Friday, November 03, 2006

Conjuring up Some Good Memories

The writer's group I belong to did something for halloween - anyone who wanted to participate and who had an article of some type done up could submit it to the administrator of the group and she put these pieces into a collection of articles, published it as an e-book and it was distributed as a "freebie" to anyone wishing to receive a copy of it via the internet and I submitted a piece I had written about two years ago to the contents.

Now, the administrator and several of the real writers (and wannabes like me) are going to try to do a similar project for the Christmas season. So tonight, I sat down here and tried to pull together a little piece pertaining to memories of Christmas traditions within my family - mainly dealing with the ethnic type from my Swedish ancestry.

I did get a piece written but apparently my creative juices were in hiding as I wasn't really pleased with my finished product but shipped it off anyway. What the heck - it was my sentiments on the subject at this point in time.

But, as I was trying to compose my thoughts into something readable, it did bring back so very many memories of my grandparents, my aunts and uncles and cousins and our celebrations every year at Christmas here for the first 18 years of my life.

Remembering - or trying to recall - all the things my Mom and Grandma would work together on - the special bakings they did, the way the house looked, mainly though the smells that would emanate from the place, changing from day to day as they would change the recipes du jour from one type of cookie or bread being made to another. Or the foul smells that permeated the house for about 2 weeks or better while Grandma would have the dried codfish (Lutfisk, in Swedish) soaking that would be our Christmas Eve supper, year after year! How something that could smell as atrocious as that fish did in the preparatory phase and yet, once cooked up, would taste so good - just so delicious - is hard to concieve it is possible things like that can happen!

Gosh, how I miss that particular entry into our diet once a year! I have no clue as to how to fix that fish, not even as to where it could even be purchased nor do I think I want to try to go through all the nasty preparations that are needed even if I could get the fish in the first place.

Thinking back in time - over 50 years ago - it's hard to remember specifics about those holiday celebrations but easy to recall how wonderful those times once were all the same.

I can see my Grandma - hair pulled back into a bun - working over batches of cookie dough, mixing up the different kinds of breads she made too for those holiday meals and especially, I can remember her and my mother as they cooked the veal, ground it up and made it into a meat gelatin that I loved - but only at Christmas time. If they had ever made that dish any other time of the year, it would probably have sat in the refrigerator, gone uneaten, simply because jellied veal only tastes right served at Christmas time. Well, to my tastebuds, anyway!

I don't think I have had pickled herring since probably 1963 or maybe 1964. I know I've never bought any at all of that stuff in the past thirty years anyway but gosh how I used to enjoy eating that too at Christmas.

I remember too how the teenagers from our church would gather after the midnight church services and go around throughout the township to homes of members of the church and sing Christmas carols and then, be invited in and usually offered a shot of whiskey or a small glass of wine. Keep in mind, these were all young folks who were, in the eyes of the law, minors and yet, it was perfectly acceptable to the elders of the church to offer them alcoholic beverages at that time of year! Today, actions like that would likely see some staunch members of the congregation under arrest for contributing to the delinquency of minors! How times have changed, huh?

It was a different time, a different era and one that I sure do miss too!

Just a much more light-hearted atmosphere back in those days. Celebrating the spirit of Christmas then seemed so much more sincere, more real then than it seems to me to be today.

Why is that?

Probably because back then I had no responsibility for anything expected to be done for the holidays actually getting done and today, the food preparation almost all falls to me to do it. Yes, my girls help a little here and there but overall, the bulk of the cooking and baking - that's Mom's work detail there!

Back in the 80's when I was working as a waitress in those years, it was nothing for me to spend all night at least one night before Christmas, sometimes two or more nites, in the kitchen with the stereo blasting Christmas songs and carols and me singing along to them while I worked away preparing numerous different types of cookies. Most years, I would bake at least 15, sometimes 20 different kinds of cookies, some done in double or triple quantities to the recipe as well and it would take every tupperware container I could lay my hands on to use to store those goodies too then.

I would pack up big cake taker type containers with these cookies and take them to work with me - passing the cookie box around to all the tables at the restaurant where I worked, offering the customers a little bit of my own variety there of "Christmas Cheer." After I left working at the restaurant and while I worked for 7 years at AccuWeather in State College, I would continue baking huge quantities of cookies and taking them in to work there - sitting the container on the big table in the break room or in the area where I worked and the word would spread throughout the building that I had brought cookies in. The kids at that place would flock to the table and snag cookies, stand there and eat them all the while joking, laughing and talking and there was a really warm spirit to all coming from those plain little cookies! The religious differences we all had were cast aside as we came together for some pure and simple sharing and bonding and I'd like to think that is all part of what the Christmas spirit is all about anyway.

Yes, those too were good days - also all behind me now too.

This year - will I bake a kazillion cookies again or do like I did last year and only bake maybe 2 or 3 kinds and only a couple dozen of them at that? Who knows. Maybe I will. At least this year I feel a lot better physicially speaking about doing something like that. And, for the sake of my grandchildren too, I'd like to leave memories for them of Grammy J baking lots and lots of cookies with them in mind in the process too.

Maybe years from now when I am long gone, they'll sit back and remember the smells, the sights of all those containers of cookies and think about Grammy making them, all baked with love, just for them!

1 comment:

LL Rucker said...

Jeni, our memories are what keeps us young!! My Granny made the best biscuits I ever put in my mouth and my grandma , the best rhubarb pie. SO, now that I'm the granny, I have to wonder if they really were the best I ever ate, or simply the best I ever ate at the time.
We can only hope that our children and grandbabies will someday smell something that will transport them back to a time ago whne Granny (or Grammy) was in her kitchen turning out yummies and filling them with love.
There are times when a smell of buttermilk biscuits risiing sky highh in a hot over takes me back to a time when my biggest worry was how many lightening bugs I could cram in a mason jar!
Good blog, my friend.