We Were Home

When I feel the need to go home and hanker for something good to read, I reach for Jan Karon, Fannie Flagg, and Janet Sheridan. The following Christmas story was written by Janet Sheridan. I hope you enjoy it. MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!!!

 

 

The Christmas homes of my childhood and adolescence were never the glossy homes of Christmas advertising, imposing structures lit by evenly-spaced lights filled with artistically decorated rooms inhabited by smiling families with color-coordinated clothing and perfect teeth.

Our pioneer-era house in Lake Shore, Utah, had elusive drafts, cranky doors, freezing bedrooms and a bathroom made hazardous by the ongoing battle between its faulty plumbing and our frustrated father. But it offered us the comforts of sitting sleepy-eyed in the morning by the living-room oil heater, crawling into the freshness of line-dried sheets on wash-day and listening to the ticking of the grandfather clock that echoed through the rooms like a heartbeat.

At Christmastime, glowing multi-colored bulbs lit the ornaments we carried home from school to hang on our tree and shimmered on the tinsel we dutifully hung strand by strand until, discouraged by the task’s endless nature, we decided tinsel looked best when tossed on by the handful. The smells of Mom’s baking and the sounds of the Christmas carols we pumped out on our player piano drifted through our days; and at night, the moon reflected softly off the smoothness of the surrounding snow-covered fields.

When we moved from Lake Shore, Mom and Dad said they’d bought a place in Spanish Fork, the nearby town where Lake Shore students attended junior high and high school. I didn’t want to move, but losing my status as a bus-riding country bumpkin eased my pain. So when we drove through Spanish Fork and two miles beyond, my teenaged eyes gazed with dismay at the sparsely-populated, rural area where our new house sat: no sidewalks, no corner grocery store, no ice cream truck tinkling by and no leisurely strolls to the movies, the Dairy queen or the junior high. I’d still live with three cows in a field behind the house waiting to be milked, a school bus with a pecking order to dictate seating and no way to get to town other than whining until someone agreed to give me a ride.

But the new home held the beauty of my mother’s creations: bright quilts, colorful braided rugs, the wood-glow of refinished furniture and the sparkle of fanciful tree ornaments cut from tin cans. It also had the convenience and warmth of a coal-fired furnace. True, the furnace sometimes burped smoke and gave up, but Dad always managed to coax it back to work by banging its pieces about and using his words from the steel mill.

After we moved in, Mom and Dad became hardworking partners, developing an area for a large garden plot and preparing the soil along the perimeter of the property for the fruit trees they planned to plant. After Mom went to bed on Christmas Eve, Dad sneaked her present into the living room. The next morning, cries of surprise and delight from Mom and pleased laughter from Dad awakened us. In his words, “Lesser women would have been dismayed, but Myrl thought the best present I ever gave her was that wheelbarrow.” The memory still makes me happy.

When I was in college, my parents followed a job to Lander, Wyoming, and the house in which they would live out their lives. It had an extensive living room with a wood-burning stove, warm lamps and sit-awhile chairs and couches that welcomed their adult children home. When we entered to the warmth of Dad’s fire, the smells of Mom’s cooking and the smiles on their faces, the love that flowed through our childhood Christmases enveloped us again.

We were home.

Sheridan’s book, “A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns,” is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at www.auntbeulah.com on the 1st and 15th of every month.

 

 

A Tradition Slightly Tweaked

Tradition.

Tevye sings about it in the Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof.

And the Benedetti’s live and breathe it every holiday.

Christmas Eve in our family means a traditional meatless dinner of fish and spaghetti. Christmas day you make lasagna and you carefully shape and fry the meatballs for the lasagna. It doesn’t matter that the meatballs are pulverized beyond recognition before you put them into the lasagna.

It’s tradition.

You mold and cook the meatballs before you cut them up. Period. You don’t mess with tradition.

So, one year when I was just a wee one and watching my Nonnie make meatballs for our Christmas meal, I asked her, “Nonnie, why do you roll up the meat and fry it, and then turn around and smush it all up before you make the lasagna?”

My Nonnie, never one to waste words when she didn’t have to, slowly bent her balding gray head to peer over her Ben Franklin glasses and said, “Lucie, non-ja bother Nonnie right now. I’m a busy makin’ a meat-ta-balls. Go outside and make-a-ta-snowman.”

Hm…

Years go by and I’m watching my Mom make lasagna one holiday. She makes the meatball mixture, gets out a small cast iron frying pan, puts some olive oil in it, and starts heating the pan to fry the meatballs.

I decide to bring up the meatball question again and ask my Mom, “Why such a small frying pan, Mom, for so many meatballs?”

