- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
A few weeks ago, we asked our readers to share their favorite holiday stories. Well, here they are. The excitement of Christmas through a child’s eyes. Adventures and misadventures during the holidays. Reunions, traditions and heartfelt memories, happy, wistful and bittersweet.
Christmas in the ’30s
There were five girls in our family in Baltimore, and our Lithuanian heritage was strong. The coming of the Christ Child was a time of great expectation. During the weeks of Advent, we made sacrifices of candies and goodies to prepare for this event. Each child tried to outdo the others in being a saint. Mom cleaned the house from stem to stern. All windows sparkled clean, with special curtains and drapes only for Christmas. Each sister had her specific task to do, no shirking allowed.
Preparation of the food for the feast was another endless job. Lithuanian sausage with ground pork and ham was stuffed. Our old country cookie, the kristie, was rolled, cut, twisted, fried, dusted with Four-X sugar and packed into cans for the holiday. The grown-ups looked forward to the holiday drink called vryitos. It had a real kick to it, somewhat like a potent hot toddy.
In our house, no such thing as a Christmas list existed. My father made a child’s table-and-chairs set, with a china cupboard for dishes as Santa’s gift. With great anticipation, we looked forward to walking into the living room Christmas morning, seeing the tree with lights aglow and the little kitchen group waiting for us. We played at having tea parties for hours on end. Little Hershey silver buds were placed in tiny aluminum dishes on the radiators (our heat) in the room. These would melt flat. Then, they were placed outside on the window sill to freeze. How delicious this was at our tea party!
In the spring, when our interest in the dining set waned, they were put away until the next Christmas. With new curtains and a paint job, it was recycled for the next season, with great enthusiasm. Our dolls, too, suddenly disappeared and returned with a complete set of new clothes. Mom was quite a seamstress and did skillful work. In addition, each received a big stocking. In the toe was a big tangerine and some nuts and hard candy. This also was relished along with new socks, a comb, hair brush and other necessities. It was fun emptying it out to see the contents.
Today’s children see the tree weeks before Christmas. In our day, it was a big secret. Dad purchased the tree and put it up in the living room when we were fast asleep. The tree was never seen until the magic moment early in the morning. What a moment to see the tree all spectacular! It took the breath away.
This was also a time of visiting relatives. During the two weeks of the holidays, visits were made and hugs and kisses distributed, sometimes even money. When old aunts were not looking, the hand wiped the face quickly where generously endowed affection landed. If silver touched the palm, it eased the pain.
In those days, holidays were the giving of self. Do we mourn its passing?
Lill Caplins, Huntingtown
Enveloped in love
Christmas has been bittersweet for me in the past 40 or so years. Not that I have become one of those depressed, red-and-green souls that curiously yearns for the time when the cool January winds blow and bring slow and easier breathing, the metallic tinsel being pulled down — far from it!
My mother was diagnosed with a deadly brain tumor on Christmas Eve in 1975 — a situation that was difficult to process at the time. Another Christmas, I found myself a “prisoner” in a strange city with a blown radiator. I was driving to visit a friend in the Washington, D.C., area where, ultimately, I ended up living. In between, I spent most Christmas Eves alone, anxiously awaiting the return of my dear little girls (I am smiling as I recall hearing the scurrying of a mouse. ... Mice do stir on Christmas Eve). The time provided for sweet reflection on Christmases past.
This year, my companion of 13 years is experiencing the dismal recovery of the effects of radiation and chemotherapy associated with cancer of the larynx.
No, it is not sad. I find myself smiling, knowing that the true test of cheer and goodwill toward men is what this whole December thing is all about. I am grateful to be able to pause and reflect on all I have learned over the years. Most importantly, Christmas, assuredly, is intangible, yet definitely enveloped in love.
Virginia Cook, St. Leonard
The warmth of feeling welcomed
My most memorable Christmas started with the prospect of being my bleakest. I was a newly minted flight surgeon with the U.S. Army Medical Corps on orders for Vietnam as an asset to an Army assault helicopter. I left Fort Dix, N.J., on Dec. 19, 1970, flying via Anchorage, Alaska, arriving in Saigon on Dec. 21. After three days of in-processing, I was flown by an Air Force C-130 to Cam Ranh Bay and spent Christmas Eve at the 92nd Replacement Battalion in the officers’ club with a group of disconsolate officers who had expected to be home for Christmas, but the South Vietnamese government wouldn’t let the 747s land to take them home.
