My great-great-grandparents came to America from Bavaria, Germany, in 1886 and settled near a small town southwest of Wichita with their three children. They were farmers who spoke no English but soon learned the ways of their new home. A fourth child was born seven years later. Two generations later, my grandmother was the second of seven children. It was that generation that I remember, although my grandmother died when I was six months old, as did my great-grandfather, two of her sisters married and lived near the small town. It was to their houses and those of their children that we spent our Thanksgiving and Christmases.
|My great-grandparents and their seven children|
An average winter holiday included 20 of us, and my fondest memories were at my Great-aunt Dorothy's house, the youngest of the seven children. She and her husband lived on a farm southwest of town in a house that was built in the 1890's. Uncle Milt (her husband) was born in that house in 1900, and they raised their two daughters there. When everyone got together, whether there or at Great-aunt Lucy's house or cousins Kenneth & June, NOISE was the word of the day, quickly followed by FOOD. My mother was always in charge of the turkey, and I remember waking up on Thanksgiving to watch the parades and on Christmas to see what Santa brought with the smell of roasting turkey throughout the house. After packing up the presents for the family, we'd head out for the long trip to the country. You see, it was twenty-five miles at the most, and the drive took just over half an hour, but to a small child, it was a long journey to sleep through.
We averaged twenty family members who gathered each holiday, with sometimes more when cousins would come from far away or someone would bring a boyfriend. After dinner the grown-ups would gather around the big table and play Pitch, a card game, for hours, while those of us in the younger set would play outside or with new Christmas toys. (One year Santa brought me a microscope, so we pricked our fingers and watched the squiggles in our blood.) I don't remember ever watching television or it ever being on. The grown-ups' card games generated the most noise, with good-natured arguing and laughing. When my cousins and I were older, Aunt Dorothy would let us use an extra wooden-legged card table, and we'd make it talk.
You've never heard of a table talking? It's based on the idea of a Ouija board. Four of us girls would sit at the table and place our hands flat on top of it. Then we'd start chanting, "Up table, up!" while (great) Uncle Sterl would make fun of us--and the table would rise a few inches off the floor. We'd ask a question of the table, giving instructions on how to answer (1 knock for yes, 2 for no or knocks for numbers or letters), and the table would tip on two legs, then drop down to knock and tell us what we wanted to know. (Just so you know it wasn't only my crazy family who did this, a good friend in Texas has done the same.)
My great-aunts and uncles, my aunt and uncle, and my parents are gone. The big family Christmases dwindled and came to a close when my generation came of age and started their own families and began sharing holidays with their in-laws. Aunt Dorothy and Uncle Milt's two-story white Victorian still stands at the curve of the county road, but belongs to someone else now. But it will always be a place of happy memories, so much so that I used it as the backdrop for my upcoming June 2013 book, DESIGNS ON THE COWBOY.
Christmas has changed many times since those days spent in the country with relatives of all ages. Sometimes we're lucky and traditions continue. When they don't, we find ways of making new ones while putting the old ones aside. But even when they're changed or gone, we still keep the memories of them in our hearts.