Saturday, December 23, 2006

O'Reillys' Christmas

Cape Cod Christmas
Charles Wysocki

Christmas Past

I grew up in a colonial with white clapboards and green shutters on a small street in an old neighborhood in a college town in New England. At one end of the street was the college gymnasium and at the other was the football field. I was the fourth of seven children. I arrived within a few months of when my family moved from central New York State.

It snowed a lot in New England when we were young kids. The snow started to stick around Thanksgiving and by Christmas; the accumulation would exceed my own short stature. When seven kids in the family, Mom would dress us for the elements and send us out to play. We’d be bundle up in our hooded snowsuits with mittens that were attached by a long string that ran up our snowsuit sleeves and across the back inside; a safety string to insurance against the “I lost my mittens” problem. Our galoshes were far from waterproof; so mom collected Wonder Bread bags and put them on over of socks inside our boots. It helped a little. Outdoor playtime in the snow wasn’t just a matter of getting some relief from seven highly energetic kids; it was also an opportunity to get things done, especially in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Christmas meant excitement beyond imagination. For weeks, four maybe five weeks, everything pointed to Christmas. Mom prepared diligently. First, a wreath with a big red bow went up on the front door right after Thanksgiving as if to say “We’re getting ready for Christmas.” Next, Mom placed the advent wreath with four candles on the kitchen table as the centerpiece and every Sunday after mass we’d light an additional candle. At some point, we’d all write our letters to Santa. It was an exercise of modest desires. Most of the time, Santa brought things we needed such as clothing but every year each kid received one eye-popping unexpected gift from Santa that made Christmas Oh! So much FUN! I remember unwrapping my first two-wheel bicycle. Wow! A shiny red bike!

A week before Christmas we’d drive in our blue Pontiac station wagon to the Boy Scout X-MAS tree sale to pick out our tree. About the word “X-MAS”, even in the early 60’s, well meaning but misguided politically correct language was starting to take hold in our lexicons in small New England college towns. After we got the tree home and secured upright in a tree stand and adorned with a multitude of strings of little white lights, we all got to pick out our favorite ornament and put it on the tree. We finished the job by hanging hundreds of shiny red ball ornaments from very small ones at the top to big ones at the bottom. Finally, Dad would put the angel up. Every year, we lost a few red glass globes: They didn’t bounce very well.

Midnight mass was the last milestone in the four-week long build-up to the big day, the experience that has been written about so eloquently by others here at Dancing With Fools. After a restless night of sleep, we’d be up before the sun and would be sternly cautioned to wait until the sky was bright. We behaved. There was a lot a stake – who knew if Santa had arrived already and whether our unwelcome early-rising behavior would move us from naughty to nice. We slept until it was time. As everyone roused, we lined up on the stairs, oldest at the bottom and youngest at the top with Mom, and had a Christmas picture taken. Dad knew how to build to a moment. Then it was down to the living room with boxes of gifts and wrapping paper and bows. Our stockings had chocolate, an orange, nuts and stocking gift. It was the big day. Merry Christmas everyone!

32 comments:

Jeanne said...

O'Reilly,
That was wonderful. These stories bring back so many memories. I remember going to the tree lot and no matter how hard we tried we always walked out with a crooked tree. Of course it was always below zero when we were there so my dad generally said, "This ones good." and quickly dragged it to the car.

One year we got a flocked tree. Mistake. You couldn't have lights on it. You had to have some stupid flood lights at the base. Come on. What kind of Christmas is that? I liked the trees with the little needles because they were stiff and you could play with little toys on the branches. Of course the big needles had a softer look.

This all ended when my mother got the artificial tree. We were part of the modern age.

DEN said...

Dear Dennis,

For the past two years, we've worked together to build an America
that lives up to its promise -- one where we all share in prosperity
at home and one that shows real moral leadership around the world.

I'm proud of our successes fighting poverty, supporting working
families, and standing up for what we believe.

Now, we have a big decision to make -- and I do mean we.

I'm getting ready to take this effort to the next level - to bring
Americans together in all fifty states to tackle the big challenges
facing our country, from poverty and lack of health care, to energy
and global warming.

