my husband's family attended Thanksgiving at his aunt and uncle's house. Each year we went there, along with my parents, who had been invited, since I was their only child. I still missed my cousins, but I was a grown-up and fell into those grown-up ways, taking my own prepared dishes to share with husband's family.
Trouble brewed in the family, and we stopped going to his aunt and uncle's, and we no longer spent the holidays with his family. My mother brought the turkey to our house in the big electric roaster, and I fixed the rest of Thanksgiving dinner. By that time we had three small daughters, so the table was full. Even after my dad's death, we continued with this "new" tradition.
Along came a divorce, meaning more major changes. My mother still fixed the turkey, but holiday meals were with my grown and nearly grown children and often included their friends, female and male. Add one granddaughter to the mix, and the family grew. Add two more, and two husbands, and we expanded even larger. I started making the main dishes, and daughters filled in with others. My mother has been gone for a couple of Thanksgivings, and we've again shifted traditions to suit our growing family. There's now me, four daughters, two sons-in-law, one SO/fiance, five grandkids and one step-granddaughter. Sometimes we get together for our dinner late on Thanksgiving evening. Some years we've enjoyed our dinner on Saturday. This year we happened to do it on Thanksgiving afternoon. What a novel idea! And this year, one son-in-law offered to fry a turkey. It was so good, I think I'll pass the turkey job to him from now on!
The one thing I learned along the way, and I'm sure others here have to, was to not make my daughters feel they must spend their holidays with me. We always manage to find a time when we can all be together, even if one or two can only make late dessert. Our guessing game of where and when we'll have dinner has actually become a new tradition! And I'm sure there'll be more.
Blessings to everyone during this holiday season, and I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving!!
This is my favorite Thanksgiving photograph. I'm the kid on the left. My sister is on the right. Her face cracks me up every time. "Ew! What is that?" No, she is not a vegetarian.
Growing up, Thanksgivings were a big deal and my grandmother would make a feast. She would have turkey and ham, those cute rolls that look like bums (The things we remember as kids!), and desserts galore. My grandparents had a large garden, so creamed corn, green beans, Melissa Pickles, and other delicious vegetables made it on the table. Melissa Pickles? These were pickles my grandparents spent all summer making from cucumbers from their garden. I know this because I was there too during the summer and put to work. All those green beans being eaten were snapped by me. Anyway, Melissa Pickles were called Melissa Pickles because I loved them so much. They were not your typical pickles. They were sweet, cubed, and bright green. I just have to say I was really disappointed later in life when I discovered the bright green color came from food coloring. I thought it was some super special ingredient. I have the recipe for Melissa Pickles, but I know zero about canning and are afraid to try canning them.
Sadly, since moving to the Midwest in 1999, I have not celebrated a Thanksgiving with my family. Instead, my husband, our children, and I travel to Arkansas to eat and play football with Reed's great-aunt (a hoot of a woman) and her family.
This year, Thanksgiving will be extra special. It will be our daughter, Gwinn's first Thanksgiving. Babies are always fun to have around the holidays. We also have the pleasure of sharing our traditions with our exchange student from Germany. I'm curious what she will think of green bean casserole and sweet potato casserole.
On the way from the hospital to our delayed T-day dinner (yes...back then they didn't kick you out of the hospital within 24-48 hours), a severe migraine hit me fast and hard. Mom already had my other children at her house. Unable to function, I had to leave my newborn daughter with her. I knew Emily and the kids were in excellent hands and that my entire family was there to help, but I still felt like the worst mommy in the world.
My husband drove me home, which at that time was only a few short miles from my parents' house, helped me with my prescription, tucked me into bed...and went after some propane. Yep. The propane tank had emptied and the house was freezing. I buried my head under the covers and let the medication do its thing. Many hours later we went back for the kids. I snuggled up with my new baby and hoped she would forgive me for abandoning her on her first day out of the hospital.
This year Emily's birthday is three days before Thanksgiving, but the day after my family is having our Thanksgiving dinner. Happy birthday, baby girl! I love you more than I can say.
Instead of focusing on the past, no matter how wonderful they are, for the past fourteen years, I have strived to create memories for my daughters to cherish when they have their own children one day.
