Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I Remember Christmas


Donna (Hague) Wendt

Randy Seaver posted these questions on his geneamusings blog at http://www.geneamusings.com/2008/12/this-weeks-advent-calendar-of-genea.html and I found his answers very entertaining. Evidently they originated at Tom J. McEntee’s blog last year at http://destinationaustinfamily.blogspot.com/tionaustinfamily.blogspot.com/ (see December 2007 link called "Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories." I believe Jasia also helped originate the tradition. Here, for posterity, are some of the same questions, but with my own responses:
Did you ever send a letter to Santa Claus?
Yes, I wrote letters to Santa when young. Don’t know what ever happened to them, or if I got what I requested. When we got older, we’d write a “wish list” for our parents to peruse. In 1948 Dad set up a photo op of my brother, Dick, and I posting a big letter to Santa at the corner mail box.
Did you ever visit Santa and "make a list?"
I used to visit Santa at the Department stores like Broadway or May Co. on Crenshaw Blvd. I liked Santa and figured I’d trust him if I got a present. I remember one Christmas we all went to the Masonic Children’s Christmas Party in Los Angeles, my brother and I both got nice presents. Dad belonged to the Masonic Lodge for many years. In fact, Grandpa Pearce belonged to the Masons, too, but neither were active for long, I guess.
Do you still believe in Santa Claus? When did you find out "the truth" about Santa Claus?
I definitely believed in Santa when young. He would come to our house and give us presents on Christmas Eve. As I got a little older I wondered where Uncle Wally disappeared to one Christmas Eve, and he said he had to go to the store, so missed Santa’s visit. I always wanted to go out and see the reindeer. Then the next year I saw that Santa’s shoes were wingtip just like my Dad’s. In fact he had a Masonic ring, like Dad. Santa's face was a bad mask, but if you want to believe, you don't worry about the small stuff. At one point I asked my grandmother, Minnie (Wallace) Hague, if Santa were real. She said his spirit is real and he lives in our hearts. That was enough to confuse me and keep me thinking positively for a long while… a good answer so not to be too disappointed.
Snow in Los Angeles?
I do remember seeing snow on the mountains surrounding Los Angeles. Maybe twice before I went away to college in 1963. It had to be a very clear day, and cold. No haze, or smog. It was beautiful and everyone would go outside to the front and look towards the mountains. Los Angeles residents used to have incinerators in their backyards and burn all their trash (put garbage out front in a little metal garbage bucket, and put the grass and other trash in some kind of a trash can for the trash pickup). Clear into the 1950’s the butcher at the markets (such as Von’s Market on Western Ave near Manchester) would pay the housewives for bringing in their old cooking grease in a tin can. This originated during the war, II think.
Did people in your neighborhood decorate with lights?
Yes, but probably not in the early 1950s. I can’t remember any. Later, we did put up house lights and a porch decoration… or Dad did. We made a Christmas Photo card one year showing all four of us assisting with the job. Dad used a tripod. That was probably about 1960. Other neighbors had Christmas lighting, but I don’t think any really went “all out.” In the 1950’s Dad used to drive us to Exposition Park by the Coliseum in Los Angeles where there were beautiful lights and decorated trees. The cars drove slowly down the long drive and circled around for the drive back past the trees… as I remember. That was a big pre-Christmas treat. (sometimes we’d go to the Coliseum for the 4th of July to see the fireworks, and everyone would light a match at the end.. very impressive.)
Did your family send Christmas Cards?
Yes, and my Dad always created them. Since about 1940 he took a photo and made a Christmas card out of it. He had a dark room in the garage for his photo developing and printing – always black and white. By the time I was born the card was on hard paper stock with crinkle cut edges. When I got older I used to help with the production, especially rinsing all the cards in the bathtub to remove the chemicals and then putting the cards (with some degree of moisture probably) in a card press that we would screw down tight with wing nuts. They came out of the press all flat and ready for us to stuff the envelopes that my mother addressed in her beautiful handwriting.
Did your family display the ones they received?
Yes, We usually had the cards in a basket of some sort on the coffee table in the front room. One basket was made out of the cards that were crocheted together to form a basket. Maybe Aunt Fern made it (she sewed all my clothes until after I went to Jr. High School). A few times we put the cards on the louvers on the doors between the Living Room and the Dining room. I think that was my idea. For a Christmas Card photo we taped the cards on the dining room drapes and moved the dining table out of the way. I loved the Christmas cards and before any were ever thrown away I would collect the prettiest ones and make other things of them, like place mats, or most commonly, littler gift enclosure cards for the next Christmas. I still save as many of the pretty cards as I can.
Do you still send Christmas cards?
Yes. But since I joined the Army in 1974, I’ve made a “Christmas Letter.” I would type a page and get some copies made. I remember looking hard for a copy machine when stationed in Germany, and putting in the correct coins to get a copy. I used green paper every year at first. The length of the letters increased as I used the letters as a way for me to remember what I did during each year. Then I’d add photos at the end. Finally with my computer the Christmas letters became long extravaganzas, with photos and clip art everywhere. One or two times I was too busy for the letter and doubled up on the years in the next letter. I never like to start writing the letter, but I’m always happy with the finished product and know I’ve got a record of the past year. Sometimes I folded the letter and put a stamp and addressed it, and other times I folded the letter and put it in an envelope. I hand address each one (haven’t figured out the Avery labels from the computer) put on a nice stamp and try to hand write a little bit at the bottom of the letter to each person. I try to not leave too much writing room.
