The real stuff of holidays
By: Tammy Francois, Lake County News Chronicle
In an effort to promote local businesses and artists, the News-Chronicle has been featuring a buyers’ guide. It is our hope that many of our readers will consider making their gift purchases close to home where their dollars will support the Lake County economy.
That said, it’s hard to ignore the television and online advertising from retailers who are also eager for our dollars. Now that the Thanksgiving holiday is over, it seems that everything from teeth whitening to snow tires have become “the perfect holiday gift.” Although I confess that I am a willing participant in some of the rush and fuss, I know that it’s the little things that I’ll remember about the season — decorating the tree with ornaments my five kids have made over the years, watching the snow falling late at night and seeing my grandbabes.
When I was growing up, we never had a lot of money. My mom was a just a genius at making do. She could (and often did) McGyver a can of vegetables, a little flour, milk and slices of toast into dinner for three kids. My favorite was creamed peas on toast, but there were many variations. We were excited when she announced that we were having fried oatmeal patties for our evening meal. We didn’t have sweets very often and the maple syrup she poured over the top of the patties was a treat. I had no idea that every family didn’t eat these dishes on a regular basis.
Our house was decorated on a shoestring. Castoffs were repainted or cleaned up for use, and for years our living room seating was a set of wooden lawn furniture — an inexpensive alternative meant to mimic the Danish Modern style that was all the rage.
Looking back, I think the holidays were my mother’s favorite time of year. After a full year of trying to make ends meet, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas afforded her the opportunity to apply her creativity to something that was just for the purpose of adding some color, whimsy and fun to the tiny one-bedroom house where we lived.
A couple weeks before the holiday, we’d get a Christmas tree, and through sheer determination and ingenuity she’d transform it into a work of art.
I’m not sure where the trees came from, but I’m fairly certain there was no exchange of money involved. We still joke about some of the bedraggled looking specimens she acquired, but undeterred, she would get the thing home and set it up in the living room where the tree surgery would commence in earnest.
A saw and a drill were employed when invasive intervention was required. She’d cut a bough here and move it over there. Butchers’ twine was used if branches just needed a lift. When she was satisfied that no more could be done with hand tools and careful tying, she would begin decorating.
First the multicolored strings of big lights, then the collection of ornaments, some of which she had made. Finally she added the tinsel, a painstakingly tedious process started after her three rambunctious children were in bed for the night.
The next morning we would wake up, round the corner from the dining room where we slept in two sets of bunk beds, and there would be our beautiful, shimmering Christmas tree.
I don’t remember many of the gifts I received when I was a little kid. But I remember how it felt to sit — all three of us — lined up like ducklings next to her on our outdoor-turned-indoor settee. We cozied up under a big blanket and watched a Christmas special on our old black and white television or ate popcorn by the light of our little tree. We had no idea we were poor or that there was anything more we could have wanted.