At the Mcclure Home
1940s and 1950s
The tree was in the corner of the living room, lights showing off all the decoration that were careful places on the branches. Some were old treasured ornaments, but usually every year Mom bought a dozen new pretty up-to-date ornaments just to keep up with the times.
My Grandma and Grandpa Cogswell had a tree between the kitchen and living room in their warm basement house. The earliest memories I have of that tree is the very old ornaments that were shaped like birds – I loved the red cardinals. There were blue birds, robins and yellow-black medowlarks scattered on the branches. But the most interesting of all were all the small candles, setting in gold holders, clipped to the branches of the tree. The candles were never lit. My 4 year old eyes starred and my hands lightly touched all the beautiful ornaments intertwined with gold rope. I still think Grandma’s tree was the prettiest tree I have ever seen in my 70-some years!
I can remember all the Christmas Eve’s at our farm home with presents under the tree, creating excitement in the minds of my brothers and sisters. I tried to guess what was under the tree for me – and even pinched and shook a few when Mom was not looking!
The tradition at our house (I tried to carry this on with my family) was Christmas gift exchange to every one on Christmas Eve. Grandma and Grandpa Cogswell, Uncles, Les and Marvin, Moms sister, Aunt Ruth and Uncle Norman (before kids) would arrive around 3 in the afternoon at our house, loaded down with gifts. They were stacked under the tree. I could not keep my eyes off all the beautifully wrapped, hand tied bow, packages. Commercial bows and scotch tape was not available. Can you imagine having to wrap a gift today without those conveniences? Grandma and Mom were very good at wrapping gifts the old fashioned way.
The different smells coming from Moms big kitchen was mouth watering. Mom was making her famous home made chicken noodle soup. Noodles were made the day before and dried on dish towels, laid out on the table top. Mom made the very best noodles!!
She made Chili from the hamburger that was ground at the meat lockers where Dad took one of his cows to be butchered. The beans were from his field, thrashed, sacked to be sold or bartered for groceries. My sisters and I had the job of sorting out the rocks, dirt, sticks in the beans. Mom would be so embarrassed if someone got a rock in her Chili! AND it was usually our Uncle Guy, Dads brother, that stayed with us off and on through the years!! She simmered the beans the day before and on Christmas Eve morning she browned the hamburger with lots of onions. She stired it into the pot of beans along with a “brick of chili con carne” she bought at the grocery store in “bricks.” It had all the seasonings and ingredients that made great Chili. She also added home canned tomatoes, a couple shakes of chili powder, salt and pepper. The big pot sat on the back of the stove to simmer all day. I can smell that now!!
She also made a small pot of oyster stew for Grandpa Cogswell. He is the reason I learned to make this and enjoy it as much as he did.
Her homemade chicken-noodles were the big event of Christmas Eve. She went to a lot of work to make this soup so flavorful that you had to have a second bowl! She made loaves of bread that we slathered with real butter. She had Saltine Crackers to go with the Chili. Slices of different types,of cheese, my favorite being “Longhorn,” my Grandpa’s favorite. We cannot forget the home canned dill pickles, bread and butter pickles, the little sweet pickles and the cinnamon apple rings.
She baked pies starting the week before. The home canned mincemeat pie was Dad’s and my favorite. She cooked down venison, raisins, apples and spices in the fall and canned it. She added apples to the minced meat and baked it in her pie crusts made with lard. No store bought pie crust that I now use. I mastered the pie crust making a long time ago – but I love the store bought kind for the ease of baking pies now. She also made apple, cherry, lemon meringue and chocolate pies.
Her Christmas cookie making is carried on by my little sister, Elaine Oster’s, daughter Amy Oster. She follows all of “her Grandma’s” recipes and puts out heaping amounts of cookies. Then she follows up by making “Grandma’s fudge.” Mom started the first of November with her cookie making, carefully wrapping and storing then in the gigantic freezer located on the porch. She made oatmeal with raisins, great tatsting chocolate chip, Date-Nut Goodies, tons and tons of sugar cookies and Ginger Molasses Cookies. Poor Mans Cookies were iced and cut in bars. Can’t forget the peanut butter cookies! Coconut Dainties-that took egg whites beaten into fluffy peaks. I loved these! Then the pans and pans of brownies and fudge. Later years she made pan upon pan of Rice Crispy’s Bars. She should have owned the Rice Crispy and marshmallow companies. Her grandkids always had one of these in their hands when they came to visit Grandma!
Soups eaten and bowls empty, buttered bread gone, pickles and cheese disappeared, pies topped with old fashioned whipped cream with a touch of Watkins Vanilla, eaten – dishes washed and put away, it was time to gather in the living room and open presents.
When we were smaller, Dad passed out the presents, one at a time, reading very loud to who it was for and who it was from. After you opened your gift and everyone ooohed and awwed over it, usually something homemade and lovingly created, Dad would get another package from under the tree and deliver it to the next anxiously awaiting person . The wrapping paperoff the packages was sometimes folded neatly and the ribbons and bows were always saved! In early years I always got home sewn dresses and doll clothes that Grandma made. One year Grandpa made me a doll house out of a wooden orange create. Grandma made little curtains and a hand braded rug for the floor. Grandpa made a table, chairs and a bed. Grandma made the little quilt on the bed. It was so special and I played with that for many many years. I wish I had it now!!
The last gift exchanged and everyone sleepy and tired. it was time for our guests to go home, so Santa could come Christmas morning. Grandpa and Dad made made sure gifts were packed for each family and the cars started to warm up. Everyone putting coats, boots, scarves and gloves on, we all got big, big hugs from them as they stepped out in the cold, dark, snowy night, into their warm cars. Grandpa did not have far to drive, about a mile away, but Uncle Norman had to drive to his wheat farm in Pierce, Colorado, some 20 miles away. I often thought of them driving in the cold darkness, while I was snug in my warm bed.
Our living room cleaned up and our presents displayed neatly under the tree, it was time to get our jammies on and jump in bed so Santa could come and leave presents for us to open in the morning. Dad went to great lengths and detail to make Santa very believable! “Well, of course there is a Santa – you better get in bed or he will just fly over and you will not get any presents at all.” We pulled the covers up over our chins and closed our eyes tightly!
I have no idea where Mom and Dad kept bicycles, tricycles, scooters, wagons, big dolls and clothes for Santa to put under the tree. It was magic when we woke up in the morning to a pile of beautiful toys. Each one of us had our own pile of presents so we could sit under the tree, look and play with. I got dolls and new church clothes each year. On my 12th birthday I finally got a big blue, girls Schwinn bicycle. Learning to ride a bike in the snow does not work!! And in the spring the gravel driveways were not so friendly either! After beggin and begging, I finally was allowed to ride my bike to school, two miles away, in the spring sun shine. And yes, on gravel roads. Lots of spills, scrapped knees and elbows were involved in the determination of proudly riding my bicycle to school.
The smell of cinnamon rolls coming out of the oven and hot chocolate was Christmas breakfast. The rest of the day we played with our toys as Mom and Dad finally relaxed in the living room, most of the time Mom would be just staring in the distance, as she rarely sat down. Dad would be in his big green over stuffed chair fast asleep, occasionally letting out a big loud snore.
And that is MY Christmas story. I hope you all have made lots of memories and stored them in your memory bank, as they are more precious as the years go by – just ask me!!
Merry Christmas, God Bless your family and may God Bless our great United States of America.
We need to say double prayers each night for Peace On Earth and Good Will To ALL Men!!