Tuesday, December 04, 2012

EDITORIAL >> Christmas memories

When I was young, my mother spent all day on Dec. 23 baking cakes and pies. The aroma of mincemeat, coconut and chocolate filled the house and when she was finished the table in the dining room was filled with her creations.

It was my favorite day of the year partly because of those aromas but mostly because it was the official start of Christmas.

She baked the ham and turkey the next day, and on Christmas she rested, at least from cooking.

Christmas presents came out of a box from Aldens, a Chicago-based mail order house. Just taking care of a family with at least eight kids in the house at any given time was a full-time job. Town was at least 25 miles away and even if she could have found what she was looking for in the stores, finding time to go was difficult.

My mother never worked outside of her home. And I would have loved to have followed in her footsteps, but since I don’t live on a farm like she did and my kids are grown, staying home would have been a little more than self-indulgent.

So, I work and my holiday prep time is limited. Except for cheesecakes, which are in my opinion a hybrid of cake and pie, I don’t bake much. I usually buy frozen pies and I save the cake baking for birthdays.

I’ve replaced the traditional Christmas ham and turkey with Christmas lasagna and homemade French bread. But just like my mother’s turkey and ham, there’s enough left over to keep me from cooking for a day or two afterwards.

Also like my mother, I don’t have time to shop. So just like when I was young, I eagerly wait for those packages in the mail.

Aldens closed in 1982, but the Internet has made it possible for countless businesses to take its place. I’ve known since I first went online more than 15 years ago that you can literally find anything you need from some company somewhere in the world.

So while my mother searched the Aldens catalog for dolls, flannel-lined dungarees and knit shirts, I log on to eBay, Amazon, Sportsman’s Guide, Barnes and Noble, a variety of western supply stores and this year a log home supply house that sells electric chainsaws for carving.

But the big picture really hasn’t changed all that much.

My mother cooked enough to have leftovers and therefore time off just like I do. She got one big box in the mail; I get several, big and small. She hoped she was buying the right gifts and I hope I am.

To paraphrase a long-dead French journalist, the more things change, the more they stay the same. And if it sounds like I’m looking too hard for a connection, I probably am. Christmas traditions are important even if they are only kept in your mind.

— Joan McCoy