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Saturday, December 23, 2017

It just wouldn't be Christmas

I'm sitting here in the quiet of the early morning, drinking my coffee, and thinking of mom. She always got up early. She always had a cup of coffee. I was never much of an early riser, but I would stay up late. Somehow though in the last couple of years, I appreciate being up before even the dogs begin to stir much. I need to do it more often and sit down like this and write. It's been way too long again.

There are lots of things around this time of year that make me think of mom. She loved Christmas. Now I know lots of people love Christmas, but she really did love it. The lights, the smells, the tastes, the friends; just all of it. She never cooked much, but she did have a few things that she would make that will always feel like Christmas to me.

This year at work, several people that I work with brought in food that we would have had during Christmas. My friend, Reece, who honestly is the same age my parents would have been, brought us all bags of Chex Mix. I think I ate 3 bags full. I can still see mom mixing it up and spreading it out on a couple of cookie sheets and putting it in the oven. She would check it every couple of minutes to stir it. And, of course, a few pieces would always fall off into the oven. Then the house would begin to fill up with the slight smell of burnt toast. Mom would begin to cuss a little.

Then my friend, Nyla, brought us all bags of her cinnamon candy. She makes it every year and I think we talk about how it has always been a tradition in her house. When mom and dad were the youth leaders in our church, we would make candy to sell as a fundraiser. We called it a taffy pull, but it was really just hard candy that we would work with and pull when it was cool enough to handle. We loved making it. When it got time to begin to pull, we would butter our hands all up, pair up with someone and then kept it moving until we got it into ropes about a foot long. Then mom would come along with her scissors and cut the rope into pieces. Each piece would look like little pillows. They would harden up and we would toss them into powdered sugar and then bag them. We had several flavors, each one a different color. I especially loved the red cinnamon, though I don't eat cinnamon candy any other time of the year. I remember the color of the ice blue ones, but can't for the life of me remember what that flavor was. We also had a spearmint green and an almost clear peppermint. I hate peppermint, so I never wanted to pull that one. Even the smell to me is repulsive. I must have been tortured in a previous life by having to eat peppermint.

Gale brought in huge navel oranges in the other day too and a couple of us grabbed one up quickly. When my brothers were in FFA, we would always buy or split a case of oranges that they sold as a fundraiser. We didn't have enough room in our fridge to keep them all so mom would put the case in the basement. Now our basement was just a crawl space, but the front end was about 4 feet high, so there was room for a few things in there. It had a dirt floor and a couple of bins just inside that we also keep potatoes on. From there we would get a few oranges out at a time to keep in the house. We would love it when she would get us all one and cut a small hole out of the top. We would then squeeze the orange and suck the juice out of the hole. It was the juice box of our day. We would keep going on our orange until we got every drop out, then we would peel it and still eat what was left. I haven't done that in years. I think I'll drink an orange later today.

Earlier in the week, we all decided to bring something in our last day in the office before Christmas and we would just graze all day long. We ended up with a Croissant and Cream Cheese bake, which was so good. We had sausage biscuits, peanut butter balls, baked brie and I made Pig Candy. Someone also brought a fruit tray so we could feel good about something we ate. It reminded me of moms fruit salad. She would always make a huge gallon jar of it. I think she could've bought cans of it cheaper. We all took a few minutes to sit and talk but decided that we needed to at least look like we were working. Mom worked in a clothing factory most of the time we were growing up. On their last day before Christmas, they would all do the same thing, They would sign up and she would carry in a dish of something and a few bottles of Purple Jesus.

We always wanted to help her make Purple Jesus. It was the only time she used her punch bowl set too, well really just the bowl and ladle. I think it was just vodka and grape juice. She would set out the bowl on the counter and we got to help pour in the purple while she poured in the Jesus. Then we would stir it up and she ladled it back into the bottles the juice came out of. We may have dropped a maraschino cherry in each bottle, but I don't remember. Of course, there was always a drop or two in the bottom of the bowl and she let us run our fingers through the empty bowl to taste. It was always nasty to me. I also hate grape juice or grape jelly. I'm not really a fan of grapes, but I do like some wine, so I bought a few bottles of my version of Purple Jesus this weekend. Anyway, mom would take the bottles to work and then come back home empty-handed and silly. I think dad always picked her up from work that day. I seem to remember having to go back and get her car a few times.

I have a lot of cooking to do today and tomorrow. We always have the family here for holiday dinners. Mick's family is so much like mine it isn't funny. My grandmother, on mom's side, made holiday dinners and we would begin eating at 10:30 or 11:00. Mick's family is the same way. If the food is not on the table at 11, they begin getting restless. After dinner, we would all end up outside for family pictures if the weather was nice enough. Mick's mom always brings her camera and snaps several of each of us. We don't ever get one of all of us, but I just bought myself a very nice camera a few weeks ago, so this year we are setting up the tripod and all getting in one picture together.

It seems that with each meal we have here, one thing on the table doesn't come out the way it was supposed to, but we try to eat it anyway. It's always something different; burnt beans or rolls or something. As I said, grandmaw would cook the meal and it was all from scratch. Except for her mashed potatoes. At some point, she decided that instant mashed potatoes went well with her homemade gravy. The mashed potatoes were always the last thing on the stove and mom or aunt Mary would make those since grandmaw did all the rest. One year, mom's instant mashed potatoes came out so thin we had to pour them over the gravy. We never let her live that down, especially uncle Ray. He was always giving her and Mary a hard time, but he really gave it to mom over those potatoes.  After I moved out on my own, I never had instant again. A couple of years ago though I got the bright idea to use the handy-dandy mixer/chopper/puree contraption that I had. I hadn't used it in years but thought it would mash the potatoes quickly. It did just that and it puree'd them. They just turned to soup. I just chalked it up to mom wanting to help me out with the dinner and we poured them over the gravy. My mother-in-law reminds me every so often about those potatoes. It brings a smile to my heart.

There is something so peaceful about the early morning hours. I know now why mom would take this time for herself. In a house full, peace was hard to come by. Our house is full of 4 dogs and 5 cats, so the peace is about to end shortly since it will soon be time to feed them. A couple of them are stirring now.

Merry Christmas! May your next few days be filled with all the things that remind you of home and family!