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

For Mother’s Day…..Reminiscing about Uncle Willie’s Farm

me and mom backyard Meramec002 crop

Growing up, my best memories were the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of South St. Louis.

The corner confectionary sold rainbow-colored candy buttons and chunk chocolate. Housed in a shiny glass case, the candy was the main act, on show for all to see.

The brick five-and-dime store on Meramec Street, about three blocks from my house, sold everything imaginable. The same store where my cousin Carol, pounded her fists and kicked her feet in a full-out temper tantrum, because my Aunt Katie refused to buy her what she wanted.

Ted Drewes Frozen Custard on Grand Avenue, still standing to this day, made superb lemon floats. I remember many reflective walks to the custard stand with my friend and neighbor Cindy Winschel.

As an adult, I loved hearing Mom’s childhood stories. She frequented Uncle Willie’s Illinois farm as a young girl, and spent lazy weekends exploring with sisters Georgia Lee and Isabella, often getting into trouble with her cousins, the Wagner kids.

What I remember most about Mom is that she was tough. Tough as nails. And funny.

So here’s a tribute to my Mom ‘Gladys’, and to all moms everywhere.

It’s a story that was published in the St. Louis Post Dispatch on October 13, 2010 titled Visiting Uncle Willie’s Farm. I hope you like it.

Visiting Uncle Willie's Farm - STL Post 2010001Happy Mother’s Day…no matter what kind of mom you are….even moms of animal children.

Visiting Uncle Willie's Farm - STL Post 2010002

Backfire on the Beach

Just about every other year Mom’s side of the family would make the trek in July to a familiar spot in the Southeast United States — Santa Rosa Beach, Florida.  This would be the first time hubby and I joined them.

During the day, we’d bask in the crystal waters and bake our Midwestern ivory skin in the hot sun.

On the Fourth of July, the family pulled together their culinary skills.  A cookout was inevitable with all the regular holiday fixins’ – BBQ’d burgers and hot dogs, potato salad, coleslaw, and a red white and blue cake (with sparklers).

After dinner and cleanup, we gazed upward as the sky turned a cornflower blue to a blue violet hue.   We collected our beach chairs and loungers, and drug them to a comfy spot on the sand in anticipation of the spectacular show awaiting us.

The stunning view of fireworks lit up the night sky — Destin in one direction, and Seaside from the other.  There were rosettes, stars and fish designs high in the atmosphere.  And the colors — neon green, gold and cranberry red.  Phenomenal.

My second cousin, Matt, brought his own fireworks — four grocery bags worth.  He said he’d ‘got a good deal’ for the whole shebang by trading pizzas for them.  He used to manage a pizza joint back home.

Well, I wished I’d brought a protective suit to wear.  No tellin’ what direction those noisemakers were headed.  Satellite launchers and cone fountains dive- bombed the beach.  No ankle, eye, or armpit was safe.

I laughed hard.  And wished I’d brought a Depends!

After the display (which took close to two hours), we collected debris from the beach.  Grabbing a cold beverage from the cooler, we settled into our chairs.  The adults watched as the kids spun sparklers in perfect circles.   Others (including me) made cool patterns by placing sparklers strategically in the sand.

We talked.  We shared.  We laughed.

At evening’s close, one by one, we retreated back to the security of our rental condos like tiny hermit crabs.

Since then, the family dynamic has changed in more ways than one.  As I think about that day, I realize it was the ‘best’ Fourth of July.  Many elements made up that fun and zany memory.

The beach.  The fireworks.  The sky.

Family.

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Chance Meeting?

Recently, I attended a local networking group meeting on Thursday.   A year had passed since my first visit to observe the group.

Call it intuition or a gut feeling, but I sensed a palpable reason drawing me to the meeting.

I arrived late and took a seat. I noticed the group had grown.  I was impressed.

Each member commanded the floor and spoke of business referrals.

As the meeting ended, it took on a decidedly personal feel.  One gentlemen offered free beverages at his diner and others talked about local fundraisers.

Although my reason for attending had been to acquire information about the group, network and market myself – I felt a deeper connection to one woman who spoke about her uncle recently diagnosed with an invasive cancer.  She asked if anyone had information on this subject to please talk to her before she left the meeting.

Coincidentally, my cousin Alan was struggling through this same issue with his girlfiend.  Diagnosed a few months ago, she was currently undergoing chemotherapy.

After the meeting, I approached her.  (We’ll call her Sarah).

I introduced myself again, and suggested she get in touch with my cousin.  I remembered Alan’s number was saved on my cell phone.

“I’ll just give him a quick call.”

As I dialed Alan’s number, I silently prayed for solace and comfort for Sarah.

“Hello,” a soothing voice answered.

“Hey Alan, it’s your cousin, Sheree.”

“I thought it might be you.  What’s up?”

I explained my reason for the call, and Alan requested “I put her on the phone.”

Sarah spoke with him for more than twenty minutes, jotting information on her notepad.  During this time, I occupied my mind studying the beautiful paintings, photography and watercolors scattered about the meeting room wall, and examining my new business cards.

Normally, I’m very impatient waiting for someone, but today my patience came from a higher source.

After the conversation, Sarah handed the phone back to me.  I bid Alan goodbye, and thanked him for chatting with her.

With a smile of relief on Sarah’s face, she leaned forward and wrapped her arms around me.

“Alan said to give you a big hug.”

Sarah admitted her spirits were lifted by her conversation with Alan.

“He shouldn’t be alive,” she said, recounting numerous close calls of losing his life.  “He’s a fighter.  If it wasn’t for his faith, he wouldn’t have made it through.”

After I left the meeting room, I’d realized that my networking today resulted in the best referral I could have ever given – my cousin, Alan.  His words of encouragement allowed Sarah to handle shattering news with calmness and confidence.

And I am certain this connection wasn’t a coincidence.  It came through God’s grace and almighty power.