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Readers share holiday memories

From Karen Gauvreau, Clearwater:

"One of my most memorable holidays was when our son was about 6, his sister 9, and we went to my parents' house in Chattanooga, which we did every other Christmas.

My parents' house, which all five of us children grew up in, had the church and school we all attended just out behind their property. The church always had a Nativity scene and used live trees as part of that scene. They must have had too many that year and threw out some of them. Our son saw them and we looked out the window and here he came through the yard pulling "his" tree behind him. He said it was going to be his special tree. We set it up in the den and Mother went up in the attic and found some lights and ornaments that he could decorate his tree with. He was so proud of that tree. Christmas Eve he slept under his tree and wouldn't you know it — Santa left his toys under his tree. It was so memorable for all of us since no one had ever done this before and he was so proud of it.

Even though we have lost our son, the memories are something that no one can ever take away from us."

From Donna Davis, Palm Harbor:

"Christmas of 1969 is one that I will never forget. My family had been through a terrible year — my mother died, and my father remarried very quickly. I was a young teenager and felt confused, depressed and isolated. My father seemed to love my new stepmother and her daughter more than he did me. Christmas Day was a disaster. My stack of presents was small compared to my stepsister's. My stepmother was hung over, so I had to cook chili for Christmas dinner. But then, a bright spot. My grandmother and great-grandmother came to see us. Grandma (my great-grandmother) was an amazing woman. She was barely literate, but she knew so much about life. Grandma was poor, so she didn't give us Christmas presents. But that year, as she left, she slipped me an envelope. "Shhh, don't tell the others," she said. I took that envelope to my room and opened it. Inside I found a recycled Christmas card with "I love you, from Grandma" laboriously written in pencil. And included in that card was a dime. One dime. I began crying because that small gift, that dime, showed me that I was still loved by someone. That dime is the most precious gift I ever received for Christmas."

From Ellen Pfau, Palm Harbor

"The year I was 11 (I think), my Mom decided we would join her best friend and family for dinner on Christmas Day. We would bring the turkey.

Now growing up in Baltimore, White Christmas did not happen very often. But this Christmas morning we awoke to a picture-perfect winter wonderland. The trouble was the car was snowed in and the roads were not plowed. Dad said we would just load that turkey on my sleigh and walk there (it was only 2 miles away).

Well along the way it snowed some more and we kept being followed by dogs! The smell of the turkey was so enticing! My Dad ran out of dog biscuits, which he always had in his pockets. By the time we got to their house we had about five or six dogs following behind us!

To this day this is one of my favorite memories of Christmas when we became the Pied Piper of the Christmas Dogs!"

From Lil Cromer, Belleair:

"It was 1958. For weeks my Mom worked diligently to provide a nice Christmas for her family. Money was tight; she was making most of the gifts and decorations. Christmas morning dawned, but Mom didn't. She was sick with the flu, brought on by exhaustion. Being the oldest, at age 11, the dinner was on my shoulders. The fridge held a 25-pound turkey and untrimmed trimmings — far exceeding my culinary expertise. So, I prepared and served the family hamburgers, canned corn and potato chips. When I took a tray into Mom's room, she cried, and said it was her best Christmas dinner, ever!"

From AnneMarie Dyer, Clearwater:

“The year that we got a Franklin coal burning stove for the front room, in 1923, when I was 6, was a very special one. Prior to that we had one of those old-fashioned round kerosene heaters there. It was always shut off at bedtime as they were known to be the cause of fires, and besides they gave off somewhat nauseating fumes.

That was also the year that we had our first Christmas tree. We all joined in a happy frenzy to help decorate it with popcorn and paper loop strands, with an abandon of tinsel, a half-dozen newly purchased balls, and a dozen clip-on candles. The candles were lit for a brief period with Pop keeping a careful watch and a pail of water ready. The year before we had no tree, and I remember hanging our stockings from a kitchen shelf. Mom reminded us that if we were bad there would only be a lump of coal in our stockings come Christmas morning.

We must have been angels. . . . All four stockings were stuffed brimful of goodies come Christmas morn. In each was an orange, a tangerine, walnuts, glaze fruits in wrappers, a peppermint cane and other treats. Our excitement mounted as we poured it all out in search of that small toy or game from the 5 & 10 store.

That superior Franklin stove, and our first real tree made for a most cherished memory. The room, so warm and cheery and smelling so Christmassy. Mom had filled a huge crystal bowl of spirits. It was swimming with orange slices, pineapple chunks and a few cherries. Cinnamon sticks had been laid alongside to serve as stirrers, then to bite and suck upon its pungent spicy taste."

From Joe Gormley, Safety Harbor:

"Christmas Eve '66 was an absolute joy and still the most memorable of my early years. . . . This day's events were put into motion during October of the previous year as our mother insisted my brother John and I save and split a $50 Christmas club. We each handed over 50 cents from our weekly compensation. On Christmas Eve, she doled out $25 each and with one instruction sent us on our way to purchase gifts. Her words echo to this day, "You can spend all of your money, but none on yourself." . . . Twenty-five dollars went a long way in '66; so many gifts were secured for parents and siblings alike. I confess to coveting a much-advertised "little dab will do you" tube of Brylcreem hair styling cream for myself, conjuring up many scenarios in which I could make the purchase and use the product without anyone being the wiser. In the end, I knew shouldering the guilt of a personal purchase would have been a greater burden than the benefit obtained from slick greasy locks. . . .