But this is our effort, and we can only succeed if we're all in it
together. So before I make a final decision, I need to hear from you:
Are you ready?

If you're ready to take this to the next level, and launch a renewed
national effort to change America, send me a note and let me know:
JohnEdwards@readytochangeamerica.com

If you have friends or family who share this vision, I want to hear
from them too. Please forward this on to anyone you know who might
want to join this big new effort.

I believe we can run a totally new kind of endeavor -- one that puts
our ideals into action, and puts the hopes and dreams of the American
people above the personal ambition and play-it-safe strategy of
traditional politics.

I can't promise you where this will ultimately lead. But I can
promise you this: if you're on board, we'll launch a renewed
commitment to change our country from the bottom up. We'll always
speak from the heart. And together, we'll reach out to millions of
people to let them know it's still okay to dream big dreams, and do
everything we can to make them real --because that's what America is
all about.

So the only question is: Are you ready?

If you want to take this effort to next level, send me an e-mail and
let me know:
JohnEdwards@readytochangeamerica.com

Stay tuned: I'll let you know what we decide early next week.

Happy holidays, and may it be a bright new year for all.

Your friend,

John

DEN said...

That guy is Presidential material!!!
Russ Feingold for VP!!!!

Gerald said...

I do not know the college town that o'reilly mentions in his Christmas story but one of the prettiest college campuses is Williams College in western Massachusetts. Highway 2 is a beautiful drive from western Massachusetts into Boston. I think the town is Greenfield on Highway 2. It is a picture postcard of Christmas. It sits in a little valley off of Highway 2.

Tomorrow, Christmas, we will have our annual dinner of city chicken and all the goodies. City chicken is made up of wedges of veal and pork on wooden skewers. It is also breaded and bake or roasted in the oven at a certain degrees. Can't stop eating these morsels of delight!

Enjoy this Christmas because by next Christmas we will be in Iran and possibly North Korea! To be a patriotic Nazi American you must love to see the dismemberment of human bodies and their body parts.

Jeanne said...

Gerald,
I hope you of all people have peace this Christmas. No neocons for miles and miles.

Micki said...

Den -- great story! So, the sausage was more empting than the presents! As they say...they way to a man's heart...

O'Reilly -- you sure brought back Christmas memories with your imagery! Thanks for sharing! Wonderful story!

Jeanne -- my Dad was the final arbiter on the PERFECT tree! We'd go to several tree lots around the area before he was satisfied that he'd picked the best tree. But, he'd always be sure to get extra branches because when we'd get home and stand it in the corner, he'd see it had gaping holes! Then he'd wire the spare branches to it and transform it into "the prettiest tree we've ever had!" He said that EVERY year!

Carey -- we missed you!

Everyone -- I didn't realize there are so many (former) (inactive) (active) (fallen away) Catholics here either!

Speaking of being naughty and getting caught! There was a young priest at St. Francis who was the chaperone on the CYO ski trips to Snoqualmie Pass. WELL! He must have had his attention on other matters! One of my cousins got pregnant on the CYO bus! Shhhhhhhh...Not by Father Bryne, but by her boyfriend's brother! YIKES!

I'd better shut up and get the hell out of here! hahaha My kids just got back from a run...now it's on to the rest of the day!

Merry Christmas! Happy Chanukah! Happy Holidays! Warm wishes to all!

Micki said...

Oops tempting...

Carey said...

O'Reilly,

That was beautiful, the stuff of delightful Christmas movies that I would watch and wonder about out here in sunny San Diego.

Truly an American Christmas. New England's the place where it all started. I love the college towns. My father went to Dartmouth and couldn't stop going on about the incredible winters. He took me and my big sister on a tour of the college sites, just for fun. By then, my eldest sister had already moved to Lanphier, Connecticut and had a gorgeous, three-story Victorian house on the sound. Her husband was teaching at Yale and then moved to MIT. Joanie had always dreamed of an academic life. She and her hubby are both PhDs in anthropology and have worked with the Leakeys in Africa. So New England college towns delight her and my Father, and, of course, by extension, the rest of the family.

