As the day approaches, despite my years of having claimed to dread Christmas and of being the poster child for Grinchiness, as usual I’m actually in my “W” mode. That is Wallowing in the Warmth of Wonderful memories.
I really don’t like the money-grubbing atmosphere that often replaces non-expensive giving, the spirit of love and the joy of life. I regret that, for many children (and the adults in their lives), the season revolves around the latest loot, a soon-forgotten toy or electronic fad, and the manufacturing/commercial world, which always makes sure there will be one toy or gadget most wanted, most scarce and most costly. And the real Grinches, those greedy meanies who hoard up the scarce, desired objects and offer them online at obscene prices.
Is this really the Christmas children should remember? The year they got a cell phone, computer, movie projector, camera, or a Cabbage Patch Kid, Tickle Me Elmo or a Hatchimal? How sad.
Most people of my generation have different, often similar memories, like from World War II years of fear, rationing and blackouts instead of holiday lights. These were years when a farm worker and his wife, loving and feeding a family of five, had never heard the term “disposable income.” That term didn’t exist, mainly because “disposable income” didn’t exist. There were even days when income itself didn’t exist. But for me (and I believe for many others), Christmas was much more special in those days than now.
In the Callahan house, Christmas centered around midnight Mass at our Catholic parish church, followed by breakfast at the kitchen table. A feast of fried eggs, toast, and, some years, bacon. Eggs from chickens raised in the back yard by Mom. Bacon, if we had it, brought from the attic after Daddy raised and butchered a hog, salted down the meat in a barrel, then hung it from the rafters.
There would be a little tree, bought at a discount after the big trees were sold, or cut from a nearby timber. The tree would be festooned with scarred glass ornaments and wrinkled tinsel, saved and re-used (term “recycled” not invented either) year after year.
Not a lot of big boxes under the tree, but always the exciting treats of fresh oranges, hard candy shaped like ribbons, mixed nuts to be shelled and enjoyed via hand-held nut cracker and nut pick, and maybe a pair of gloves or box of “hankies,” aka handkerchiefs. In my elementary school days, kids had to produce a clean “hankie” before classes began every morning, along with 10 clean fingernails, and each student’s solemn vow that teeth had been brushed before “catching” the bus.
But if it was a year with a Callahan car, Christmas Day was at the home of Grandma Behler and Aunt Eva Hilderbrand. Grandma would “batch up” her high-rising yeast rolls, called Denver biscuits, and Aunt Eva would serve made-from-scratch burnt sugar cake and her fluffy divinity candy. I don’t recall much else about food, just lots of only-once-a-year goodies. My attention was on Denver biscuits, divinity and a tree covered in colored lights made hazy by a spun-glass miracle called “Angel hair.”
Basically just insulation, angel hair could make tiny cuts on your fingers if you tried to swipe some of it when no one was watching.
After some visiting and hoping the telephone would ring so you could hear it (another only-once-a-year possibility), seven stuffed-full Callahans, including a back-seat full of kids, Christmas memories and a year’s worth of looking-forward-to, piled into whatever jalopy had been acquired, and headed home.
On a really lucky year, Daddy didn’t having to “stop the jalop” to patch a ruptured inner tube pulled out of a travel-weary tire (rubber rationing, remember). And even though this took about an hour while December cold took over the jalopy on the inside (and Daddy on the outside), one of the kids didn’t mind flat-tire time. It was the youngest, and another of her favorite childhood memories — the great smell of that tire-patching glue.
To be honest, in my later years, I had some understanding of glue-sniffing addiction. There, but for the grace of God and the fear of law enforcement, go I. Also, what would have been my sniff of choice went off the market.
This old warhorse hopes your candy is sweet, your pecans are shelled, your gifts are simple and your Christmas leans toward spiritual this year.
This column has been adapted from a 2016 column.