My Mom was reminiscing about the period of time called the Depression
in the United States. She was remembering with fondness one of her
favorite Christmases. It was not one she received a lot of gifts nor a “big
ticket” item. It was all about how each of her family members worked
very hard to listen to what the others in the family were wishing for
and then, how they tried to make each other’s dreams come true.
My Mom wished for a lovely red velveteen jumper that would be
worn to school and church. She had already a special cream colored
blouse that her mother, my grandmother had stitched lovingly for
her “back to school” outfit. She did not need the black tights nor the
boots to wear with this special outfit that she had seen in a major
department store advertisement.
My Mom heard her younger sister wishing for a special matching
outfit for her doll and she to wear to early elementary school. We
may call it the ‘primary grades’ these days. She wanted to be able to
bring her old doll, all “spruced up” in a green corduroy or (“even
better,” Mom recalls, “a green satin dress with a ruffle attached.”)
My grandmother heard my grandfather wishing to have a nice hearty
meal with a roast of some kind and also, wishing for a cherry flavored
tobacco to put into his pipe.
My grandfather heard my grandmother wishing for a nice tablecloth
and a new apron, that would not be made by herself. She liked to
get dressed for Sunday services and afterwards, head home to wear
a pretty apron over her ‘Sunday best’ clothes.
My aunt heard my Mom’s wish and it was all about hair bows and a nice
mirror and brush set, seen at the Five and Dime Store in Middletown,
When her family awakened on Christmas morning, often the Christmas
tree, while my Mom and her sister were sleeping and young, would be
decorated. This was a tradition that changed when they got older and
what my Mom felt was more responsible and would not break the lovely
glass ornaments nor set the house on fire with the candles that were
placed upon the tree in their holders.
The years they did get to decorate, as older and more careful girls, they
had many glass ornaments, pipe cleaner angels with faces painted on
pink beads and golden or silver pipe cleaner wings and halos. There
were wooden ornaments of snowflakes, sleds and little houses, too.
“Amy and I were never again to see the candles lit on the tree, once we
became the ‘decorators of the tree.’ Sometime, along the way, my Dad
decided to invest in electrical multi-colored Christmas lights.”
Mom, known as “Rosie,” and her sister, Amelia, known as “Amy” woke
up on one Christmas morning to smell the nice, wafting and intermingling
scents of a braided kuchen with cherry filling and vanilla frosting, the cherry
tobacco smell of their father’s pipe and the smell of strong coffee floating on
the air. I have researched the recipes for kuchen and they often list
peach as the fruit to be found inside this sweet yeast dough coffee cake.
My grandparents grew only a few plants on their property, but there
were several cherry trees to pick and ‘can’ for later use. We often
would have cherry preserve, my brothers and I almost thirty years
after this story is written, on our breakfast toast. We also enjoyed the
treat of fresh out of the oven, German made kuchen.
They ran down their hallway, wearing thick pajamas, robes, socks and
shoes, as they did not have slippers and the floors were not very warm
inside. Amy and Rosie paused to take in the wondrous sight of a fully
decorated and mysteriously “delivered” Christmas tree! It was not until
after they began to doubt in the reality of Santa Claus, that they realized
this was a parental gift to them, as well as the gifts in their stuffed stockings
and few wrapped parcels under the tree.
Mom mentioned while retelling this story to me, that the presents would be
wrapped in fabric scraps from “future items of clothing, so as not to ruin the
surprises inside, tied with ribbons or string. This was also, during this period
of time, another way to save money: very cost effective.”
In the presents, usually in past years of the Depression, there would be
“practical” gifts of sweaters, socks, mittens and other handmade items.
Grandma Mattson could knit, crochet and sew, as many women of these
hard times did, to make things look special. The challenge would be to hide
it in the process of making the items!
Mom said the stockings were stuffed with unshelled nuts, fruits and wax
-wrapped candies and fudge. There would be a pair of socks and a hair
barrette inside, too. She says while recalling the joyous moments, that she
never thought until this moment, while I was asking her for some Christmas
memories, of all the hours her mother must have spent while her sister and
she were at school, making and hiding these ‘treasures.’
All the gifts that were wished for, the wishes were ‘granted’ this year! She
wore her red velveteen dress to school, her sister, Amy, wore her green,
shiny satin dress with the petticoat trimmed in lace underneath it. Mom
remembers her sister twirling and twirling in circles in the excitement of
wearing her brand new (homemade with love) dress. She also, recalls
that the both of them wore these dresses in a photograph, where they
both have black hose on, with big sister Rosie, straddling little sister,
Amy, in front of her. The two of them, wearing the bright dresses now
displayed in the framed black and white photograph on my Mom’s
dresser, look so completely darling!
The roast for dinner was pork and the after dinner desserts were Spritz
and other sugar cookies served with cocoa and coffee. The lasting effect
of everyone’s wishes coming unexpectedly true was apparent once again,
relived today on my Mom’s glowing face!