The next day — Christmas — I flew to Tay Hoa, the headquarters of the 17th aviation group, for further in-processing. I arrived at 1100 hours to a desolate, deserted and primitive air terminal. An Army sergeant welcomed me and said nothing would be happening because it was Christmas, and he invited me to join him and his Vietnamese wife for Christmas dinner.
I enjoyed one of the most pleasant, exotic and delicious dinners — memorable in every way. The warmth shown me by his family lives with me to this day — my most memorable Christmas.
Clifford C. Hudson, Port Republic
Special delivery from Santa Paws
N1037K was on its way north that Christmas Eve. I was tracking my son’s progress on Flight Aware. He’d left North Carolina earlier. The weather that day, the past several days, had been iffy at best for flying his red AT4. The trip had been scrubbed three times.
Why was he landing at a St. Mary’s County airport? What would happen to that delivery? He needed to be home for his family.
My son, Pete Merski, flies for Pilots N Paws. Belita Helms had rescued one small puppy just in time from a “kill shelter” in Fayetteville, N.C. A family was waiting in Connecticut, postponing their Christmas vacation, hoping the pilot would bring the toy poodle. “They’ll just love this precocious black bundle of fur,” she said.
Landing at the airport, Pete refueled as the plane moved sideways in the strong winds. Soon, he was on his way to northeast Philly. Coming in for the touch down, crosswinds were 22 knots. He’d made it.
Mark Mattie, another pilot, flew the final leg, and CoCo had a new home.
Pete has flown two years with Pilot N Paws, delivering 68 puppies north. He’s my “Santa Paws.”
Elaine Reilly, Sunderland
The ‘Charlie Brown’ tree lives on
Twenty-one years ago, my husband watched our 4-year-old granddaughter take all the colored balls off our tree. She would do this for hours until she was happy with where she put them.
He thought she needed her own tree, too, to do with as she wanted.
So, it was started. Each year, we would have a little “Charlie Brown” tree in our house for her. She is now 25. I have seven other grandkids, ages 6 to 22, and we still do the tree.
Each year, the kids will pick a time when they can all be at my house. We have hot chocolate, sometimes pizza, but always cookies.
This year, I made a version of the tree for each family.
My husband is no longer here to see them do the Charlie Brown tree, but the kids said, “NaNa, we will do this as long as we can in memory of you and PapPap.”
Maryellen Popielarcheck, Mechanicsville
Cuffs for Christmas
Back in the ’50s, we lived between California and Utah; every three years, we swapped places of residence. One year, when I was 4 or 6 years old, it was Christmas and snowing in Utah. My dad, who was a policeman (of sorts, a special agent, but that is another story), had all of the prerequisite equipment, including handcuffs. In fact, he had three or four pairs.
Well, being the “kid who got into trouble a lot,” I borrowed two pairs of his handcuffs and cuffed my right arm to my right leg and my left arm to my left leg. At the time, I did not know that there were absolutely NO keys for these two pairs of cuffs. So, when my parents came home, there I was, cuffed and crying. My parents bundled me up in a coat and took me to see Santa Claus at the local park. I was placed on Santa’s lap and he asked me what I wanted for Christmas, and I opened my coat and cried, “A pair of keys to unlock the handcuffs!” He was a little shocked, to say the least, and called one of the policemen there over and asked if they could help me.
The other policeman called (on his radio, as there were no cellphones in those days) to the office, and a car showed up with two other policemen in it, and they tried a set of keys and eventually got the cuffs open. To this day, my mother (who is 87) recounts this story to everyone and laughs! It is one of our best holiday memories, to say the least, and my sisters always say they are going to get me cuffs for Christmas.
Stew Otta, Hollywood
Like an ice palace
One Christmas, years ago, my father was determined that the day would be “white,” at least once we arrived at his house for the celebration. Snow was not in the forecast, although the temperature was below freezing. He decided to improvise.
