Merry Christmas! Happy family are having dinner at home. Celebration holiday and togetherness near tree.
By LELA TORGESEN WADE
Comparing my family to those of my schoolmates, mine was quite small. But when we got together for Thanksgiving and Christmas the laughter nearly raised the roof. I can still hear Daddy quoting his favorite uncle – a German who had married one of Grandpa T’s sisters – “It’s yust one tamn ding after another!”
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, Daddy’s older brother lived in what was then a small town northeast of Atlanta. He and his wife had four children. We celebrated every other Thanksgiving and every other Christmas there. They in turn traveled to our farm in the Blue Ridge foothills. Then we’d meet either at our house or with my maternal grandparents who lived just up the road. Daddy’s younger brother Howard lived nearby for a while, but then moved to Washington state. He was the family prankster.
Auntie, my mother’s aunt, lived in the cottage a few yards from our house. Her daughter Harriet lived about 20 miles away with her family. When Auntie wasn’t present, Harriet and my mother tattled about tricks they’d played on her as young girls, such as putting cracker crumbs between her sheets, and filling her chamber pot with water.
Daddy’s father lived in Atlanta for a while, then retired to Florida. Grandma T had passed away just after World War II ended.
Daddy and Uncle Harald regaled us with stories about our relatives who had remained in Norway. Their father was one of 13 children, several of whom chose not to emigrate to America. One of his aunts – not a young woman – had lived at the top of a mountain. Hearing through the grapevine that her sister was sick, she cooked a large pot of soup. Then she strapped on her skis and delivered the soup to her sister, living at the bottom of the mountain, without spilling a drop. Norwegians learn to ski as soon as they can walk.
There were solemn moments as well. Grandpa T’s brother Joseph, a member of the U.S. Navy, was lost at sea during the war.
Most of Mama’s ancestors came to the American colonies very early. Four sailed over on the Mayflower. The Dutch, Scottish and Irish arrived soon after. The French settled in Canada in the 1600s.
Our main course for Thanksgiving and Christmas was either turkey or ham with numerous side dishes. My maternal grandmother was the champion cake baker, while Mama was best at pies. Dessert is still my favorite part of a meal.
Other constants we could always count on in December included two whole weeks off from school; Daddy’s walk into our woods with an ax, returning with a beautiful Christmas tree; Mama’s retrieving the boxes of ornaments from the attic; we children decorating the tree and hanging our stockings on the mantel; sledding down the pasture hill when it snowed, then warming ourselves before our fireplace, handmade of large rocks collected from the fields of our farm; attending the Christmas Eve service at church and having parts in the children’s play.
There were few gifts exchanged in our family. I usually received a book from Auntie, a homemade dress from my maternal grandparents, and one toy my parents had seen me mark in the Sears & Roebuck catalog. Aunt Lida always sent gifts from her home in Missouri as well.
We were grateful for whatever we had. Folks were still recovering from shortages caused by the war. Their families had also lived through World War I and the Dust Bowl… and they remembered. My father told us, “Always live below your means and you won’t have to worry about money.”
I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas for well over half a century. Family memories are my dearest gifts.