“Because, Lucie,” she says. “You want the meatballs to fry evenly and you don’t want to waste olive oil.”

By this time, I’m in college and have some education under my belt, so I ask her, “Ma, why waste time, energy and olive oil? Can’t you just make a big meatball patty, fry it up in a Teflon pan, not use any olive oil and have a healthier meatball mixture for the lasagna? It doesn’t make sense to spend all that time making meatballs and then break them apart for the lasagna.”

Cazzo (Ot-so!), Lucie!” Mom responds. “You drive me nuts. Ya wanna leave me alone and go put up some Christmas decorations?”

Un-hun.

Eventually, I move out to CA from my home in upstate NY and start my own Christmas traditions and decide to make lasagna for my friends. I’m prepping the lasagna in advance, so I can just pop it into the oven on the night I serve it, and I catch myself standing over a small frying pan; carefully turning the meatballs in the olive oil. Suddenly, it dawns on me, “Cazzo! I’m doing the same damn thing my mother and Nonnie did for years. What the heck is wrong with me?”

Yep.

Today I’m old and balding like my mother and Nonnie before me, and I’m making lasagna like tradition dictates, but my meatball mixture is frying up as one monster pancake in a large Teflon pan as I write this. And the last time I tested it, the meatball tortilla tasted just as good as Mom’s and Nonnie’s.

Traditions are important. Carefully woven, they make a family a family, and certainly make for good memories and storytelling. Sometimes, though, traditions need to be tweaked, or we need to start a new one.

This was one of those times.

Hopefully, Nonnie’s looking down from the heavens – over those silly Ben Franklin glasses of hers and grinning from ear to ear – watching her pesky granddaughter still carrying on a Benedetti tradition; a tradition slightly tweaked, but a tradition steeped in love and years of family history.

Have a great Christmas, People, and a blessed, healthy New Year, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.

Turkeys Aren’t What They’re Cracked Up To Be

I love roasted turkey. Love it with gravy. Love it in a sandwich. Love it with bread dressing.

Momma Benedetti hates turkey. Hates preparing it. Hates stuffing it. And especially hates cleaning the carcass after we’ve polished off the holiday meal. So, being the imaginative, quick-witted mother that she is, she decided one year – at an age when all of her offspring were pretty clueless – to set up a little white lie and told each of us that the other hated the bird, and that we were pretty special and instead would be treated to a delicacy called Cornish game hens.

And for years we accepted this reality and never questioned Momma’s explanation.

Many years ago, while living in San Francisco, my oldest brother and his family agreed to drive up from Southern Ca. and spend the Thanksgiving holiday with me. I was totally thrilled to have the family visiting and wanted everything to be perfect. After making some brief inquiries, it was discovered that my brother and I were not among the siblings that disliked turkey and that we both actually liked it – liked it a lot.

Before they arrived for the holiday, I asked my office staff for recipes to prep this gobbling, beard-sporting bird.  And everyone agreed that the best and juiciest recipe involved putting it in a Crisco-lined paper bag, and cooking it on high.

Yep.

I meticulously lined the paper bag with Crisco, cleaned the bird, seasoned it; plopped it into the bag, placed it into my spanking-new blue, enamel roasting pan and slid it into a blazing oven.

My family and I settled into the living room to watch the holiday parades, and I snuggled into my rocking chair and smiled; envisioning a meal fit for a king, with a lip-smacking, juicy turkey coming out of my oven a few hours later.

One parade and a football game later, I opened my oven, tore open the paper bag with visions of a Rockwell turkey dinner dancing in my head only to be shocked to see before me a dried up, leather-looking football with scorched stuffing bursting from its seams!

Yep.

Wanted to cry.

Had five hungry people to feed and there staring at me from my shiny, new turkey pan was a skinny, dried-up, leathery piece of jerky.

Cazzo! (Ot-so)

Standing behind me, as I carefully pulled out the blue enamel casket containing the remains of the bird, my brother quipped, “I don’t know about you, Luce, but I’ve always been partial to Cornish game hens for the holidays.”

“Turkeys,” he continued, “aren’t what they’re cracked up to be.”

Uh-Hun.

That was my first and last year using a paper bag to roast turkey. Now I just undercook it, or leave the giblets in their plastic bag and cook everything together until the turkey, giblets and bag are a nice shade of putrid brown.

Did I mention that my siblings and the Princess’s siblings have been volunteering to bring the turkey to our gatherings, lately?

Yep.

I just love cooking for the holidays.  Makes me break out in a rash every November that doesn’t clear up until after the New Year.

Have the Merriest of Christmases and a Happy New Year, People, and I’ll catch ya the next time, looking at life from my shoes.