Memories of Christmas Dinner Past – Missing Mom

Our silver tinsel Christmas tree, decorated with hand blown glass ornaments, stood regally in our home’s entry hall on Meramec Street, South St. Louis in the Dutchtown neighborhood. Visible from the road, strands of multi-colored cone-shaped ‘C’ style bulbs (as they were called in the 1960’s) brightly illuminated our porch, shining through the glass front door, and stationery French door (complete with mail slot).

Mom, of German heritage, cooked up the tastiest meals, preparing holiday feasts for our large group of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandmothers.

“Turkey should only be served at Thanksgiving!”, she’d exclaim.

The choice of meat for Christmas – baked ham, coated with brown sugar, covered with pineapple rings and maraschino cherries. Beef roast with red onions often accompanied the baked ham.

I’d like to think Mom was a cross between Lucille Ball and Julia Child.  She possessed the hilarity of Lucy mixed in with the masterful culinary techniques of Julia.

Image result for lucille ball pics

The precursor to preparing mashed potatoes – sipping sherry or a Tom Collins from a cordial glass or water goblet. She saved up enough S&H green stamps to buy an entire cut glass collection. Her potatoes always turned out buttery and fluffy, no matter how much she sipped.

Of course, there’d be Bing or Frank on the radio singing carols, with Mom’s voice as back-up, all the while concocting a divine creamed spinach, broccoli, or strawberry jello dish. Light on her feet, she was known to dance around the kitchen table while cooking.

Baking was another art that came easily to Mom. Donning an apron of lavender, crimson and yellow flowers (which I inherited), using the wooden rolling pin (with lacquered green handles) she’d skillfully craft pie dough on the countertop. The rolling pin, a gift from Grandma Muskopf, later was gifted to me.

Dad’s favorite pie was mincemeat – a combination of dried fruit, distilled spices and spirits, and sometimes an unrecognizable meat. (The mincemeat concoction was purchased at Bettendorf’s grocery and didn’t always list the ingredients.) Apple, coconut cream, pumpkin, or lemon meringue pies were sure to find a place on the Christmas menu, as well.

Leaning over the festive table complete with china and linens, Mom, still in her apron, struck a match, lighting the tall white candles of the shiny gold-plated hurricane lamps. As everyone took their seats, Dad carved the ham and the roast, and plates of savory sides were passed.

Long after the meal settled in everyone’s bellies, she’d be up on her feet clearing tables, hand-washing china and silverware. Grandma, aunts and cousins took turns drying the dishes.

Finally, she’d garner a seat at the kitchen table, kick off her black flats, puff a Kool menthol cigarette, followed by a sip of Folgers. Dad, with a twinkle in his eye, admired her from across the room.

The house was warm, family was content, and “It’s a Wonderful Life” played on the RCA console tv, complete with rabbit ears antenna.

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If anyone has foolproof recipes for the following, please send them my way, or feel free to comment below. I have yet to master these dishes. They were favorites from my childhood.

Some of my favorite meals that Mom rocked

  • Russian tea cakes
  • Pan fried chicken and milk gravy
  • Stewed chicken and dumplings
  • Homemade beef chop suey
  • Lemon meringue pie

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Sheree K. Nielsen is the award-winning author of four books  –

Her newest poetry and photography collection, Mondays in October, recently won the Royal Dragonfly Book Award: First Place – Poetry, First Place – Fine Art/Photography, and Honorable Mention – Coffee Table Books. Mondays in October is Sheree’s love song for the beach, and her eternal companion water. She’s dedicated the book to the Siteman Cancer Center Nurses who helped her make chemotherapy more bearable.

Ocean Rhythms Kindred Spirits – An Emerson-Inspired Essay Collection on Travel, Nature, Family and Pets, based on her adventures (Chanticleer Semi-Finalist for Nonfiction Guides – Insight and Instruction)

Folly Beach Dances is her 2015 Da Vinci Eye Award Winner, a healing coffee table book inspired by her lymphoma journey

and coauthor of, Midnight the One-Eyed Cat, 2019 Chanticleer Little Peeps First Place Winner for Early Readers, Montaigne Medal Finalist, and Foreword Indies Review Finalist

Are people still alive, even though they’ve passed on?

Mom & Dad (4th & 5th from right, Grandma Kate, Grandma Mary (far right)

Mom & Dad (4th & 5th from left, Grandma Kate, Grandma Mary (far right)

I read an article by Bill McClellan in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on Wednesday titled “No one to name faces in photos”.

Although I didn’t quite understand why the story was titled this, I read on.

I was touched by Mr. McClellan’s urgency to look at old photos tucked away in a corner of his home, after his father passed on.  He cleaned out the mobile home his dad and his mother lived in, all the while wondering what items to save.

He sifted through photos of his sister, dog, and parents while living in Chicago over 50 years ago.  There were photos of his grandmother from Belfast and his sister Sarah.

There were antique photographs – you know, the sharp and crisp kind, of days gone by.  People got dressed up for special occasions.  Or for no reason at all.

As he sifted through the cardboard box of memories, he realized that no one alive could identify mom and dad’s friends in the photos.

The line that struck me most from the article goes like this:

“They say a person is really dead only when nobody alive really thinks of them.”

I’ve been thinking about this statement for two days.  I wholeheartedly agree.

Although my Mom and Dad have passed on, I think about them daily.  I pray for them daily.

I often think about my grandmother on my Dad’s side, Mary.

I remember the Saturday morning drive to visit her in the Soulard district of St. Louis.

I remember walking up two flights of stairs, and the pungent smell of liver and onions wafting across the back yard.

I remember her opening the weathered and paint-chipped door to her apartment, and always being surprised to see us.

I remember her broken-Lithuanian accent and her frail, arthritic hands.

I remember she used to shake her fist at Dad, and curse at him in her native language.

I remember she used to call me “She-ree” and slip a twenty dollar bill in my hand, each time we’d visit.

I remember her smile, the wrinkles at the corner of her lips, and that sometimes she didn’t wear her dentures.

I remember she was short of stature, and had a huge heart.

I remember that she was humble.

Daily she’d trek to Soulard Market by foot for vegetables and fruits with her rolling cart.

I remember that when she passed on, my Mom, Dad, brother, and sister-in-law helped clean out her tiny walk-up apartment on 8th street.  One of the interesting artifacts we found was a bag of birdseed, within a glass jar, within another bag of birdseed, within another glass jar.  I suppose she couldn’t let go of the memory of her pet canary.

I remember a photo of my grandfather with a handlebar mustache.  Although an illness took him early in life, I felt like we’d met. The picture hung above her dusty tattered sofa.

So I guess a person is really dead, if no one thinks of them.  I don’t like the word dead.  I try to use other synonyms when referring to ‘that’ word.

I think of all those loved ones who’ve gone before me – their spirits are still alive in my heart.  And I can see their faces in front of me.  Almost like I can reach out and touch their physical presence.

Thank you Bill McClellan for your article.  Although the purpose of the article may not be what you intended, it stirred up great memories for me.