A Christmas Story
cold and crisp,
the air between each time
crystal clear or full of light wings falling/
fat with fluff
sailing where they please, drifting sideways in the breeze with crystal memories
See them resting quietly in the trees?
On the ground adding curve to rugged spaces giving shadow’s warm embraces?
Hear them dampening sound with suspense and quiet anticipation?
See the ground with sparkling memories of all the Christmas’ past?
Each snowflake reflecting back the light from each, its very own star?
Or so, we liked to think.
The Stage Is Set
And so the stage is set for the most memorable Christmas of my lifetime when as a ten year old boy the entire family (aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents) gathered at our house for a rare celebration of gift giving on Christmas Eve when a surprise guest came into our midst adding even more magic to that magical time.
Stranded At the Depot/A Stranger In the Night
This was the year my grandfather Dusty Peck, who worked at the Grand Trunk Railroad Depot brought home a guest from Canada stranded at the station with no place to sleep on Christas Eve after blizzard conditions forced cancellation of passenger train service to Chicago.
We welcomed her into our family as an honored.guest.
Knowing rules would be more lax in her presence, we give little effort to restrain our laughter and sense of mirth reveling in the joy we create as our Christmas gift to her.
High Jinks and Hilarity
I can still see her sitting next to the fireplace in the blue Naugahyde chair her head thrown back, mouth wide open laughing along with everyone when Uncle Bill lost his balance while bouncing around the living room on a pogo stick, knocked over a lamp then rolled onto the shade while trying to stand up.
Up In Flames
This is the same year that most of the frilly girly gifts my two girl cousins received went up in flames after being accidentally gathered together with all the Christmas wrappings and burned In the fireplace.
Everyone is sympathetic while my one cousin cries. My brother and I think it’s hilarious!
This is also the year that Deac decides we’ll have a traditional style roasted pig with an apple in its mouth for dinner on Christmas Day..
Our oven isn’t big enough for a whole pig so a baker named Mr. Gregory who lives in the apartment above the bakery downtown gives us permission to use his big gas fired oven with rotating shelves to slow roast the pig all day.
Shortly after sunrise Christmas morning with temperatures below freezing, we park in the alley behind the bakery. The back door is unlocked. Ten feet from the back door we see the wide stainless steel door of the big oven.
Mr. Gregory, who bakes bread starting at four a.m. every morning doesn’t mind lighting the gas oven for us before we arrive. We don’t expect what happens next.
When Deac pulls down on the stainless steel door handle warm dry, desert like heat washes over our faces and hands reminding us how cold it is a few feet behind us just outside the back door.
A long chain moving over sprockets turned by an electric motor pulls the shelves around blue flames hissing through b.b sized holes along a metal tube the width of the oven.
Our pig rests on a square cast iron skillet with curled edges so that juice won’t leak inside Mr. Gregory’s oven AND to capture the juice that my grandmother, will use to make her delicious ham gravy.
After turning the motor off we tent the pig with an extra heavy strip of aluminum foil folded down the middle. Deac uses a wooden bakers pole to slide the cast iron skillet into the center close, but not too close to the blue flames.
Before leaving we turn the motor on, pull the back door shut tightly and drive home.
Every Two Or Three Hours
Every two or three hours during the day, we drive downtown to the bakery, to check on the progress of our roasting pig. The blue gas flames light the inside of the oven just enough for us to see it turning golden brown as it slowly rolls past our eyes …
Later That Afternoon/A Pig In A Blanket
Later that afternoon around five o’clock the pig is cooked to a dark, rich, golden color. It doesn’t need to be roasted any longer.
We use the bakers pole to pull the big skillet to the edge of the open door where we cover it with more aluminum foil.
Wearing thick insulated gloves we lift the pig and iron skillet from the oven, carry it down the back steps to the car.
We place iron skillet covered with more foil into the trunk of the car with blankets over the top.
While Deac starts the car I run back inside to close the oven door and make sure the back door is slammed tightly shut!
On the way home we laugh about having a pig in a blanket in the trunk of the car!
We need two dining tables to comfortably seat ten people; one aunt, one
uncle, two girl cousins, a grandmother, a grandfather, a brother, Deac and Donna and our guest from Canada.
Deac carves the meat into chunks that are so tender they fall apart when served. A combination of flavors; cloves and cinnamon and garlic and onion fill the air. I finally understand what “melts in your mouth” means!
