My grandmother was born in 1898. I have to admit that seems almost impossible to believe as it seems so incredibly long ago.
She had her first child at age 16 and her last more than 20 years later.
She had a total of seven children. One daughter, Mabel, died as a young child. Sis, another daughter, died in her 40's from somewhat questionable circumstances. Some believe she might have been poisoned by her husband, but most believe it was an error on the part of the doctor.
This left five children who all survived which is no small wonder considering the lack of health care, the hard work, and for some, the wars they fought in.
Each child had a nickname and one uncle even had two. He answered to both Pill and Babe, which I guess were switched out depending on how he was acting. There was also Son, Beadie, but my dad had the best nickname, Pet.
If I counted correctly, there were 14 grandchildren, which doesn't sound like a lot, but when they all started marrying and having children, that makes for a big crowd! But each was known and loved by Grandmother and every single person got a gift at Christmas.
The "big" house, which eventually was added onto and made into a six room house, or rather seven, when the bathroom was finally added, came with a few acres that were a pasture. This was where the Christmas tree came from each year. There were no pines or spruce or any of the traditional trees for Christmas, but instead there were cedars. There is a reason Cedars are not used for Christmas trees and that is because they have very spiky, sticky branches. They smell good but will tear up your hands while you try to decorate them.
One year I remember being the first family there and we all followed dad into the pasture to help select the tree that most closely resembled a Christmas tree shape. Then we got to do the decorations which included bubble lights, plenty of icicles, and the white flossy stuff which is probably illegal to sell anymore because it was so flammable and probably made out of something like asbestos.
But what was placed under the tree was the best, of course, only that could not even be considered until dinner had been served which did not happen until all had arrived, which seemed as a child to take forever.
Grandmom had one table in her dining room which was the kind with a yellow cracked ice Formica top. This area was reserved for the men and they were served first.
The women were too busy with last minute preparations, fixing kids' plates, and pouring coffee to get to sit down. Yes, I understand how backward this seems now but that was exactly how Grandmommy wanted it, so that was what we did.
My best guess is that the meal would have been similar to the loaves and fishes, as I don't believe you could ever cook enough in her tiny kitchen to feed all the people who were expected. Grandmother started early and everyone brought some things they had already made, but this was long before you would run to the grocery store and pick up whatever you were going to bring so there was plenty of advanced planning involved. It was also done before you would pick up the phone to casually place a long distance call so the planning was done well in advance via letters.
I remember the meal as being delicious and only surpassed by the brilliant spread of desserts, sitting atop her buffet. After coffee and cigarettes the men were finally finished and the women got to sit down and have theirs. In the meantime, the kids were running in and out and getting in trouble with fireworks or burning leaves or asking for the millionth time when were we finally going to open presents.
Grandmother put a lot of thought into each gift and for many years I received a glass animal purchased at either Ben Franklins, M.E. Moses, or McCrory's, all the best 5 and 10 cent stores you could find. I still have a few of these intact and they are special treasures.
As I got older, and the number of family members increased, while the money did not, she switched to items that came in multi packs and would buy them and split them among the grandchildren. This might be a new cup towel and dish rag, or panties, which were never the right size, or socks, but something useful and at least one item for every single person.
For whoever was passing out presents, you soon realized the majority were going to one place, for grandmother. I can still see her sitting in that rocker or her recliner, with her haul spread from her lap all the way to the floor and in a giant circle around her.
She was just like a kid again and would clasp her hands and proclaim, "Lord I don't know what I have done to deserve all of this". Of course we knew and were so glad she loved the gifts we brought.
All the cousins drew names so you also ended up with a brilliant prize from one of them. Life was good!
Eventually everyone would disperse from the living room, with the men retreating outside to smoke or share a story or a shot of "cough medicine" while the women cleaned up the kitchen, fixed dessert for all who asked, and the kids began to ask the next series of questions about how long till Santa came.
When we were very young we all stayed at Grandmother's house on Christmas Eve. I think I must have been so convinced of the story of Santa that I completely ignored my parents and aunts and uncles' processional through the bedroom where all the kids were asleep carrying the Santa gifts for under the tree. Maybe it really was delivered by Santa because there is no way my parents could fit all the presents as well as our stuff in the trunk of just one car.
Tomorrow I will try to remember the rest, but tonight I have to give up early.