Thursday, December 2, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories - Day 2 - Holiday Foods

In my family growing up, Christmas Day was spent at home with my parents, siblings and myself. Extended family visits took place on other days leading up to Christmas, but that day was for our nuclear family. So our Christmas dinner wasn't as elaborate as Thanksgiving, when we would gather with extended family.

Since Cookies and Dinner are Advent Calendar discussion topics for later in this month, I'll focus today on what foods were special to us that don't fall into those categories.

At the top of my list were the bowls of mixed nuts in their shells that Mom would have sitting around. These never made an appearance any other time of the year, but in the lead up to Christmas, there was always a bowl of nuts and a nutcracker sitting on an endtable in the living room. Sometimes it would be just walnuts, but usually it was mixed nuts. Since there was some effort needed to crack the nuts and dig out the nutmeat, we were allowed to snack on them at will. As kids we never went crazy gobbling them down because we lost interest in cracking them open after just a few nuts and our attention would turn to other things.

Everyone had their favorite type of nut they would dig for in the bowl. Dad went for the walnuts, I liked the brazil nuts. My sister liked the hazelnuts, or as she called them, "acorns".

Another Holiday treat was Ribbon candy. My father's aunt generally gave us a box of it every year. Now that was a treat that Mom would parse out because otherwise we'd gobble up the entire box in no time! I loved the thin crackle of the delicate hard candy.

And I can't forget about the candy canes! They were everywhere! We'd hang them on the tree and eat them as snacks or even dessert. Mom would get the little canes each individually wrapped in cellophane. Back then they came in one flavor - peppermint with the classic red and white stripes. OK, occasionally we'd score a green and white stripe peppermint cane, but they were hard to come by. Today's tutti-frutti kaleidoscope colored  candy canes just don't seem right to me. That's not how candy canes are supposed to look and taste!

Now I have to run out and buy some mixed nuts and ribbon candy. You readers are a bad influence!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories Day 1 - The Christmas Tree

When I was growing up in the late 1950s and 1960s, Christmas was a magical time of the year and the centerpiece was our Christmas Tree.

My family didn't put up a live tree in those years. We weren't a family that trudged out in the snow to select a live tree, only to set it out as trash after the celebrations. No tromping through the woods, tree farms or corner tree lots for us. No, for us each year sometime just after Thanksgiving, Dad would retrieve the box holding the pieces of our artificial tree out of storage and assemble it (I think the assembly instruction must have included some colorful language LOL). I always assumed we never had a live tree because Mom didn't want to deal with the mess (and cleanup) of all the dropped needles that comes with having a live tree. Looking back, I know now that Mom and my baby sister had serious allergy and sinus conditions that would have been aggravated by spending so much time with a live indoor evergreen tree.

Our tree was a good sized tabletop tree, maybe 4 feet high. Every year my Dad would set up a large HO train platform on a pair of sawhorses and the decorated Christmas tree would be the centerpiece on the platform. I'll write more about the Christmas train display in another post, but this was the reason our tree was a tabletop sized tree. Sitting on the platform, the tree topper almost, but not quite, reached the room's ceiling.

We always decorated our tree with tinsel, never garland. Funny because as anti-mess as my mother was/is, she said it wasn't really a Christmas tree without tinsel. Mom said that garland was for people too lazy to take the time to hang tinsel properly.

Although we all helped to decorate the tree, when we were all finished with the decorations it was Dad's job to place the crowning touch - a mercury glass tree topper (the kind with the bulb and spire shape) on the top of the tree. I once asked why we didn't use a star or angel or one of those flashing light tree toppers that I'd see in the stores. I was told by my parents it was because that tree topper was like the ones they both grew up with and that's what we use in this family and no, we were not going to change. I decided that I was going to have a glitzy tree topper when I grew up. Only thing is now I choose to use a mercury glass tree topper because that's what I grew up with and any other topper doesn't seem like Christmas.

It's funny to realize that the older we get, the more we value tradition.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Tip - Don't Overlook Old Social News

Have you ever tried to piece together who's who in a family? Of course you have! It really gets interesting when the eldest children in family are having grandkids while their younger siblings are still working on cranking out their own babies. Well stop banging your head on the desk in frustration!

If your ancestors lived in a small town, don't overlook the social gossip that was printed in the newspapers. They often show party guest lists, out of town visitors, medical updates, estate sales (with every item being sold listed), etc. In small towns everyone knew everyone else's business.

Guest lists for family dinners or reunions can be a real find for the family genealogist. At these events you know that almost everyone who attended is related to the host in some way, by blood or marriage. Now that you have the names, you just need to piece them together. Of course there is always the possibility to keep in mind that single attendees may have been boyfriends or girlfriends who never made it to marrying into the family....or they could be grandkids or inlaws or....

Here is an example from my paternal family. The folks I've been able to positively identify have corresponding notes. There are a few that I'm still working on and haven't pinpointed their relationship yet.

I've used my paternal grandmother, Ada M. (DeHart) Yohn as the base person to use in the relationship metric.

News article that appeared in the Reading (Berks County, PA) Eagle, on May 22, 1931
My notes on the Guest List:

Rev. A. R. Bachman - pastor of St. John's Reformed Church, Mt. Aetna, Berks Co., PA, the family church

Miss Maggie Stumbach

Mrs. Lizzie Lightner

Samuel DeHart - brother to my grandmother

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis B. Miller, Philadelphia - sister to my grandmother (Martha)

Mr. and Mrs. John Thomas

Mrs Emma Hoffman and Children, Jacob and Russell - sister to my grandmother

Mrs. Kate Boeshore and daughter Emma, Fredericksburg - sister to my grandmother

Mr. and Mrs. Frank DeHart and daughter Mary - brother to my grandmother

Charles DeHart - brother to my grandmother

Mrs. Ada Yohn and children Floyd, Evelyn, Arline, and Fern - my grandmother and her 4 kids, my Dad wasn't born until December of that year.

Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Bulles and children Elizabeth and Bernice - sister to my grandmother (Lillie)

Mrs. Carrie Sherman, Reading - sister to my grandmother

Mr. and Mrs. Hiram DeHart and children Allen and Alberta - brother to my grandmother

Miss Maggie DeHart - sister to my grandmother

Mr. and Mrs. Lewis DeHart and children Lucille and Curtis - brother to my grandmother

Mr. and Mrs. Henry DeHart, Myerstown - brother to my grandmother

Mr. and Mrs. George DeHart, Lebanon - brother to my grandmother

Mr. and Mrs. Artemus Bulles - nephew to my grandmother,  Raymond and Lillie Bulles's son

Lewis Bear - Carrie Sherman's companion/2nd husband (actually spelled Louis)

Stanley Adams, Reading

William Shimp, Wernersville

Mildred, Eleanor and Lucy Ream. Fredericksburg - My grandmother's sister, Kate Boeshore's granddaughters via daughter Mary E. (Boeshore) Ream

Miss Ethel Balthaser

Rufus Brigel - future husband of Elizabeth Bulles (dau of Raymond and Lillie Bulles)

Mr. and Mrs. Ross Bear, Reading - (related to Louis Bear, but how?)