Thankful…

Christmas Eve is just around the corner, less than 2 hours away at this point, and as I sit here staring at my farm in Farmville I realize that if it weren’t for the real life farm days of my youth that I would not be the person I am today.

When we were kids, it seemed like Christmas would never get here.  Each day out of school seemed to drag on and on and on, now each day seems to fly and fly and fly. Amazing how perception changes as we age isn’t it?  Anyway, I can’t help but think back to all of the years when I would stay up all night and start pestering my brothers to get up on  Christmas morning.

We would come down the stairs and find the living room FULL of gifts.

You can see from the expressions on our faces we were always thrilled with everything we received. We were very lucky children, never once did I feel like we were poor. Never once did I feel as though we didn’t have as much as everyone else. I had no idea how hard it really was to provide for us, Momma made sure of that. For that I will be forever grateful. 

We would have breakfast together, it was always oyster stew. That’s a tradition that we still have today.  There’s just something completely soothing about the warm milk flavored with oysters, butter and those funky little oyster crackers all mixed in with an oyster here and there.  After breakfast we would each pick out the new outfit we were going to wear and pile into the car and head up the hill to Nanny’s.

Nanny would have been up for hours at this point, cooking for the family.  As soon as you walked in the door you would be completely engulfed in the smells of Christmas. The cedar from the tree in the living room (well up until the year that all the ornaments fell off the cedar and we switched to an artificial tree but that’s a whole other story for another day), the turkey in the oven, poultry seasoning and sage for the dressing. She’d have celery and onions cooking down in butter to put into the cubed up white bread, on the back of the stove she’d be boiling the “parts” from the inside of the turkey. It would soon be my job to pull all the meat off the neck and to chop up the liver and gizzards to mix up the stuffing.  Trust me, Stove Top has NOTHING on Nanny’s homemade stuffing.  Next would come potatoes to peel, at least 10 lbs of them. Gravy would be made from scratch, a skill I never managed to master thank heavens for those fabulous little packets at the grocery store 😀

In the days prior we would have made fruitcakes, boy I hated those little candied fruit pieces. Seriously there was nothing candy about them as far as I was concerned. We would have also made home made, from scratch german chocolate cakes. She would boil the icing on the stove, I didn’t appreciate the icing at the time because it had coconut in it and I was way to finicky to eat that.  What I wouldn’t give now for a spoonful!  Hundreds and hundreds of cookies would have been baked. Every imaginable shape cut from sugar cookie dough, baked to perfection and sprinkled with homemade sprinkles. We weren’t wasteful in that we made everything from scratch that we could, there were no bags of cookie mix as there are now.  I remember putting granulated sugar in zip-lock baggies with a few drops of food coloring until I got the color just right. Of course I always ended up making to much.

The buffet that sat at the lower end of the dining room (yes we had an upper and lower end, the room sank a little over time 😉 ) was cleared off and every conceivable dessert was placed on it. Cherry pie, mincemeat pie (which I never understood), cake, cookies, various candies that Uncle D loved that we would get from a country store somewhere in the county every year, you name it it was on that buffet.  Our main dining room table was round and easily sat 11 people every Sunday. It was piled full as well with turkey, old ham, rolls, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing and other things that I can’t seem to remember at the moment.  At noon we would all gather round the table, standing room only because there were so many of us, and someone would say grace. After that, we would all circle the table and fill our plates up for round 1. It was a long day with MANY rounds of food, I’ve always joked that I did not get fat by accident. It’s true, there was ALWAYS something fabulous to eat. Okay almost always, but the leftover casserole is also another story for another day.

After lunch, everyone would be fat and happy. We would all make our way to the living room, gathered around the tree, to pass out and open gifts. I was the oldest of Nanny’s grandchildren so I automatically voted myself “giver outer of presents”.  Mind you, I had thoroughly inspected everything under the tree prior to Christmas day. I was one of those annoying kids who would literally worry you to death to figure out what was under that wrapping paper. I’m pretty sure that kids like me are the reason behind the invention of dollar store tape, trust me that stuff does not come off without leaving a mark like scotch-tape does. I’m still like that today by the way, just ask my husband who I unsuccessfully annoyed to no end this year to find out what Momma got me. I hate it when I can’t get him to tell me what I want to know, which of course means he loves it.