I continue to make certain treats such as sweet potato pie, but our traditions include: putting up the Christmas decorations on Thanksgiving weekend and preparing our wish list for Santa. We also include ways to help the misfortunate such as donating to the Angel Tree or to food pantries. We also go to a Christmas tree farm to pick out our tree to decorate on the Sunday before we go back to work and school.
Although it's Thanksgiving, it creates a bridge between the holiday and the one to come: Christmas and the New Year.
It may sound very simplistic. There is nothing fancy or extravagant that makes our time together extraordinary except this: the warmth of a loving home with family surrounding us. My children will have the memories that they were cherished and loved. That is the ultimate Thanksgiving gift: Families are Forver.
Happy Thanksgiving and blessings to each of you.
One of my favorite memories at Thanksgiving time involves a tradition my sister started when her kids were toddlers. On the day after Thanksgiving we make gingerbread houses. Usually the participants include my sister (Tami), her two kids (Ashley and Chris), me (biggest kid of all), my daughter (Angie), and sometimes our youngest brother (Pat). Angie flies back for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas. I think sometimes she would be okay without this traditional time of making a HUGE mess, but she tolerates it because the rest of us love it.
Personally, I'm glad this tradition is also traditionally done at my sister's house. When we started this amazingly messy annual project, Tami used to make all of the gingerbread and Pat, Angie and I would cut the pieces. Then, if we were really lucky, the pieces would bake without burning and we would get them to the table without breaking them...at least too many of them. The last few years we've moved on to buying the kits. Although we only use pieces of the kits. We add a ton of candy and other stuff not included. Basically, we still make a huge mess.
But, mess or not, we have a great time doing this. There are smiles all around, good-natured teasing, and just a lot of love shared. We've thought about stopping now that Tami's "kids" are 13 and 15...but they keep wanting to do it. And I certainly don't want to grow up and stop having all this fun.
The photo included is from 9 years ago. Ashley is the round-faced redhead. The blonde is my pride and joy, Angie. Oh, I forget...now that she is grown up and a professional career person, she goes by Angela. Except to her mother, who refuses to adapt.
My mom was the designated turkey baker, and I'd wake up on Thanksgiving morning surround by the aroma of turkey. I doubt we ever missed the Macy's Christmas Parade back then, even as we packed up the turkey and other delights to head down the road to our holiday destination. Everyone brought something to eat. Aunt Dorothy's chocolate pie was always in high demand. At her house, there was a huge solid wood table where the grown ups all sat. There were usually at least a dozen of them, laughing and talking as they passed around the food. Kids sat at card tables, sometimes on Sears catalogs to boost us to the right height.
When dinner was over and the women had cleaned up, while the men--mostly farmers--sat in the living room and talked throughout the football games, the decks of cards were pulled out of the drawer and the rousing games of pitch began. The games lasted throughout most of the afternoon and into the evening, and I can still hear the sounds of their voices, whooping and hollering at each other over each hand dealt and each card played.
But it was later in the evening that became my favorite as we grew a little older. My three female cousins and I made the table talk. Yes, you read that right. Just a few days ago we were discussing Ouija boards on this very blog, but a card table and three or four people can do the same thing. One person on each side, if possible, hands flat on the table top, and concentrating so hard, the house should've rocked, we mentally lifted the table on one side/two legs. Questions asked were usually yes or no, or sometimes involving counting. One knock for yes, two knocks for no. The adults eventually grew quiet, ending their last game of pitch to watch us. Uncle Sterl (Aunt Lucy's husband) would hoot and boo at us, convinced that one of us had to be tilting the table. We weren't. "How can we?" we'd ask, and show him that the table could rise several inches...with no legs touching the floor. He never did believe us.
I miss those holidays, and especially the talking table. We kids grew up and had kids of our own, who now have kids of their own. We made new traditions. My great-aunts, great-uncles, parents, and even a few of the older cousins are gone, but those Thanksgiving memories will always be my favorite.
The snowfall steadily thickened. By the time I was finished and headed up to the house it had coated everything. It continued throughout the entire night and into the next day. Towards morning the wind picked up. It rattled the windows while snow sifted into mounds on the inside window ledges. The shushing sound wind driven makes is something like very fine sand being blown about. It made me burrow deeper beneath the heavy covers of multiple quilts. When Dad opened my door I waited for his hand to shake me but instead he told me I didn’t have to get up because there was a blizzard. I was also told to take care of my baby brothers if they woke up before he and Mom got back to the house after milking and feeding all the animals.
