I would like to share with you a story about the last blessed Christmas our family spent together before Walter, my husband, went home to be with the Lord on Aug. 22, 2018.
It was especially memorable because we and our six kids about a month or so before Christmas decided we wanted to have just a simple “old fashioned Christmas.” The plans unfolded quickly.
Our family has grown from the eight of us in 1979 to 37 in 2017.
For the last few years, our family had changed from the traditional Christmas of a lot of gift giving to more creative ways, such as only giving gifts to those who were high school age and younger. Those married or of college age were involved in a grab bag or white-elephant exchange. We enjoyed other creative ways of spending family Christmas time together without a lot of expenses or gifts.
Going back to our plans, one of the ideas suggested was to have everyone wearing pajamas, even including my husband and myself. The next idea was to have a real tree and not an artificial tree as we have had for the last five years. This tree Alicia recalled from the ’80s was nearly as tall as it was wide, and it was not just any ordinary tree.
Someone would need to find one as much like the one all six kids remembered, which was given to our family one week before Christmas (and that’s another story). That tree would barely squeeze through our large house’s front door. It was nearly as wide as the 109-inch mantel mirror on the wall that the tree was placed in front of. There was not another spot big enough in the living or dining room for it.
Well, both ideas were favorable. Everything else that happened Dec. 29 at the Walter and Marlagene Andersen home came about mostly because of the eight of us. Most of our ideas were not shared even among ourselves until that day.
At 1:30 p.m. our old-fashioned Christmas festivity unfolded with fun in front of the whole family, young and old, which lasted nearly 12 hours. God had given us all a gift of memories from the past 56 years together.
Little did anyone suspect that this family celebration would be the last one for my husband. About 10 days before our family Christmas, he was dismissed from a four-day stay at Mercy Hospital because of congestive heart failure. It recurred twice more in 2018, and on Aug. 22 he passed away.
All about our last Christmas together follows in a few sentences — or maybe not. Maybe I should say, a few more paragraphs.
A wooden, gayly dressed snowman, a basket of poinsettias and a Christmas wreath with blinking white lights adorning the front door and window greeted the pajama-clad family members. They arrived from as far away as Colorado, Michigan and Iowa locales such as the Cedar Rapids and Des Moines areas.
A left-over Thanksgiving autographed white pumpkin remained with a small brightly dressed snowman propped on its top, as well as a house full of old Christmas decorations, many pulled from storage containers of yesteryears in the attic. Worn angels, balls, bells and lights from many Christmas celebrations that were only barely remembered once again graced the Christmas tree.
Trees and Memories
Several little artificial trees were set out, decorated with white lights and vintage tree decorations. The smell of pine was in the air from the real tree.
Oh, yes, I suppose you are wondering if a real tree was found matching the description of the nearly 109-inch-wide tree from the mid-’80s.
Arick, our youngest, took on that task of finding the perfect tree and not such an easy task, I might add. But after a certain amount of talking me into finding another tree like the one with problems in our bigger house, I relented — even if we now live in a smaller house. Hmm!
In a few days, he arrived with the perfect tree near 8’ x 8’ but wisely wrapped with the cord so it would fit through our door of the home we’ve lived in since moving from the house with the mantel mirror. After cutting back some of the branches near the back side of the tree, it seemed to fit comfortably in front of the only blank wall available in the living room.
After a few hours of his and my searching the attic for vintage decorations, combined with the ones he brought, we were ready to begin. He had purchased lights that were exactly like the multi-colored ones that used to light our tree many years ago but were safer to use now.
After the vintage decorations, tinsel, and silver garland were carefully placed, the tree topper used years ago finished our “Tree from the ’80s.”
We were pleased.
An old, very large Santa’s red stocking, decorated with Christmas stickers and cotton balls glued around the top, hung on the side of a doorway stuffed with fruit and small presents.
Four little vintage glass Santa hot chocolate mugs were proudly sitting beneath a miniature Christmas tree on a china cupboard.
The tree was adorned with vintage colored glass balls and bells, and the mugs, put there by Janene, reminded her of drinking hot chocolate from a set of six that also came with a matching pitcher when she was just a child. They were old and checked when our family had received them as a gift on Christmas from a dear older friend. That saved me from searching for my set.
Janene also read a poem she wrote on her way to Iowa from Michigan about special childhood memories she recalled. That also stirred the memories in many of us as she shared her poem with us.
When Alicia and her husband, Darwin, came home, she hung mistletoe in the kitchen doorway as we have done for many, many years. Her pig-tailed hair was adorned with some mistletoe, too, because she didn’t want to miss out on any kisses.
In the basement, she had set up a small, short-needled tree decorated with vintage Christmas lights and tinsel, with small gifts for winners of the contests throughout the day.
She wanted me to see it because she knew it could be dangerous to have the old lights on and would soon turn them off. She remembered the smell of the hot old lights against the tree branches and tinsel from when she was a child.
When Jeff’s family arrived, he put the finishing touch on the tree by hanging candy canes for everyone in the family just as he had done for many years.
