Glass Christmas Garland

A garland of glass beads for the Christmas tree given to us by my Grand- mother.

It being the season, I want to write about Christmases past. I suspect the story is going to sound a little like Ozzie and Harriet – all light and happiness. Well, yes, that’s the way I remember it…I was a child lucky in my family. I suspect my sisters will remember it much the same way.

Christmas really began when my grandparents arrived from Kansas. Inside their suitcases were wrapped packages for us (yippee) and boxes of cookies. She baked date rolls (tedious to make – I make them now), sugar cookies with sprinkles and flavored with anise, round powder-sugar balls, something called “rocks”. Some years there was fudge or meringue candy. My grandfather usually took us downtown to look at the windows in the department stores. There would be moving figures and trains – a fantasy to look at. Then he’d take us to the dime store, shopping. We saved his present till last; because it has to be surprise, he’d go to the counter for coffee and we’d pick out something for him. (At that time, no one worried about kids being stolen. How times change.)

For many years we had a real tree. One year the best tree, the only full one on the lot, was crooked. We bought it anyway and after many failed attempts to make it look straight in its holder, Daddy had to hang it from the ceiling. It was also was his job to put on the lights, which took forever because the red, green, yellow, blue colors had to be well separated. Finally it was our turn to hang on the other decorations. Traditionally we played excerpts from Handel’s Messiah when we decorated and I still can sing many of the lyrics. There were the usual glass balls and garlands, but also some unusual decorations from during the war. I particularly loved the one made of maraborou feathers and tinsel.

We had a plaster creche that was many times arranged around a little cardboard stable with an angel hung on the rafter. I particularly loved the donkey and the sheep. Just last week my sister dug it up – it’s missing some noses, having been well loved – but she’s going to take it to the doll hospital to be fixed. Then she’ll pass it onto the next generation.

Christmas Eve had its own evolving ritual. We started with a meal of homemade chili, but later that became pizza (easier on the cooks.) Then, church. One year I had both chicken pox and measles at the same time and couldn’t go. I made my mother promise to bring home one of the little candy sacks that were handed out to the children. When I was older, I once ran out of gas driving home from church by myself and had to walk home through the snow. Oh yes, we often had snow. (Not as often as we had it on Halloween, but that’s another story…)

On Christmas Eve, we opened our presents. I always thought it was because we were of German extraction; however, we were told that one of my cousins was too sleepy in the morning to enjoy her gifts. Hmmm, I always found that hard to believe. After gifts, we went to church again, the midnight candle service, carrying our new dolls or, when we were older, wearing new finery. I loved the cold church, the sleepy feeling, the carols. There was a wonderful soprano in one of our churches and when she sang O Holy Night, the real meaning of the celebration came through to me.

Sometime on Christmas eve, we’d find time to visit our next-door-neighbors, my parents’ best friends. Their house was always as packed with people as ours. Mrs. B. made the tree skirt for my mother and I inherited it.

Christmas morning was spent at home, opening the little gifts in our stockings from Santa. Then everyone gathered again for a traditional meal. My mother and her sister took turns; one hosted Christmas eve, the other Christmas day. The next year it alternated. The crowd was always big; grandparents, cousins, whoever was in town. And noisy. One year my husband took videos of our celebrations — the pictures are wonderful, but there is so much talking chaos, you can’t hear a word.

About the glass garland. So light and fragile. My grandmother produced many strands of it from her suitcase one year. She’s dead now, as is my mother. Many of the beads have been broken, but I cherish the strand that I have. Symbol of happy times. I still have those happy times, but, of course, they are different.

I think I’ll close with a quote from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:
“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a school-boy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to every-body! A happy New Year to all the world! Hallo here! Whoop! Hallo!”

Antique Piecrust Table – Guest Post

The piecrust table is so named because of the little rim around the edge. They have 3 legs which make them an ideal table for serving tea or playing games because they never wobble. (Remember your geometry – 3 points make a plane…) Many of these tables, which became popular in the 18th century, are single, not double like this one, and the top can be tilted so as to move the table out of the way against a wall.

This table belonged to Denise’s grandmother on her mother’s side. She says it was always in the house where her grandmother lived, whether apartment or mobile home. Here’s a memory about her grandmother:

Grandma came over every week, sat at the kitchen table and gave herself a manicure with pepper red polish. I was little and laid on the counter while mother washed my hair. And my sister had to sit in her chair and practice reading “Why Johnny can’t read.” She’d sound out “mmmmoooo.” Grandma was very stylish, always in a snug bodice, tight waist, strappy high heel sandals and glasses with rhinestones. At one point she was dating “Howard.” She dropped by on her way to Los Vegas. Independent, she went to Hawaii and Acapulco by herself. I remember she kept a bowl of matches on top of the fridge. When the grandchildren visited, they got to choose what they wanted for dinner. I chose fishsticks or chef boyardee.