When my youngest brother demanded attention I reluctantly uncovered my head and crawled out of bed. It still seemed dark and with a thick frost on my bedroom window I couldn’t see out as I hurriedly dressed. It was no better in the boys’ room where I found my year-old brother jumping up and down in his crib. The two-year-old crawled out of bed and ran after me as I carried Eric down the stairs to the warmth of the kitchen—the only heated room. After getting them dressed I pulled open the back “view. When my parents and older brothers came into the house they were entirely coated with a thick layer of snow—even their faces with heavy ridges across eyebrows, nose and cheeks.
The snow continued until late that afternoon. We were kept busy with everyday inside chores as well as peeling apples and helping make three apple and three pumpkin pies to take to my aunt and uncle’s for Thanksgiving on the morrow. When we noticed that the howling of the wind had lessened we begged to go outside. Once we were swathed in layers of shirts and coats, gloves, scarves, and hats, Dad pulled open the front door and we stood, gape mouthed, at the wall of white three-fourths of the way up the screen door. The back door had a much better windbreak and we tumbled out of it only to be caught up short by the undulating snowscape. Everything was white; the garden and lawn had turned into an ocean of white waves, some of which towered over our heads.
Dad let us scamper over drifts as well as sink into them too for a time and then set us to shoveling a path to the barns. We were all exhausted that night as we crowded around the floor furnace in our pajamas to get as warm as possible before dashing up the stairs and diving into our beds.
“Boys, get down here,” Dad yelled up the stairs. “Come on, get a move on if you want to go to Thanksgiving at Uncle Romans.”
I scrambled out of bed as the boys tumbled down the stairs. Nose to the window I confirmed there was no traffic on the road to the north. Looking straight down I saw the huge drift that still blocked the garage door and those that rose and fell across the drive way. After playing on them yesterday afternoon I knew some where five feet tall. “The car isn’t doing anywhere and we aren’t either,” I muttered.
“It’s a surprise,” Dad scolded, but I saw him wink at Mom. “Wait until we’re done.”
Dad came in a few minutes later and picked up the baby and grabbed the quilts mom had set out. “Take Stan’s hand and help him. Mom will be back for him but let’s make a start. “
“Where are we going?”
“To Thanksgiving dinner,” he laughed. “Come on.”
A hank of hay sailed over the side. My oldest brother popped up. “Come on, we’ll be late to dinner, slow poke.”
“Dinner?” I looked at the huge pile of snow made when they dug a path clear for the tractor and then at the drifts in the road and shook my head.
Dad picked me up and tossed me into the pile of straw. Then he helped Mom up and over. While she settled us in the straw with the quilts to her satisfaction Dad climbed into the tractor’s seat. Revving up the engine he put the tractor in gear and we were off—straight off through the field!
I’ll be up at the crack of dawn, tying on my apron, baking pecan and pumpkin pies, preparing the turkey and rolling out homemade noodles for the noon meal. My family will each bring their speciality dish to make the meal complete and then everyone divides up the leftovers for a repeat dinner the next day. Does it seem fair that we’ll work for hours in the kitchen to sit down and stuff ourselves in a matter of minutes? Probably not, but sooooo worth it. The men will then move to the living room to watch the Cowboys play and catch a few zzzzzs. The women will do the dishes and then, if it’s not too cool, we’ll head outside to sit around the fire pit on the patio. Archaic traditions I know, but it is what it is and I wouldn't change a thing about it.
Late afternoon, dessert will be served and then everyone will leave. I’ll finally take time to read the paper and scour the ads for the Black Friday bargains I plan to get up early for. I look forward to this all year. (Those of you that know me will not be the least bit surprised by this admission.) With list in hand and game plan in mind, my mom and I sneak out before 5:00 am to join the masses of other idiots, in the dark, in search of deals too good to pass up.
Simple traditions but still very near and dear to my heart. So, from my home to yours may your blessings be many and your troubles be few.
After more than fifty years it's hard to pick out Thanksgiving memory out of so many wonderful ones, but I got a chuckle thinking about this one and thought I'd share it with you.
My brothers, all four of them, were hunters. Pheasant, duck, quail, goose. You name it. If it had a season they shot it. One day, just before Thanksgiving, my brother Mark came in with two big geese. Now geese in the wild aren't like the ones that live here in the city and beg for bread crumbs in the park. Bagging a goose takes skill and luck and Mark had TWO.