Days before Christmas, he sprayed the house and yard with an atomized mist of water. I will never forget the spellbound surprise and the laughter as we made the turn that revealed the house. It was glistening amid the dullness of the surrounding neighborhood. It resembled the ice palace from “Dr. Zhivago,” every twig on every tree — plus the entire house — was covered with ice and icicles!
I felt a kind of crazy sense of pride, giggling at my father’s ingenuity and determination to entertain us ... almost a bizarre flattery. It was a remarkably magical experience.
Candy Cummings, Lexington Park
It’s a wonderful life in St. Mary’s
Who can forget that great moment in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life?” It’s the one when little Zuzu sees a bell ringing on the Christmas tree and says, “Look, Daddy! Teacher says that every time a bell rings, an angel gets his wings.”
I was privileged to see this recreated at St. Francis Xavier Church, where my husband, Larry, and I were church musicians. We were positioned at the front of the church, and as a result, we were happily in direct contact with the parishioners attending the services. In fact, we noticed that some of the parishioners who were parents with small children would sit very close to us. It seemed that our singing and playing of a variety of musical instruments provided a welcome distraction for little ones who were growing weary of a long service.
Typically, we would see children behaving pretty well, but we also witnessed several meltdowns when the music, toys and other distractions offered by their parents no longer kept the little ones quiet and busy.
On one particular Sunday, there were two families, each with a young girl about 4 or 5 years of age, sitting near us. One child hit her limit very early on, and the family had to make a hasty, embarrassed exit with the child loudly expressing her unhappiness.
As the service progressed, I watched the other little girl, alone with her father, paying very close attention to the Mass. She would stand, fold her hands in prayer and do her best to follow the service. At the solemn point of the Mass when the bells are rung, the little girl tugged on her father’s coat sleeve. He bent over to see what she wanted, and I heard her say, in a very excited voice, “Listen, Daddy! An angel just got his wings!” She then looked up at the beautiful painting of the Holy Spirit at the top of the altar, pointed her finger and said, “And there He is!” I will always remember and be touched by this most lovely and innocent expression of the true meaning of Christmas. “And a Little Child shall lead us.”
Mary Ludwig, Leonardtown
A scene of ancient peace and glory
I have lived the past 45 years in Hollywood, Md., but I grew up in the middle of old, glamorous Hollywood, Calif. Christmas out there was always very special, with movie stars and parades and floats down glittering Hollywood Boulevard on the nights before Christmas.
Now, at age 90, as I look back at all my Christmas memories, I find that one in particular stands out. That was Christmas Eve in Coptic Christian Abyssinia. As a Navy family during the Suez Canal crisis, we lived in the high mountains of Asmara, Ethiopia.
That Christmas Eve was a beautiful, clear, shining, bright night. The stars seemed so close you could almost touch them. The handsome local people had been invited into the American military base, and they came with their children and their camels and sheep and donkeys. They created an almost biblical picture — including a straw-covered manger.
They still dressed much the same as they did in ancient times, so they presented a magical, mythical scene — one I’ve never forgotten.
Nevada Gordon, Hollywood
Cookies and ‘hard tack’ from the kitchen
One of the Christmas traditions we have in our family is preparing Christmas cookies. Each year, my daughter and I make at least 15 different kinds of cookies. I also always make a huge batch of fudge and a hard candy called “hard tack” that was passed down to me by my grandmother. We then put baskets together to give family, friends, co-workers and, of course, our immediate family.
The tradition started when I was a little girl. I can remember my mother setting up card tables in our living room and making lots of different kinds of cookies. She put together boxes to give to shut-ins and elderly people, and she always made those little half-aprons (out of feed sack material). We didn’t have a lot of money, but she wanted to remember all those who needed cheering up during the holidays. My mother passed away from a heart attack when I was 14 years old, but those memories still linger (I’m 66 now). I wanted to pass on those warm, sharing memories to my children and grandchildren. It is great to be able to pass memories down.
Yvonne Thompson, White Plains
The baby, the tree and me
I was 16, married to a sailor and pregnant, almost to my due date. The year was 1944. I was far from home with no family or friends, and my husband was stationed a hundred miles from where I was living in a rented room, in a big house owned by a young couple. The lady was also pregnant and married to a soldier.
