I spent every Christmas with Ma and Pa all my life since Mama would go “home” no matter what was going on in our house. We usually went to Ma and Pa’s a week or several days in advance. But the preparations were well under way.
I always played a part in these preparations, even though it might seem to be a small part. I went down to the cellar to bring up any canned food, that is until the copperhead was found among the jars and everything had to be moved to the attic that summer. My legs were stronger than Ma’s so I went up and down the narrow attic steps.
The best part of all was cutting the Christmas tree about two weeks before Christmas. She and I had picked out that special tree months in advance so we knew just where to go to get it. She put the little cedar tree in a bucket of sand, covered the bucket with pretty paper and set this tree in the center of the old dining room table where it sat until Christmas Day. We decorated that little tree with the most fantastic ancient ornaments that were probably from Pa’s mother’s collection. I would kill for those ornaments today but alas, they burned with the old house years later. Once Ma heard about something called Angel Hair, which was spun glass, which was to be put on the tree. She sent for some and we tried it. We both itched something terrible and she threw it all away. All in all, I thought that tree the most beautiful tree in the land.
Ma always chose a few old hens for baking and penned them up in a coop to fatten them. I remember that she would examine them to see if they were laying, and if not, they were going to be dinner. I have no idea how she could tell but she was usually right. If, when dressing an old hen, she found a cluster of little eggs, she would moan about having killed one of her layers. Then the special country ham was chosen and marked for Christmas.
One big job was to clean the house from top to bottom, which meant scrubbing the old wood floors, dusting, and putting her good sheets on the beds. Out would come the prettiest pillowcases and pillows to go on top of the beds. Her kitchen would be put straight and ready for baking. Ma was such an organized housekeeper that this preparation didn’t take a lot of time. At Ma’s house, everything had a place and it was always kept there. I could be blindfolded and find anything in that old house.
Ma always sent Pa to the nearest little grocery, which was four miles away, for the special needs for her baking. She wanted those wonderful, big coconuts which I found out later, after I owned a grocery, were from the Philippines as opposed to the smaller, dark coconuts from Mexico. She also needed cans of crushed pineapple, fresh vanilla flavoring from the Raleigh man, fresh oranges, lots of sugar and many other things that I have probably forgotten. She made coconut cakes, orange cakes and pineapple cakes but that was to be done just a very few days before the big day.
One chore I really loved to do and which she always saved for me was grating the coconut. I knew how to bore holes in the coconut, drain the juice for later use, peel the white meat inside and then grate it on an old grater. Ma would inspect it every few minutes because I always grated my fingers, too and she would pick out a little bloody spot and make me give up the job. The reason I loved to grate her coconuts was that I got to eat the tiny pieces that were too little to grate. I wonder what Ma would think of putting the coconut through a food processor. I doubt that she would have used one.
Ma was the greatest cook I have ever known and her cakes were known throughout the family and friends as the best. If I could manage to be at their house when she was baking her cakes, I loved to “lick the bowls”.
But Christmas would be over too soon, as at your house, and, after two or three days, we all went home to store memories till another Christmas. Those two dear grandparents were the sweetest, gentlest people in the world. I can never remember either of them saying, “Now you run along, Rosie, I’m busy” or, ‘Now, Honey, you are in the way. Go on out to play.” I cherish the memories of these two wonderful grandparents and the Christmases of long ago.
Please feel free to call me at 270-522-3632 or write to Ronella Stagner, 137 Main St., Cadiz, KY 42211.