Thanksgiving was at our house that year and Mom decided to cook the geese instead of the usual turkey. I admit they smelled good as they roasted throughout the morning. When everyone was assembled at the table, my mother brought them in. My brother Mark watched with pride as his trophies came to the table. After cautioning everyone to watch out for buckshot, mom carved them up.
My grandpa, as the oldest, got the first piece. He took a bite and nearly pulled his dentures out. After mulling his mouthful for a while, he gulped and looked at Mark. "You didn't shoot these."
"But I did," Mark insisted.
By this time we were all trying to eat the tougher-than-boot-leather birds and not having much success.
"Nope," said Grandpa, pushing his meat to the side of the plate. "This one died of old age when your gunshot scared him to death."
We all laughed but I did feel bad for Mark and my mom. Thank goodness there was plenty of side dishes to go around and plenty of pumpkin pie to fill us up. No one when away hungry, but goose was never on the menu at our house again.
Keep in mind that not all characters will react to anxiety and crises in the same way. Spend some time figuring out how characters react to suspense, anxiety, and fear. Try to avoid the usual descriptions, such as "her pulse raced..." If you're at a loss for descriptions, remember the last time something scary happened to you. What happened the last time you stepped on the breaks and your car tried to skid? Did your stomach feel like a brick? Did you shriek, or swear? Or did you steer yourself out of the skid and only respond to the stress after you were safe? Use those experiences to color your characters' reactions.
Omit excessive detail. Some of the best scary stories skillfully leave it to the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks. It is often what is hidden, or merely hinted at, that sends chills down the spine.
Craft a tense and suspenseful tone. Focus on more than just the scary abandoned buildings or creepy old mansions. Characters reflect tone by how they react to events as they unfold: if the characters are convincingly tense and uncertain of what's around the next corner, chances are your readers will be as well. Throw some twists and turns into your story, surprises that your readers will not see coming.
Hitchcock believed suspense didn’t have much to do with fear, but was more the anticipation of something about to happen.
What is scary is very subjective, so it's best to write something that scares you.
Try writing about an actual event that scared you in your life. My first horror story I ever felt comfortable sharing (long since lost, of course), involved a string of events that I'm still convinced were caused by a ghost in my house. The genuine nature of the story to me allowed me to effectively tell it to other people. Since I thought it was real, I wrote it like it was real, and that is what scared people.
Writing Horror Literature (Justin Daniel Davis)
What scares people? And how do I tap into it?Well, a good place to start as a source of fear would be the most logical and often overlooked one: yourself. Face it...you’re rarely going to get anywhere by trying to capitalize on what you THINK scares people. Start with yourself...not only is this your most reliable source, but your writing will come across as more genuine, less artificial. What scares you? Monsters under your bed? Loss of control? Ghosts? Goblins? Chores?
So...what scares you? Do you have any tips to share to add a touch of creepiness to stories, maybe just enough to have your reader on the edge of her seat?
Or at least that's what some believe. It's up to you to decide if you do.
There have been a few scary Halloween nights for me. When I was very young and lived in the big, bad city (before moving to the little bad small town, then to the big bad middle of nowhere and now back to that big bad city), my older neighbors often took me trick or treating. One year, as we stood on the corner waiting for a car to drive by so we could cross the street, that car and another car collided. I screamed. It was nothing more than a fender bender, but the sound of the crash and my blood curdling scream brought friends and neighbors outside. At that point, trick or treating ended for me until the next year.
When I was around six or seven years old, I dressed as a Pilgrim girl, in long gray dress, white Pilgrim hat and round collar, all made by my mother, and a blonde braided wig. Those same neighbors as above had a grandmother who had given them a pair of real, authentic wooden shoes, which were loaned to me for the evening. Believe me, they were not comfy, but I wore them anyway, determined to be as real as I could be. The block behind us ended in a circle drive/dead end, thanks to U.S. 54. As we approached one of the houses near the end, a horrible witch came around the corner. Scared beyond sanity, I began screaming and ran for home. When I arrived, I sobbed to my dad what had happened...and then realized that I'd lost my hat and wig during my race for safety. I cried even harder. When I finally stopped, my dad walked me back, finally convinced me that the witch wasn't real, and we found my hat and wig. Once again, trick or treating was over for me until the next year.