By the end of the day, there was a calm over all of us that I didn’t fully understand and certainly did not appreciate as a child. I was more concerned with playing with my new toys, or in later years getting to my horse so I could try out whatever new thing she got that year. Blankets, bridles, saddle pads, my first English saddle; you name it I asked for it and Santa Mom always delivered.

These memories lead me to realize that as I’ve aged, granted I’m only 36, I’ve learned to truly appreciate what Christmas is. Not withstanding the birth of Christ, it is also a time when I am truly thankful for every moment that I have with my family. Gifts are no longer the most important thing on my mind, well not gifts for me any way. I live to see the looks on the kids faces when they open their presents. Each of them so appreciative of what they are receiving. Hearing Taylor say “Wow, Graaaammmmaaawww.” in the way that only she can say it makes my eyes water just thinking about it. Watching Will’s eye’s light up and hearing him giggle does the same. Wes is old enough now that he’s understanding things more than  in years past, his expressions are priceless as it is so I can’t wait to hear what he has to say tomorrow night.  Bradley’s little eyes stay lit up ALL day. He’s so smart, so loving and happy with his toys and his “raffies”. Mike and Trena as well as Nikki and DJ have done such a good job with these little ones, they are blessed children just as we were when we were children. As an adult what is important to me now, is the happiness that I see in others. It’s a good meal shared among family. It’s wrapping paper covering the living room floor on Christmas Eve and kids covered in flour baking cookies. It’s the smile on Momma’s face when she sees them happy. It’s the smile on Nikki’s face when Bradley shares something with her. It’s the little tear that will come to Steven’s eye that he thinks I don’t see, but I do.

Ultimately Christmas is about giving, Christ was born and gave his life for us. In giving his life, he made it possible for us to make mistakes and be forgiven. He made it possible for families to have hard times and hard feelings but to still come together and celebrate as one. I am most thankful for the gift of family.

I never really know where to begin…

Should I begin at the literal beginning with my first memories? Back in a time when I knew that the world had time zones because we’d learned about them in school but I just assumed that everyone on the planet went to bed at 9pm because that’s what we did as kids? Or how about with my first memories of working in the garden with my Nanny? When I got my first horse and everything she carried me through?

From left to right here we have: Estelle and Blue, Me and Paint, Michele Rossano and Addy, Courtney and Skeebow.

I don’t think I really know where to begin so it’s best to just start writing and see what falls onto the virtual paper.

When I think about the people I want to tell about and their stories, the first person who comes to mind is Nanny.

Nanny and Sully

Oh she was a stubborn woman, but she always did what she felt was best for the family. No one can fault her for that. She was raised during a time when women stayed home and cared for children. They tended gardens, worked cattle and made sure that they were canning and freezing plenty of food for their families to make it through the winter. They used old ringer washing machines, whether it was 100 degrees outside of 0 degrees, it didn’t matter. She walked miles down out of the mountain to meet the bus to head into school. She took care of her mother, her father and her own husband as various diseases would claim their lives. She didn’t worry with taking care of herself; there were too many other people that needed her to do for them. Or at least I’m sure that’s how she felt anyway.

She moved off the mountain when she was around 10 years old. Her family’s land was purchased to make way for the Shenandoah National Park. Several times I can remember her and her brothers going back up into the mountain to look for the old home place. She and I drove through the hollow only once and she showed me where she had walked down to meet the bus in front of an old store that is now nothing more than two stone chimneys along the side of the road. She showed me the general direction in which the house was, but I never walked out there with her.

I don’t really know anything about her childhood, about her courtship with her husband or really about her years as a young mother working on a farm and tending to two children. The only stories I really have are from my Mom and her brother. Nanny wasn’t one to talk about herself very much, well nothing more than the general duties of a young woman growing up on a working farm.

Some of my fondest memories of her involve the kitchen table.

Nanny & Christy on Christmas Day

Our family was always cooking or canning something.  Nanny, Grandma (her Mom) and I would peal apples for hours on end; we would do the same with peaches. Every variation of preserves and jelly that could be thought of was put up for winter. She would drag us off to the garden with her in the morning before the dew had burned off and have us picking peas, green beans, lima beans, squash, cucumbers for pickling and corn. Whatever was in season was what we were picking. After everything was carried back to the house, my younger brothers and I would go out on the porch and play until lunch time.

Her house had a porch that wrapped around from the front along the side and up to the kitchen door.

Front of the house in the summertime.

View from the side as you pulled up to the house.

View of the back looking at the house from the garden. 

Winter time.