They decided to visit family out of town, and I was left alone with my unborn baby and a small, untrimmed tree on a table in the corner. As I started up the stairs to my room, I looked at the tree and was suddenly inspired to trim it. All I could find was some string, a roll of tin foil and some cotton. I made little silver balls and tied them on the tree and put little pieces of cotton here and there. Then, I fashioned a big, crumpled silver star and placed it on top. I stepped back to admire it and suddenly my baby was kicking and moving about as if it, too, wanted to come and look. I patted and rubbed the lump in my belly until it became settled and still.
As I stood there in the stillness, I was suddenly transfixed in my mind of that other birth so long ago. Just my baby and me and that little Christmas tree, with thoughts of Mary and what she may have thought while having her baby. And it came to me the real meaning of Christmas, instead of words just telling a story. I felt the peace and love that it inspired to the depths of my soul. I forgot to be frightened at being alone.
Two weeks later, I delivered a healthy, 6-pound baby girl.
That is how the real meaning of Christmas came to me, and I will never forget it if I live to be 184 years old. Merry Christmas.
Susie Dave, Indian Head
Reunited in time for Christmas
One memory I hold dear to my heart happened in 1991. My husband, Tom, was stationed at Andrews Air Force Base when he received orders to go to Robins Air Force Base in Warner Robins, Ga. He was to report in early November 1991.
While I was excited about the move to Georgia, I wanted to be with my mom here in Maryland on Dec. 21 for her 60th birthday. With all our household items packed and ready to go, Tom left for Georgia in October. We had planned that I would leave Maryland on Dec. 23 with our cats for that long, 14-hour drive over a two-day period.
I saw Santa Claus putting gas in a car when I got to South Carolina. I asked him what happened to his reindeer, and he told me they were out back, having lunch in the field.
Every time I heard Bing Crosby’s “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” on the car radio, I would tear up, thinking of Tom and how much I missed him. I made it to our new home just in time for Christmas Eve.
To this day, when I hear “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” I think of that wonderful reunion in Georgia.
Susan DeHetre, Waldorf
The excitement of meeting Santa
My most memorable holiday memory occurred when I was in a foster home in Prince George’s County back in the 1950s and ’60s. Social services arranged for foster children to celebrate the holiday together. It was a fun-filled day. Each of us received $5 to spend in the five-and-dime store. I had never had my own money before, and I remember being so happy to have enough money to buy a present for everyone in my new family. Imagine doing that today! Later in the day, we went to a big room and were served a meal. Although the meal was delicious and shopping was fun, the best part was meeting Santa. We were told to listen for Santa to call our name. I remember being so anxious and excited. Finally, my name was called. I sat on Santa’s lap, told him a wish or two and received my present. I don’t remember what the gift was, but it didn’t matter; the whole day was a dream come true.
Shirley Asmussen Lucas, Vienna, Va.
A beautiful, homemade Nativity scene
My memories of Christmas growing up in Pisgah include that while my dad couldn’t afford presents for all 11 of his children, he made sure that we never forgot the real reason for the season. It was such a humbling experience to hear the choir sing out in praise while celebrating the birth of baby Jesus during Christmas Eve service.
I also recall my parents attending my seventh-grade Christmas concert and feeling very special that night. We always had a ritual where we would purchase several grocery bags of Christmas candy one week before Christmas, and by the time Christmas Day arrived, there would be several bags missing. No one ever confessed, but you know who you are.
My fondest memory of Christmas is when my dad took apart a floor model TV, purchased several Christmas items and made a beautiful Nativity scene that was worth much more than money could buy. My dad loved Christmas, and even though he is no longer alive to help us celebrate it, the memories of his love and dedication continue to live on in us.
Linda Heard, Nanjemoy
My mom died in May of 2006, I sold my house of 30 years in June and moved to Southwinds in July. It was a little too much going on in such a short time. I was very depressed that holiday season, so I decided I needed a more positive outlook on life. I really missed my mom, so I decided to sing at the Southwinds Christmas party. I sang “Silent Night” a capella in German for Mom. She and I had come to the U.S. from Germany in 1949. We could still speak German, and Christmas was our No. 1 holiday of the year. I was so glad to be able to sing “Silent Night” in German for my mom.