One time when I was there, my great granddaddy came over. He sat in the bean bag chair with an ash tray and said, “We’re going watch the fights. I’ll give you a nickel to bet – don’t tell your mother.”

To those of you who have been following this blog, we will return to the European journey sometime in the future – still to come Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Denmark and Norway. I just needed a break and thought perhaps you did too.

Bone Dish from Antietam – Guest Post

Simple white bone dish, designed to sit next to a plate and hold bones once the meat was eaten. No marking on the bottom.

This dish comes from Don and his daughter, Denise. Don begins the story:

My mother had a great-uncle who had been a child during the Civil War. He told stories of sitting up on a hill, watching the battle of Antietam. [ed: Fought on September 17, 1862, it was the first major battle on Union soil and the bloodiest single-day battle in American history, with casualties totalling about 23,000.] Obviously this made a big impression on him because when he grew up, he made a living scouring the battle site for souvenirs and selling them in a little shop.

We went to visit him when I was young and he gave this dish to Mother. He said that it had been left behind on the battlefield. Not much use for a bone dish in battle, so the family speculates that it was used in blood-letting, still a medical practice at that time. Or held under the chin for shaving.

Now the story takes a slight detour. Evidently this uncle had a near brush with death by lightning. A ball of fire came in through an open window and rushed through a room where he was standing. Denise remembers her grandmother always insisted that the windows be closed if there was a storm, allegedly because of this uncle’s experience.

The dish came to Denise as a memento when her grandmother died. It now has a place of honor in her master bath. Its curve fits right along the sink where it makes a fine soap dish.

Restored Pie Cabinet – Guest Post

Pie Cabinet brought back to life. Richard writes: My great grandmother’s pie cabinet, used to store paint and chemicals by my grandmother in her basement. Repaired and restored in my garage for our china cabinet. One of the shelves had to be replaced because it was ruined.

[ED: Research says the pie cabinet was likely introduced to the United States by the German people who immigrated to Pennsylvania, better known as the Pennsylvania Dutch. This makes sense because Richard’s ancestors were German. The pie safe was generally kept away from the wood stove so that the food could remain as cool as possible. This one has lost the usual punched tin that would have been in the doors. The narrow slits on the side were probably screened. That way the pies and other food stayed ventilated but pests (except for children) couldn’t get in.]

Antique Stereoptican with Travel Slides

Stereoptican. Patented in 1897. No brand name.   This is a very up-to-date model. The slide can be moved to focus the picture and the handle folds up for easy storage. My husband’s father remembers playing with this at his great-grandmother’s house when he was a boy.

For those of you who haven’t had the fortune to look through a steroptican, they were a first in technology. A heavy cardboard slide containing a double photo was inserted into the slots on the left. The photos had been taken at slightly different angles by a camera with two lenses placed 2 1/2 inches apart, about the distance between your eyes. You looked through the silver viewfinder and voila! A 3-D picture.

Invented in England, this gadget was popularized in the U.S. by Oliver Wendal Holmes of all people, who designed a hand-held model in the mid 1850’s.

The slides were often of scenery for the arm-chair traveler. This one is labeled “Storm mists press down on the mountain walls above beautiful Loen Lake, the Nordfjord, Norway.”

In addition to scenery, domestic scenes were popular – mothers with babies, fathers feeding chickens. The one below is labeled “Dutch Courtship.” You can see the double slide which created the 3-D effect. I wonder what my husband’s father made of the picture.

Not all the slides I have are from my husband’s family. My mother also collected them; I believe the Norwegian ones are from her because of my American Field Service sister.

It’s fascinating to think of how people entertained themselves in the past and to try out some of their toys. But don’t try to take away my movies, internet or the chance to write this blog. Otherwise, what would I do on Wednesday and Sunday nights?!

Salt and Pepper Shakers

My grandmother-in-law’s salt and pepper shakers.

The stamp on the bottom seems to indicate they are from the Moriyama Mori-machi factory in Japan, mid 20th century. Hand painted. Well loved.

My grandmother-in-law was a feisty woman. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I was given the engagement ring from her first husband. For a while, we lived close enough so that we could drive out to visit her on holiday weekends. Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July. She lived with her second husband on the border to Nevada and our visits always included a family outing to a casino.

Now I’m not a big gambler. And we were not exactly rolling in dollars. My husband and I would set our limit to 10 bucks each and I’d head for the nickel slots. I could make those nickels last for hours – it was more fun to watch the people than to see my money sliding away.

This grandmother used to cook for us – some of my husband’s favorite foods, like 3-bean salad – and so I chose these as momentos when she died. They sit in my kitchen and remind me of the times we spent together. Strange the things that we want to keep, that come to represent good times. My husband chose the cat canister.

If you have time, I’d love to hear what little object invokes a loved person or place in your past. Just write your comment below. Or if you want to submit a picture and your story, click on “Submission for Family Objects“.

Hope you are enjoying the summer. Stay cool.