On the piano, a video was showing snapshots from many past Christmases set up by Janene. She also had a dot-to-dot book available for those “up for the challenge,” like the books the kids used to have when they were young.
There were also boxes of Barnam’s Animal Cookies sitting around for those who couldn’t resist, just like when they were kids.
Arick and Jody made Christmas cut-out cookies for everyone to decorate, just like our kids did to help me many Christmases ago. So there was also a contest for the four best-decorated cookies. What a fun time we all had doing that, even our 4-year-old great-grandchildren!
For another fun activity, we all tried our hand at drawing a snowman on paper plates held against our foreheads. Not as easy as you might think.
I haven’t mentioned a word about the food. Oh, there was plenty of that because we have many good cooks in our happy family. Early evening the kitchen was filled with scrumptious aromas from homemade soups, meatballs, hot chocolate warming in a kettle and lots of extras as well. Later, at a break time, everyone heads for a large table full of sweets, desserts, the birthday cake, fresh candies and punch.
A decorated birthday cake with a small nativity sitting on it was of special importance at my Grandmother Cannon’s home when our young family would visit her at Christmas. She would have all the little children gather around, and she would say a few word about the birth of Jesus. Then she would lead them in singing happy birthday to Jesus. My own mother also carried on this tradition with her own grandchildren.
Alicia made and decorated a birthday cake for her two 4-year-old grandchildren. After a short explanation, they sang happy birthday to Jesus.
Jody was dressed in a nightgown made for her by her Aunt Jo when she was around 10 years old. She also wore a pair of new-looking knitted bootie socks her Grandma Andersen had made for her. She wore a shawl also fashioned by her grandma.
All these things along with a child’s harmonica and small transistor radio were still in their well-kept boxes. All these and a well-used copy of “Little Women” and a child’s paper book had been hidden away all these years in a keepsake box, just for a special occasion like that day.
At one point, Arick appeared with a box of egg nog. He now makes his own and enjoys it. But as the youngest child in our family, he remembers his siblings all crowding around for their small cup. The yummy mixture did not appeal to him at all when he was young, but it was a favorite of his father’s.
Ever since our family began, we have always taken their picture together in front of the Christmas tree. We still do that although it takes seven pictures to get everyone. It’s fun to see how everyone has changed through the years.
Throughout the day and evening, someone announced winners of the different contests going on. There were four winners for those who dressed in their pajamas.
- Macy Andersen won for the Most Flammable.
- Alicia Penning won for the Most Rash-Inducing.
- Darwin Penning won for the Most Creative.
- Jody Walter’s pajamas were named the Ugliest.
I didn’t agree with the title for Jody’s, however. I thought hers was cuter than that.
As the younger two children were opening their gifts with their mothers, the door bell rang, but there was only a large, red bag, larger than a gunny sack, on the step. There was a reindeer printed on the bag and the words North Pole. No one seemed to know anything about it.
But it seems that many years ago, our great-grandchildren’s mothers had not been remembering about being good, especially around Christmas. So when Santa came to their house, he didn’t leave many gifts.
Mice Share Goodies; Girls Wear Wigs
Later at the Christmas party at their grandparent’s house, a bag of gifts had been left for them there. I think they were good girls around Christmastime after that. These girls were Alicia’s daughters, Melinda and Natasha, who are now the mothers of Peyton and Sabaston.
Jeff set a large box full of Christmas sacks filled with wrapped hard candies and Brachs taffy royals mixed in with whole jumbo peanuts.
He then asked me to explain this memory of his to the others. One Christmas many, many years ago, when our kids were young, we were at their great-grandmother’s home along with many other cousins. Every year for all her grandchildren, Grandmother Cannon would make treat bags out of the Christmas wrapping paper saved from last year and fill them with treats.
Having made them ahead of time, they had been set up safely until Christmas. When we mothers went to bring the box of treats to grandma, we noticed something peculiar about the bags. There were torn pieces of paper and bits of peanut shell strewn about. Then we realized some mice had been feasting on their treats.
So we mothers quickly went to our children and quietly told them to take their bags from their grandma, who didn’t have good eyesight but not to eat a single piece. So this was the reason for Jeff’s remembered treat bags, but his had not been tampered with.
One of the last memories shared were three wrapped gifts for Jody, Julie and Alicia. As the girls began opening them while sitting in front of the tree, as was the practice, they all began giggling and laughing. It wasn’t until they pulled out three differently colored adult wigs that we understood their reaction.
These gifts from Alicia were a memory she had of the year they all received them for Christmas when they were around 8 and 11 to play dress up with. They were hilarious to watch, and they looked so funny with their blond, red and brunette wigs on.
So there you have our Old Fashioned Christmas. All our Christmas get togethers are really enjoyable, but this would have to go to the top of the list. Things kept happening all through the day that stirred memories. That really did make the day go quite quickly, even though it lasted 12 hours.
Walt and I enjoyed it a lot, and we talked about it for weeks to come. It’s a special memory of mine that will be with me for a very long time.
Thank you, everyone, for a wonderful Old Fashioned Christmas.