Helga L. Clayton, White Plains
Home for Christmas
On Dec. 15, 1990, at 11 p.m., I received a call from my son, who was studying for finals at the University of Maryland. He had just received a call from the Marines advising him to report for duty. How could he study when he was going to war? He completed his finals the next day and was thrown into the frenzy of getting ready for Iraq.
That week went by fast as he prepared for deployment. He departed from Bolling Air Force Base. As a mother, I tried to prepare and practice controlling my emotions, but once I said goodbye, the emotions started to flow. It was hard letting my son go with the fear I may never see him again. As the bus pulled away, I fought back my tears and said, “God be with you.” Two days later, Christmas Eve, the phone rang, and it was my son singing “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” He got a two-day pass from Camp Lejeune, N.C., and a group of Marines rented a U-Haul truck, piled into the back and were on their way back to Maryland to celebrate Christmas with their families and friends.
Betty Hayes, La Plata
Manger scene under a big cedar
Christmas was a special time in our home in the ’50s. We lived in Washington, D.C., and my sister and I looked forward to Christmas every year.
Daddy worked in Southern Maryland each Christmas season, and he would wait until the week of Christmas to bring home our tree, freshly cut, from a friend’s field. It was always a cedar tree because he said it reminded him of his youth in the Northern Neck of Virginia. The boughs would stick us as we decorated the tree and fussed about it, but the cedar smell would fill the whole house. Daddy put the lights on, and my sister, Faye, and I decorated it. We put Daddy’s little paper houses and metal figures under the tree, and Mom went to the kitchen to bake her delicious sugar cookies pressed out with her Santa, gingerbread and reindeer cookie cutters. The finishing touch would be the manger scene, which held a special place under the tree.
Today, my tree is much smaller, not a cedar tree, unfortunately, but those little houses are still under the tree, and the metal people still march about like they always did under Daddy’s tree. Best of all, the manger scene is still there, reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas.
Wilda Cheseldine, Newburg
A real Christmas miracle
I am an 85-year-old man who arrived in America in June 1951 from Finland on the ship Mauritania. I’ve had many wonderful Christmases here in the United States, but Christmas Eve 1939 holds my dearest memory.
My brother, Ake, and I were in an orphange outside Karja. Our mother had died on my second birthday, and our dad had died around my fifth. We had older brothers and sisters but were taken kicking and screaming by horse and carriage to the orphanage.
Years passed, and we coped because we had each other. We were the oldest boys at the orphanage, so we were ordered to go to the store for supplies after dark using the kicksled. Because we were at war, there was a total blackout, and the store was only open from midnight to 7 a.m. We were on our way back when the siren sounded, and we quickly hid under a bridge. There was a railroad station next to the bridge, and a train filled with Finnish soldiers going to the front line had to stop because of the siren. Imagine our surprise when we heard one of the soldiers calling our names! He must have heard us talking, and we were afraid to answer at first. He kept calling, then walked over to us. We were astonished when we recognized him — our oldest brother, whom we had not seen for many years. We all cried and hugged each other and were thrilled when he bought us some candy in the store — an extra treat because we never got candy or gifts at the orphanage. The “all clear” sounded, so we hugged him goodbye with tears in our eyes, and he got back on the train.
As the train chugged away from us, we headed up the hill to the orphanage by the light of the full moon. There were no airplanes that night, and we never knew why the siren had sounded, but I believe God sounded it to reunite two scared kids with their loving brother.
Erik Lindstrom, Port Tobacco
MeMe’s surprise Christmas gift
It was Christmas Day 2009, and I was feeling sad because my youngest son, Rodney, and his family, who lived seven hours away in North Carolina, were not with us. I had not seen my granddaughter, Zoey, 3, for some time, and we were all really missing her. My older granddaughter, Ashley, 15, kept saying, “I wish Zoey was here with us.”
We had opened our gifts and were preparing to eat our traditional casseroles that we have each year for breakfast. Suddenly, I heard loud running down the hallway and screaming “Merry Christmas, MeMe!” Zoey was running toward me and jumped into my arms. I couldn’t believe it. I picked her up, and all I could do was cry because I was so happy to see her. She said, “MeMe, why you crying? Can I open presents?” I said, “I’m crying because I am so happy to see you, and yes, let’s open those presents.” It was a wonderful, magical and fun holiday. What a blessed Christmas we all had.
Drema Yeager, Waldorf