Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Moments In Time: Holiday memories were with Dora Murray, always

When I was a child growing up in my small coal mining town of Windber, Pa., December was my favorite time of the year.

Homes were decorated with wreaths and windows were painted with Christmas motifs. Our little Pennsylvania Dutch Evangelical church prepared homemade mincemeat for sale.

One year there was a crisis as the younger ladies wanted to add brandy to the mincemeat. They claimed it would evaporate, leaving the flavor. The older ladies sent for Papa Baer, our minister, who settled it quickly.

No brandy. Ever.

Our church said no drinking, no smoking, no dancing and no card games, so the younger ladies should have known better.

Windberrites went to Johns­town on the bus to view the window display at Penn Traffic, an upscale department store. The store spared no expense and it just seemed to get more beautiful each passing year. There were animated figures and even the adults were in awe of the pageantry in the windows.

• • •

Christmas was also my birthday. On my fourth birthday, I got two special presents from St. Nicholas. Our St. Nicholas wore a beard, a long red gown, trimmed in white fur, a red stocking hat with a white fur tassel.

St. Nicholas gave me a Coaster King sled with shiny red runners. I cried when Daddy ran the runners through the ashes, dulling the red paint. He explained that now the sled would run faster.

We were still living in my beloved "Little Italy" and Joey and Helen La Placa, our landlady's two youngest kids, took me everywhere. Joey took me down 22nd Street on my new sled. I was riding with Joey when Mr. Shimpko came up behind us in his car and honked his horn. It startled me and I slid off the sled under the car.

What confusion as the ladies of 22nd Street raced to the car, pounding the car and screaming at him in Italian. Joey reached under the car and pulled me out and I was laughing, not aware of the danger.

They insisted on carrying me home, much to my mother's surprise. They descended upon our house all chattering in Italian about the bambino (me) and Shimpko (the villain).

Joey translated. Mother thanked them all.

• • •

Grandma Fannie spared no expense for Christmas. There was ribbon candy, chocolates, all kinds of nuts, candy canes, fruit and the dried fruits. When it was time to eat we always sat in a certain seat.

Everyone had to eat a bowl of homemade noodle soup first, then came the waffles. I had to eat one with gravy, which I hated, then I had one with syrup.

Then the turkey was brought to the table. Only now did Grandma permit help in the kitchen. Mashed potatoes, candied yams, dried corn casserole, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauces, green beans, relishes and rolls were carried in by the family.

Then the desserts arrived after dinner. Homemade mincemeat pies, pumpkin pies, apple pies and homemade fruit cake. Grandma decreed that I did not need a birthday cake with all the baked goods.

She was the boss and reigned supreme. There were leftovers for days.

• • •

Most of those I loved at those Christmas dinners are gone, but they live on in my memory. And I close my eyes and there they are laughing, loving, just as I remember them. Time has not diminished my love for them.

I examine them at my leisure, then just slip them back in that marvelous computer, my brain, until I feel the need to visit once more. I never delete, just move them to drafts.

But that was then and this is now. Somewhere along the way Santa Claus replaced my St. Nicholas. Now one can go to the grocery store and they prepare the whole Christmas dinner.

Now you can see Scrooge with all his ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future on television instead of listening to the tale on the radio with your parents. Turkeys have less pinfeathers. Mincemeat pies are not made with meat.

But that Christmas Spirit is alive and well. Merry Christmas.

A memorial service for Dora Murray will be held on Jan. 8 at 1 p.m. in the East-West Social Room of the King's Point Clubhouse.

Editor's note: This week the Times launches a new, occasional series called Moments In Time. We're hoping to publish stories from our senior readers that capture treasured memories from a specific part of their lives. These stories typically will have a beginning and an end, deal with vibrant images and include period-piece references. Please submit your entries to

Our first entry comes from the late Dora Murray, a Sun City Center resident who died Dec. 15. Mrs. Murray, who was active with the Pelican Players and the King's Point Chorus, often wrote stories about her past. Her son Ted shared this Christmas memory with her friends shortly after her death.

Moments In Time: Holiday memories were with Dora Murray, always 12/23/10 [Last modified: Thursday, December 23, 2010 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bigger ships carry Georgia ports to record cargo volumes

    Economic Development

    SAVANNAH, Ga. — Bigger ships arriving through an expanded Panama Canal pushed cargo volumes at Georgia's seaports to record levels in fiscal 2017, the Georgia Ports Authority announced Monday.

    The Port of Savannah moved a record 3.85 million container units in fiscal 2017, the state said, benefiting from the larger ships that can now pass through an expanded Panama Canal.
  2. Photo gallery: Nine years later, library attack victim Queena works at learning to walk again


    Slowly, Queena Phu is learning the act of walking again through exercises in locomotion, strength and balance.
    She practiced her steps once again Monday afternoon with trainer-technician Mike Lopez at the nonprofit Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center near the University of South Florida.
    Queena …

    Activity based exercise trainer George Palang, 33, and trainer technician Mike Lopez, 22, help Queena Phu during physical therapy at the Stay In Step Spinal Cord Injury Recovery Center on Monday, July 24, 2017, in Tampa, Fla.
  3. Rays' Evan Longoria: "We have all the belief in the world in here"


    The weekend sweep by Texas and four-game overall losing streak has some Rays fans - based on their tweets and emails - questioning the team's ability to make the playoffs and suggesting they might as well trade away their key parts.

  4. FWC: Fish away for invasive lionfish


    Times staff

    What could be better than fishing and helping save the Gulf of Mexico?

    Add prizes.

    Lionfish, originally from the South Pacific and Indian Ocean, are an invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico. [LARA CERRI  |  Times]
  5. Gerald McCoy cares too much about what you think of him

    The Heater

    Gerald McCoy is right. We are going to miss him when he's gone.

    Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is one of 16 players to record at least five sacks in each of the past five seasons. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]