Even though I was in school for many, many years, I finally decided the academic life was just not for me. Too political and sexist. A lot of "oh yeah, well you're wrong". Just too damn pretentious to get any real scholarship done.

Den,

Your full of Christmas spirit this morning! I didn't even get much sleep last night. Can you believe an almost 52 year woman can still get excited about Christmas?

That's so funny that you posted the John Edwards letter. Just yesterday I was thinking to myself what a wonderful ticket Edwards/Obama would make. I'm fairly convinced Feingold will not run. He's committed to stirring a lackadasial Democratic Party to take strong stands.

Jeanne,

Actually Gerald has reason to celebrate, but it's still confidential. He's just fretting needlessly about it right now. I'm excited for him.

You silly, worrying a card for me. Leave it to the winds of Murphy's Law to get a card that's an odd size, don't you think?

You're Father sounds like a card!

DEN said...

HO! HO! HO! what a Merry band of bloggers!

No lumps of coal for you folks!!

A round of Christmas Cheer for everyone!!

Carey said...

One lovely Christmas memory I have is watching The Sound of Music with my Mom and middle sister. The music is so incredible and awe-inspiring as is the Austrian scenery.

But the real message of the Von Trapp family's story is one of hope, determination and a strong will to fight evil. They fleed the Nazis over the Austrian alps by foot. There are so many, many stories of God-inspired bravery and courage in the fight against the horrors of the Third Reich. The Resistance fighters are a true breed of heros.

I have mentioned before, that's why I went to college and then studied much further into understanding how and why Nazism took hold. I studied the ways in which people found the magnificent strength to resist evil. It's a lesson that has a timely relevance, doesn't it? I also studied the effects of such horrific fascism on the German people. Now that's a really relevant lesson.

Another stirring movie about the bravery of these warriors of freedom is The Pianist with Adrien Brody. I strongly recommend it.

Jeanne said...

HER BOYFRIEND'S BROTHER!!!!. How did that turn out? Oh my God...

º¿carol said...

Gerald, I LOVE city chicken! I haven't made it since we moved away from the suburbs 28 years ago. I used to be able to buy the meat cut up and with sticks to skewer it on in the meat section. Haven't seen that out here. I suppose I could buy meat and cube it myself.

I was in Dearborn at my aunt's 80th birthday two years ago and that was what they had. I went nuts! Too bad I didn't bring a Ziploc along.

Gerald said...

City Chicken

Dear Posters:

Let me share with you a little history regarding city chicken! At one time chicken was more expensive than most cuts of meat. Some people would have chicken on a Sunday as a special meal.

City chicken is made with veal and pork cubes through wooden skewers. At one time veal and pork were cheaper cuts of meat. The wooden skewers made the meat of veal and pork look like the leg of a chicken. It was basically a poor families meal in comparison to chicken.

Today, I believe veal can sell for $25 a pound and pork may sell for $7 or 8 a pound. Cutting up the veal and pork into cubes and skewering the meat is a labor of love. You bread the meat and place in the oven at a certain degree temperature for so many minutes or hours and you have city chicken. I believe that you batter the breading with eggs and some spices to taste. The battered eggs hold the breading together. It truly is a great tasting meal.

Sincerely,

Gerald

Carey said...

I was the decider of our Christmas tree. Daddy always let me.

Now my son is the decider! He doesn't take any guff from me. It takes getting used to, but that what my Mom was talking about when she said she couln't wait for my "payback".

Now back to my football game and the kitchen.

MERRY, MERRY ALL YOU CATHOLICS! We had CYO in Episcopalian too. But I was too young. So my sister went. She didn't tell me those stories, but then she's eight years older than me. She'd kill me if she read this. SEVEN AND A HALF, YOU NINNY!

All of my siblings are either seven and a half or older. I WAS THE BABY. Does it show?????

Micki said...

Jeanne - she married him. Finished high school and college later. Had 3 additional kids and are living happily everafter! No kidding. Father Bryne stopped chaperoning (sp?) however.