Did your family have any traditional dishes for the holidays?
We always had turkey or ham. Since we also often had Thanksgiving at our house (unless we were up at the farm (grandparents - Senkers) we might alternate. It seems we probably also had Easter at our house, and that would be ham. Mom set up the dining room table, with a nice white linen tablecloth, and Mom’s Franciscan China with the rose pattern. We’d have a flower arrangement before the meal from the flowers from our yard. Usual guests every year were Grandpa Pearce, Aunt Pearl and Uncle Pat, Aunt Fern and Uncle Fred, and Grandma Hague (Minnie). The only extra friends I remember were once or twice Mr. Mackown a roomer at Grandma’s boarding house downtown; Bob Andrich from across the street once; and Bobby Ledesma, a boyfriend (and jockey) in Sr year High School once. One year, at least, Uncle Wally and Aunt Sue with Barbara and Janice were over; also Patti, Carol and Aunt LaVerne. Here is a photo of dinner in the dining room with Dad dishing out the turkey, Mom in the front, Dick at left, and Grandparents Senker on the right. Anyway, besides the turkey we always had delicious hot butterflake rolls, mashed potatoes (I loved the homemade lumps), and a vegetable such as frozen peas or perhaps green beans. Maybe even a green bean casserole with crispy onion rings from a can. I know cranberry sauce from a can was always on the table, along with black olives. I always would put the black olives on my fingers to eat them. I don’t know if we had sweat potatoes, I never liked them then. In fact I never liked or ate turkey because I hated turkeys ever since one jumped on my bare back when I was about 4 years old at the farm. I ran away from the turkeys even though my Dad was on the barn roof with Papa Roy yelling –“Don’t run away!” I didn’t eat turkey until I went to college. We always had pumpkin pie for desert. Usually with honey from the farm hives, and walnuts on top, also from the farm. The walnuts went into a glass nut grinder and you turned it upside down and turned the key to grind up the nuts. We also had vanilla ice cream and whipped cream. My father loved mince meat pie, so we probably had that too. He loved the mince meat pies that his Aunt Rose (Wallace) Johnson, in Oakland, would make (she added brandy).
Although not at such a sophisticated meal as Christmas dinner, but when my brother, Dick, and I ate with the Stewarts, in/from Ventura, we would have a lot of fun. We would toss the olives or peas into each other’s milk glasses. Dick and I and Linda and Ronnie. The grown-ups would eat in the dining room and we ate in the kitchen at their house, as I remember it. We’d have so much fun with the Stewarts. Mom and Dad went to school (Jefferson High) with Irma and George Stewart. Irma was with my mother starting in grammar school (Irma Baust). We also would have dinners with their other school friends, Eleanor (Land) and Jay Miller when we stayed at their house in Fresno (on the way to the farm by Red Bluff). The Millers had two girls (Eleanor Jean and Edwina) who were older than Dick and not so much hard-play fun. I was always the youngest of all.
Did you have a real tree, or was it artificial? How big was the tree? Who decorated the tree?
We always had a real tree, usually a Douglas fir. And always green. Maybe it was partially flocked a time or two. My Dad always fixed it up so it looked perfect in the house. It usually was just the right height so the top to the tree was just low enough so the glass topper could be placed on the top without touching the ceiling. Dad would drill holes in the trunk of the tree and stick extra branches in the holes to “fill out the tree.” It stood in a base of water in a metal tree stand which had to be tended to every day. It would be glorious to see the tree at night from the street with all it’s lights at the big bay window. Mom had a tree skirt to go around it and provided a pretty place to put the presents. We would all go to the Christmas tree lot and select the tree, then bring it home on top of the car. One year Dad used a photo of Dick and I selecting a Christmas tree on Manchester Ave, for our Christmas card picture. We didn't buy the white tree in the photo, but it looked better for the picture. Mom had all the Christmas decorations in a big box or two that had to be retrieved from the attic. The lights and wrapping paper and other decorations were up there. I loved it when Dad got the ladder open in the big hallway closet and popped the top to get into the attic. I loved walking around in the low attic space. After we got everything down to the living room, we'd eagerly wait to see if all the glass ornaments were still intact inside the big boxes. Each was carefully wrapped in white tissue paper and Mom would hand them to us one at a time to place carefully on the tree. We had special ornaments, and a few were specifically either mine or Dick’s. We looked forward to each of the decorations from year to year. We had bubble lights, and lead tinsel and small diameter silvery garlands. We all helped decorate the tree which usually went up a week or two before Christmas. We didn’t have the mini-lights, they were the size of the night lights today. Before putting the light strings on the tree – a very exact science calculated by my Dad, we would have to track down which light in the string was dead, so it could be replaced and the whole light would then turn bright. We didn’t routinely use popcorn and cranberries, but at least one year I wanted to string them so we had that as additional garlands. We also had a nicely decorated mantle over the fireplace. It often had white cotton felt type stuff laid out and little things on top. Mom decorated the glass hurricane lamps to look like Santa Clauses on each end.  I stuck toothpicks into styrofoam balls, sprayed them pink and hung at the mantel.  After all the presents of Christmas Eve were opened we hung the empty stockings for Santa to fill during the night. We always were excited to see the bulging socks in the morning. The milk and cookies we left would be mostly eaten, and the carrot for the reindeer would have a bite out of it.

1 comment:

Thomas MacEntee said...

Donna - what a great post! And thanks for the mention via Randy. I lived in California for 18 years and yes celebrating Christmas was a bit different than how I did it growing up in New York.