Fast forward to small town and high school. No more costumes. By eighth grade, we'd even given up painting our faces and going door to door. But what fun to steal pumpkins and toss them in the middle of Main Street! Braver souls moved the picnic tables from the park to the streets, and burning hay bales were scattered in the street, making driving a tad difficult. The local grocery store removed all egg cartons. After Halloween our senior year, I distinctly remember how, when the heater was turned on, my best friend's car smelled of rotten eggs for months and months. Tricks in town got so bad that mounted police from the city were sent for a few years to try to keep things under control. One year, after looking for an outhouse to tip over, a group of us ran across the railroad tracks at the edge of town, hoping we wouldn't get caught, and one of the guys and I fell in what's known as "Devil's Hole." Rumor had it that the six feet deep hole was the mouth of a tunnel than ran underneath the town. Well, maybe long, long ago it did. All I know is that climbing out was not for sissies.
Fast forward to the present. My five grandkids and their parents (and an aunt or two) enjoy trick or treating together---all in costume. I'm sure the people handing out candy aren't too sure what to think of the mob at their door. No, the parents don't ask for candy. ;)
Me? I stay home, turn down the lights, and listen carefully for the whispers of those who have passed on to the next world. [Have I mentioned that I've had two paranormal experiences?] Then I turn on the TV, grab a DVD or two, and find something fun to watch. This year I've decided on Hocus Pocus, followed by Practical Magic. I know I'm in for a treat. ;)
Halloween is my second favorite holiday. Columbus Day has the first spot. Oh, I jest. It's Christmas.
Anyway, I grew up in the northeast where Halloween was hugely popular. Every year, my family would pile into our gray station wagon and drive along the windy road through the woods to Butler's Orchard. Sitting in the “way back,” my sister and I looked out for the ghosts and witches hanging from the trees.
Soon the woods gave way to a large opening where hay bales and pumpkin sculptures abounded. Pumpkins were painted and dressed as famous characters. I remember Snoopy laying on his doghouse as being my favorite.
After admiring the sculptures, my family rode a hayride to a large field where everyone could choose their perfect pumpkins. Serious business for my family. Round and fat? Long and skinny? My sisters and I always wanted the biggest pumpkin we could find.
Before leaving Butler's Orchard, we stopped at the Farm Market for other fall supplies. They had the best apples and apple cider. The funny shaped gourds amused me. Mom would select small pumpkins to make pumpkin pie. It amazed me that she could get pie filling out of a pumpkin.
The big day was just as special. Dad carved the pumpkin and Mom had our costumes ready after spending hours making them. I can remember being a mouse, scarecrow, pirate, angel (twice), witch, and a Cabbage Patch Kid (showing my age with that one).
Every house gave out candy and my sisters and I attacked every one. Okay, maybe not every house, but it was not from lack of trying.
I still dress up for Halloween. I do it for my kids. Nodding head. I want them to love Halloween as much as I do. I may even sew a costume or two.
As writers, we create our own worlds that come alive on paper. Halloween allows those worlds and words to jump off the page. Hmm. My sisters are writers too. I wonder if there is a connection between a love of writing and a love of Halloween.
"Hey, I said to my friend, "What are those two guys doing out there?
They look like they have some kind of light suits on."
"Wow, those are awesome, let's go see."
We walked toward the two guys, noticing how they were standing. One had his profile to us, leaning against the doorpost of the cabin with one foot propped up on the doorpost, knee sticking out. The other stood next to the first, feet shoulder length apart, arms akimbo. They looked like they had bright white neon lights from head to toe. All we could see was the lights, no features.
At that moment, another friend ran up to greet us and we stopped to talk for just a moment. When she ran on, we both looked out toward the cabin and the guys were gone.
"C'mon, let's go see what they were up to," I urged.
With eager curiousity, we hurried to the cabin. As we drew closer to the door, we both slowed down, then stopped in confusion as we saw the padlock on the door, the cobwebs covering the door, the uttter evidence that no one had been there for quite some time. I felt a weird skittering sensation up my back, realizing that whatever we had seen, it wasn't two guys from the camp standing in the doorway.
We retraced our steps and walked toward the cabin again, hoping to see again whatever we had seen. We saw nothing. We have our own conclusions about what we saw, but it was a very strange experience.
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