We liked Daddy making the decision on the tree! It was always so fun to see him get excited about the Christmas Tree. He was always busy taking care of people and doing serious things for others. Christmas was always fun with my Dad around. He could sing ALL the carols in Latin and according to my mother, was a much better singer than Frank Sinatra, Perry Como, Bong Crosby, or any of those professionals.

But, there was that year when I insisted on having a macaroni tree...

Micki said...

BONG Crosby? oops

Well, maybe....

Micki said...

Gerald -- out in Seattle, that delicacy was called Mock Chicken Legs.

Jeanne said...

Micki,
What a nice story. I always love those stories of young love, the struggles and sticking together no matter what. They are the happiest couples.

Which reminds we..if you see Sweetland around your area go see it. It's a great movie. Guys like it too.

ºCºarol said...

Gerald, you skewer the meat, dip in egg, salt and pepper then bread it in crumbs, then fry it. When it's done it goes into the oven for about an hour. YUM!!!!!

Micki said...

My husband grew up in Dallas and would take the trolly to the end of the line to his grandparents' home for Sunday supper. His grandparents worked hard to buy a home; first his Papaw worked in the coal mines in Tennessee. When the mines shut down and the TOWN CLOSED, too, they moved to Dallas. His Papaw became a welder. He welded great big oil drums together.

His grandfather would go out into the backyard and kill a chicken, his grandmother would pluck it and fry it and they'd have biscuits, mashed potatoes, gravy, collard greens, and that "other" southern veggie - macaroni & cheese!

With the sprawll of Dallas, his grandparents' home is smack-dab in the middle of a part of Dallas called The War Zone - drugs, crime, broken windows, broken dreams.

Jeanne said...

I've never seen mock chicken or cube chicken but ask me about jello. Whipped jello with fruit. Jello with fruit and COOL WHIP. Jello in cubes. Jello in the shape of fish or roosters. Raspberry jello. Lime jello with pineapple and marshmellows. Layered jello. Green jello with julianned carrots.

By the way, I hate jello.

Jeanne said...

Micki,
In Minneapolis those homes are now hot properties. Urban redevelopment. The city is it.

Alan said...

Den, did you switch over to the new blogspot format? Just wondering, because others have had trouble getting back up and running. I can hit your home page easy as ever, but my IE 7 won't go to 'comments' for shyt! I have to control/alt/delete to close the window because it's "not responding". On the other hand, AOL's version of IE goes right to it. hmmm??
Ok, I've never heard of city chicken or mock chicken. I asked my Mom (in her 70's) and she hadn't either. 'Course she grew up on a farm in Kansas and they had all the chicken they wanted from the ones running around their barnyard. When she and her brother 'n sister were kids, it was a self-sufficient farm where they made their own butter, raised their own beef and grew their own veggies. Money was scarce, but not food.
Jeanne, I think my Mom used a potato peeler to make shavings of carrots, to put in orange jello. hehe

O'Reilly said...

I never had city chicken or mock chicken either. It sounds GOOD! I‘ll have to try making it. I love to cook.

During the 70’s when inflation was rampant and it was hard to feed seven kids on one salary, we started buying frozen food in bulk. The salesman convinced my Mom we’d enjoy the reconstituted chicken on a popcicle stick. It was awful. I think it was half salt half chicken. There were some other narly processed food meals from the same supplier. Blech.

Jeanne I can do without Jello too. Your hilarious riff reminds me of Bubba’s riff in Forest Gump.

The crooked christmas tree could be a short story all on it’s own. In my family, Dad made the decisions too so the only input anyone had was based on their lobbying skills and persistence. Dad likes persistence, except when it was directed at him. I imagine that’s why Dad picked only a few to join him on the errand and not all seven of us.

Gerald, I left the identity of the small college town vague but I’ll give you a clue. There is a another town in Massachusetts that shares collegiate history with Williamstown. A group of professors left Williams College in 1821 to found a new college named for the town it was founded in, a town over the Berkshire mountains and in the Connecticut River Valley. To this day, the schools are arch-rivals.

