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

Edelweiss, Edelweiss…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhile frenetically searching for something in my laptop bag this morning, I came upon the lyrics of my Mom’s favorite song, Edelweiss.

Finding that little piece of paper allowed me to pause, take a deep breath, and slow down my pace.

My friend Mark sang Edelweiss at Mom’s funeral, and it brought back memories of  her wonderful garden.  She tended to her flowers with skill and the utmost care.

Mom would often times sing “Edelweiss” while conjuring up savory meals in the kitchen.  Once in a while, Dad would whisk her away in a waltz around the kitchen or living room.

Here are the lyrics – so simple and yet, so beautiful.  While I don’t have a photo of the mountain flower found in Europe, I’ll share with you one a couple pics I snapped of white flowers.

“Edelweiss, Edelweiss

Every morning you greet me

Small and white, clean and bright

You look happy to meet me

Blossom of snow may you bloom and grow

Bloom and grow forever

Edelweiss, Edelweiss

Bless my homeland forever.”

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