My grandmother’s ham gravy forms golden pools on top of Donna’s creamy smooth mashed potatoes.
The menu includes scalloped corn and scalloped oysters, fresh green beans quick fried in bacon fat with sautéed onions pieces of bacon tossed with apple cider vinegar and a touch of sugar.
My grandfather eats mint jelly with some venison Deac set aside as a special treat.
My cousins, my brother and I drink tall glasses of milk, my grandparents drink black coffee with their meal while the adults drank red wine.
For desert there’s apple and pecan pie (my favorite). Each year Deac makes a creamy rich sauce in a double boiler from butter, sugar and an egg yolk that makes even fruitcake taste good!
After everyone raves about Grandma Peck’s apple pie we get a good laugh when she tells us it’s ‘mock apple pie’ made with Ritz Crackers!
The adults keep us entertained with funny or interesting stories about growing up or daily life.
We relive Uncle Bill’s accident with the pogo stick. Each of us tells what we saw from different points of view. Each story is a different version but they’re all the same and we laugh a little harder with each re-telling.
My brother said it looked like Uncle Bill was shot from a cannon when he flew into the table knocking over the lamp.
The lady from Canada tells us her sister lives in Chicago where she works as a bookkeeper at the Chicago stockyards and that she lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario where she books fishing expeditions into Canadian bush country on the Alcona Railroad.
They Met At the County Fair
Grandma and Grandpa tell how they met at the Shiawassee County Fair during a band concert in 1918. Grandma tells how hard they worked growing up on farm 10 or 15 miles outside of Owosso tending the big family garden, canning fruits and vegetables all summer long, stocking up for the long cold winters, caring for the farm animals seven days a week, gathering hay before hay “balers’’or harvesting corn with implements that seem ancient today.plus there was no electricity or indoor plumbing.. Despite the hardships Grandma Peck says she had a wonderful childhood growing up on a farm out in the country with lots of brothers and sisters.
Tap Dancing On the Radio
Donna and Aunt Jo talked about the beautiful costumes my grandmother made for them when they tap danced at gatherings in different towns and
cities all around the state. They re-lived their experience riding the train to Chicago where, since television hadn’t been invented yet, they tap danced on a popular radio program!
The Episodic Past
I have many boyhood memories from Christmases past but, they are all episodic. Scattered memories from different years.
There was the Christmas Eve I rode around town with Deac leaving turkeys on the doorsteps of families not as fortunate as ours.
There’s a partial memory I have of a very young boy walking down the aisle at the Congregational Church cradling his favorite gift, a white football that he leaves at the alter for some less fortunate boy or girlThen there’s the year I got the second best gift ever (the first being a new bicycle) a new pair of black figure skates with runners that, as Deac pointed out, were made of Sheffield Steel.
Christmas Morning/Ice Skating In Winter Wonderland
Very early one Christmas morning after the gifts are opened, the sun barely casting a gray shadow onto the world I grab my new skates, sneak out the side door, cross the road walking west a block and a half along the north side of the athletic field to the ice pond in the park where I skate in a magical world devoid of human movement or sound. It feels like I’m dancing with an invisible partner carving out figure 8’s any size I want, free to skate as fast as I want then turn and use the sharp teeth at the front of my blades to cut curved grooves in the solid ice showering fractured ice crystals curling to the sides like broken waves while stopping on a dime.
All the Christmas memories are special. But, the year we celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve while making the Canadian lady a part of our family made this Christmas celebration even more special since all the inns in town were closed that Christmas Eve. It almost seemed like she was meant to be with us. Her presence was a gift releasing a spark that added extra measures of laughter and joy. By her presence we were elevated into becoming the best people we could be even more full of love, transcending the needs of the immediate family.
It seems strange that THAT Christmas is the only Christmas I can still clearly remember from beginning to end. By the time our guest departed next day she had become a special part of our lives. She will ALWAYS be a part off me. A vivid memory from beginning to end that after 50 years I can still share since otherwise how could I have written this story!
My Christmas wish is that may we re-live Christmas each year with renewed appreciation while adding more wonderful memories each year better than the last.
Merry 2018 Christmas
Happy New Year to all and
To all a
From Kurt and Jodi Struble and the Struble/Logan clan
Or as Tiny Tim said, “God bless us all. Every one.’”’