Back to politics - The determination of our chief executive to continue war-making in Iraq , to threaten Iran and North Korea with the same, and to use war as our principle problem-solving instrument is dispiriting, feeble, wildly irresponsible, incompetent and ineffective. American have learned what grave errors happen when the deliberative process is subverted by an over-reaching executive. Bush and Cheney are no longer operating in seclusion and cover of darkness. Take heart and put your faith in the creator who loves us.

Carey my sister worked at Dartmouth in special collections. She loved it there. When I visited, I saw a winter carnival poster from the 1920’s. The activity illustrated on the poster was snow skiing on a snow-covered road in the main quad, pulled by galloping horse tethered on a long line, not unlike waterskiing behind a pony on dry land!

All the kids in my neighborhood were professors’ kids. We couldn’t get a wiffle ball game started without a lengthy argument about teams and rules. And forget it if there was a close call. Many of them were no fun to play with but there were some good students in the bunch.

Cornbloggers! I’m going to plug in my led-powered yule log now. On most Christmas Eve’s, I would have bult a fire in the fireplace but last night I watched An Inconvenient Truth and I’m trying to change my mindset.

I really enjoy the friendship, interests and observations we share here on Dancing With Fools. Thanks Den. Thanks Cornbloggers. Merry Christmas everyone!

Micki said...

Jeanne -- you just described my Aunt Mary's "funeral salad" -- Lime jello with pineapple and marshmellows -- she always brought that to wakes and other-death related events.

My dad used to wonder if his sister's "funeral salad" caused funerals to happen!

Thanks again, Den, for the community forum!

Gerald said...

micki, thank you for that info on Mock Chicken Kegs!

carol, you are exactly right about preparing the city chicken for the oven!

o'reilly, carol gave the instructions on preparing the city chicken for the oven. I do not recall the degrees or time limit for the meal. That college town sounds like a great place to live. The Berkshires are very beautiful.

Jeanne said...

Got to go make the Rice pudding with raisins. No jello.

Merry Christmas everyone. PEACE

Gerald said...

I like jello in a bowl and if there is no jello, I like pudding. Jello or pudding are not a regular part of our meals. Much depends on my wife and her time constraints. I enjoy rice pudding with raisins.

Carol said...

I'll post the city chicken recipe when I have time.

Oopes, they're knocking on the door. Damn company!

Merry Christmas, everyone.

DEN said...

Less than 6 "shopping hours" till Christmas, but if you waited this long for the last minute gift buying, you probably better give up, go buy some beer instead!

Wish I could share! but you'll have to get your own.

It's good to be a Liberal with good friends in blog places!

HO!HO!HO!

Alan said...

K, I'm back on my computer in the 'computer room', and I got to "Comments" just fine with IE 7. Before, I was on the newer Dell in the living room that's wirelessly connected to this one. Dunno what the problem was, 'cept maybe it was time for a shutdown (I use "standby" for 'bout a week, depending on how much surfing I've done... then just shutdown till I use it next).

Did y'all see Ava's newest video at Peace Takes Courage? It's a Christmas one and like all her others... a great piece of work.

Christmas at War

Peace 'n Love to you guyz!!

Alan said...

End of the neo-con dream

The ambitions proclaimed when the neo-cons' mission statement "The Project for the New American Century" was declared in 1997 have turned into disappointment and recriminations as the crisis in Iraq has grown.

"The Project for the New American Century" has been reduced to a voice-mail box and a ghostly website. A single employee has been left to wrap things up.
---
---
The fading of the dream has led to a falling-out among the neo-conservatives themselves.

In particular, two leading neo-conservatives, Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman, attacked the Bush team in Vanity Fair magazine. Both had been on a Pentagon advisory board. Both had argued for war in Iraq.

In an article called "Neo Culpa", Richard Perle declared that had he known how it would turn out, he would have been against it: "I think now I probably would have said: 'No, let's consider other strategies'."

Kenneth Adelman said: "They turned out to be among the most incompetent teams in the post-war era.

"Not only did each of them, individually, have enormous flaws, but together they were deadly, dysfunctional."

Donald Rumsfeld "fooled me", he said.
======================
That's the best Christmas present we'll get unless they impeach W real fast. *lookin' at clock*