Some of my most cherished memories are of the Christmases of my youth, spent with family in our home of many years on Lemp Street in Boise’s North End.
Christmas was the best time of the year: decorating the tree with my mother and sister, Christmas music on the stereo, snow falling in the yellow glow of the old-fashioned streetlight. Dad in the kitchen whipping up Tom and Jerrys, everyone feeling merry.
More than any other time of year, Christmas was a time for family. That included relatives we seldom saw at other times. Remembering them seems appropriate today, a day when families make memories remembered for life.
Everyone’s favorite was Grandmother Susie. Susan Marquarett McCoy was easily the most interesting and beloved of my grandparents. She was my great grandmother, actually; all but three of my grandparents died before I was born.
Grandma Susie was born in 1865 – the year the Civil War ended – in Iowa. Family lore had it that she came west in a covered wagon. Grandma Susie had had many last names – Marquarett, McCoy, Black, Cuddy, Chandler – having outlived all of her husbands.
She was a jolly old soul, despite having known more than her share of sorrows. Her last husband, who brought me pennies when they came to visit, had the uncommonly bad timing to die at our house in the middle of Thanksgiving dinner. She also had a son who died. Despite her losses, she somehow remained positive, even jovial.
Grandma Susie didn’t come for the day on Christmas; she’d come and stay with us for a week or more. A week warmed by her marvelous cooking and baking – she had worked professionally as a cook – and by her good humor and genial disposition. We cherished her visits.
Relatives who came only on Christmas Day included Uncle Wayne and Aunt Helen, who lived in a rural area of Ada County, and Aunt Amy and Uncle Adolph, who lived on a hardscrabble farm near Star.
Aunt Helen grew up in the mining town of Cripple Creek, Colo. She could tell the difference between gold and pyrite (fool’s gold) or silver and galena without batting an eye. She and Uncle Wayne had an adopted daughter, Barbara, who with my sister adored playing “Chopsticks” on the piano. Everyone else would have preferred Christmas music, but it was all they knew how to play.
Uncle Wayne was an Oklahoma native and part Native American. The most interesting things about him to my youthful way of thinking were that he was a master carpenter and had once been the foreman of a mine in Peru. Uncle Wayne was a self-styled banana connoisseur. He said you hadn’t really tasted a banana until you’d had one freshly picked from the bunch, as he claimed to have done often in Peru. For store-bought bananas he had nothing but disdain.
Uncle Adolph and Aunt Amy were lifelong farmers. They arrived for Christmas dinner in their ancient Austin, arguably the ugliest car in Idaho, with their son Weldon.
Weldon rarely strung more than half a dozen words together. He and Uncle Adolph wore bib overalls 364 days a year, but on Christmas they’d show up in dress shirts, old-fashioned suits and and gaudy hand-painted ties. It was their one chance to dress up, and they made the most of it.
Aunt Amy, who reminded me of Aunty Em in the Wizard of Oz, would be decked out in her best – a calf length dress, nylons with seams down the back and a hat with a veil. Seemingly from another time and possibly planet, they always left early to be home in time to milk the cows. We didn’t exchange gifts with the Star relatives. They couldn’t afford to do that, but their company was enough.
Mom went all out for Christmas dinner – baked ham with clove and pineapple garnishes, Parker House rolls, a casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy and her signature mincemeat pie, all served on China used only at Christmas and Thanksgiving. Dad would light a fire in the fireplace, a feat attempted but once or twice a year, with universal trepidation. He was never sure whether the fireplace vent was open or closed. A roomful of smoke was an ever present possibility.
All those people are gone now, but they’re fondly remembered these many years later. I mention them today because there are few times when being with family, and reminiscing about absent loved ones, seems more fitting than during the holidays.
Our family, like most families, has had its share of spats and rifts, some worse than others. My late sister barely spoke to me the last eight years of her life and refused all invitations to join us for Thanksgiving or Christmas.
A more recent rift had several members of the family barely speaking. Happily, that seems mostly to have been set aside, at least for now. We were together last night for Christmas Eve and will be together again today for Christmas dinner. My hope for you, readers, is that your family puts aside whatever grievances you’ve had and that you spend today enjoying one another’s company.
Other timely Christmas wishes:
That after almost three years and with effective vaccinations easily available, the pandemic will at last begin to fade.
That we will be more tolerant of other viewpoints and our country will become less divided.
That Putin’s war will end soon and there will be peace in Ukraine.
“Peace on earth, good will toward men.”
Isn’t that what today is supposed to be all about?
Merry Christmas to you all.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7 thoughts on “A Day for Family, Peace, Good Will”
Thank you Tim for taking time to share your XMAS memories and thoughts.
You have touched us all with your message.
Merry Christmas to you and your family.
Thank you, Gary. And a Merry Christmas to you and yours.
Amen Tim, amen! Happy New Year to you and yours!
Sent from my iPhone
Thank you again for your writings. Merry Christmas!
Thank you, Vicki. Hope you had Merry Christmas as well. — Tim
Thank you, Vicki. Hope you had a Merry Christmas as well.
Great memories, Tim!
Your great-grandmother sounds like quite a gal to remain jolly after all her losses And her last husband died during Thankgiving dinner? How old were you or are you just documenting family history.
You say she came to stay a week at your place…..where did she live?
Loved the description of your other relatives just great that you have known all of them.
Yes, I too never knew my grandparents. Have no idea if my Dad ever went back to Wisconsin to see his parents after heading west at 17 years old in 1895. My Mom’s mother had two children in South Dakota …..he husband died of lung disease from the mines………she went back to Indiana and remarried and had three more children before they all moved to Idaho. She was living with a daughter in California and died when I was three and was buried in Weiser.
Gotta go set the table……….Ken and Connie from two doors down are coming for a soup supper and that should be t he end of our holiday guests.