View from the front yard looking toward the back of the farm. Meat house on the left, horse barn with red tin roof, milk house in the foreground, I can’t remember what we called the red building and finally the brooder house on the right. 

view of the brooder house, the dairy barn and the wood house from the front porch. The 2nd garden is also to the right. 

It was covered with a tin roof and had concrete for floors and the “wall” as we called it. On the outside of the wall was field rock. Along the top of the wall there were a few cracks, I was always scared that a snake was going to peek its head out at me.

Clarence and Mike laying down with Courtney in between them.

As kids we didn’t have fancy electronic toys and games, even when they started to come out. We had farm animals, fence, barns, tractors and plenty of imagination. There were two white Adirondack chairs and a love seat that sat on the front side of the house. We would use those as make shift barns, or perhaps to fill in a gap in the fence we were building.

In the front yard there were two tall trees, one of them was a maple and I can’t remember what the other was now.  They were on the west side of what we called the walk. The yard was fenced with a white board fence. When Nanny and Grandma used to watch their stories in the afternoon, I would take my old plastic horse on springs out and pretend that it was grazing. Horses were the only thing on my mind for many years, probably from the first time I ever laid eyes on one. There was always tare string lying around somewhere, it was tied into a long rope and used to make a paddock for my horse. The grass under that maple tree was incredibly soft; I would lie out there in that soft grass and watch my plastic horse pretending that it was real. Nanny would fuss at me for lying in the grass because she was always worried about ticks or some other insect biting me. I didn’t care, I was little and I had a horse.

I went in search of pictures this afternoon.

 I absolutely love this picture of Nanny and she absolutely hated, she’s working on the kitchen floor, under the old cook stove and her lips are pursed together as she says “S***”. She was taking up old tile to put down new. 

It was the only “bad word” she ever used and you knew she was not a happy camper when she did.  I’m almost sure it was during one of the trips her sister-in-law made up here from down south, one of the ones where we had to redo a room.  

The “I’m going to kill you if you take one more picture!” face. Here she’s standing in the old claw foot bathtub painting over the pink tile on the wall. If you looked really close at the wallpaper, you could see that we actually hung it upside down. 

I’ll never forget when SIL decided it was a great idea to put curtains up in the kitchen with barnyard animals on them. I can still hear Nanny saying “Take those damn things down.” as her brother and SIL were driving down the lane and out of the gate. She’d put them away and we’d put them back up before they came back 6 months to a year later.  Later in her life, she was closer to the SIL but boy those first few years were rough.

When SIL decided that it would be a good idea to redo the living room in pink and blue. 

Under that pink sofa cover was a leather love seat. Can you imagine how much fun it was a kid to try and sit still on that thing. 

Finally, she’d had enough of Lew and her camera. They laughed about it, but she really did hate that thing. 

Going through these pictures is bringing back tons of old memories. I can’t wait to start putting them all down. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have ourselves a book about our wonderfully dysfunctional family!

10 truths of Christmas present wrapping

Inevitably every year when I’m wrapping presents with Momma one or more of these 10 things will happen:
1.) We will run out scotch tape.
2.) We will resort to packing tape cut into little pieces that resemble scotch tape because we’re not going to the store.
3.) One or more phones will ring right in the middle of putting on that one piece of tape that it takes two people to get just right because the package is either to large or to small to be a one person job.
4.) We will laugh hysterically at absolutely nothing at all, we will laugh until we cry, until our sides hurt and our pets think we’ve finally lost it.
5.) There will come a point when it suddenly seems like a good idea to just slap a tag on a Kohl’s box and call it wrapped.
6.) I will lose the scissors and will only find them after I ask Momma if she’s seen them, realizing as I try to talk that they are actually in my mouth the whole time. (No I don’t have the pointy end in there, only the handle.)
7.) The pen will disappear and we will hope that we haven’t wrapped it in someone’s gift. If you get it in yours, congratulations you win the pen ;).
8.) We will run out of tags and start cutting wrapping paper into little pieces and making our own.
9.) We will have one gift that no matter what we do with the paper, it just won’t fit. We will take our scraps and “assemble” them into something that resembles wrapping and tell ourselves it’s fine because hey little kids don’t look at wrapping paper. TG for packing tape!
10.) We will determine that there is one gift left over that we know we bought for someone but dang if we can remember who that someone is now. This mystery gift is almost always chocolate based and we will secretly hope that we never remember who it’s for so we can eat ourselves.