Christmas morning arrived soon enough and we repeated our family ritual of lining up at the top of the stairs from youngest to oldest as my parents readied the camera, tree, trains and Christmas music. Minutes later, wrapping paper became our carpet and shouts of joy and thanks were everywhere. My mother hugged and kissed me for the gift of boxed chocolates and my dad beamed at the thought of wearing his new socks. My siblings enjoyed the many items which were selected exclusively for them and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing their reaction as they opened their gifts, especially John. For my closest brother, I had purchased the much-coveted tube of Brylcreem. He laughed and thanked me.

After drying my hair later that day with my new Schick 75-watt hair dryer, which yielded a steady stream of air as warm as an exhaled breath, I slapped on my first dab of Brylcreem. John, who remains my best friend and still my closest brother had secretly purchased (for me) "a little dab will do you" tube of Brylcreem.

Marylou Ferra Tarpon Springs:

"It was many years ago, during the Great Depression of the 1930s. My three sisters, my brother and I were feeling gloomy. It was Christmas Eve and we didn't have any money to buy our mother a present. Then my oldest sister remembered what our mother always preached to us: "Never forget each other. It's not the price of the gift, it's about caring and thinking about that person that counts.''

Well, between the five of us, we had five cents: the price of a pack of gum. We ran to the corner store, bought the gum and asked for a brown paper bag and some string. We cut the bag into five squares. We each drew a picture on it, folded it like a card, put a stick of gum in it and wrapped it with string. . . . The next morning, Christmas Day, we gave Mom her presents. She made such a fuss over them, you'd think we gave her a million dollars! She was so happy and proud of us because we found a way to show her our love and that we were thinking of her in our labor of love."

From Rita Baird, Palm Harbor:

"We didn't have much money and my brother and I only got one small gift at Christmas. We never received any allowance. My friends were able to get their parents a gift at Christmas but I never had any money to do so. One year I wrapped something that was in the house for my mother, father and brother. For my dad, I wrapped his only comb that he had used for many years. He searched the entire house the week before Christmas trying to find his comb. I was so afraid he would be mad at me. When he opened his present on Christmas he was not mad but said "Oh, it's my comb, I am so glad to have it back. Thank you.'' . . . I never thought of us as being poor even though my friends had much more and I feel blessed to have the wonderful Christmas memories of my childhood.

From Marilyn Stach, Dunedin:

"When I was a child during the Great Depression my parents and I lived with my grandparents. We were poor so I didn't expect a lot of presents but I did look forward to a lovely Christmas tree. . . . My father always supplied the tree. He waited until very late on Christmas Eve when nearly all the trees were sold. He was able to get one for as little as 25 cents. This year luck was against us and although he tried many lots the trees were all gone. I was so upset when he came home I cried as I went to bed.

Christmas morning when I came downstairs I was amazed to see our big floor lamp beautifully decked with ornaments, tinsel and lights. An old white sheet circled the bottom and there were some presents too. . . .

The feeling of love that surrounded me that day as I sat under my "special'' tree is still with me."

From Barbi Glass, Safety Harbor:

"While living in Los Angeles, circa 1982, my brother Rob and I decided to take our mom, Pat, out for dinner on Christmas Eve so that she wouldn't have to go to all the trouble of fixing a big meal. We set out rather late and must have gone to at least 20 different restaurants, all of which were closed. We finally went back to Mom's house and ended up eating hot dogs and beans (about all she had in the pantry since she hadn't gone grocery shopping thinking we were going out to dinner). Instead of feeling sad or gloomy, we sat in her kitchen eating hot dogs and beans and laughing till we cried! It was by far, the best Christmas ever! It goes to show, you don't have to do or buy anything fancy, all you need is the people you love to create a wonderful, lasting memory, which is the true meaning of Christmas for me."

From Michele Matarrese-Sanders, Dunedin:

"I take a close-up, candid shot of my daughter every holiday season. I buy a small frame at the local dollar store, add a ribbon and hang the framed photos on our Christmas tree. When my daughter leaves for college, we will have a tree full of pictures of her, since her first Christmas."

From Barbara L. Ross, Dunedin:

"Eleven years ago I was very blue during the holidays for the man I'd loved since age 16 was leaving after 28 years of marriage. I had no interest in decorating the house for it felt so empty. I was in bed trying to sleep away the holiday season when I awoke from my nap and meandered out to the kitchen to prepare a little dinner. While I was sleeping my adult daughters, Stephanie and Katie, had been busy in the kitchen decorating a miniature Christmas tree with many of the earrings I'd worn and saved throughout my life. When I saw the tree on my countertop I couldn't help but forget feeling sorry for myself as I burst into laughter to see my fish, sparkles, circles, crystals, etc. hanging from the branches. There is no greater gift they could have brought me that year! I can't help but smile every time I think back to how they thought of the perfect gift to lift me up when that is exactly what I needed, and I felt very lucky to be loved by the two of them . . . and I still do!"

From Evelyn Brassfield Staples, Belleair:

"There were 13 children in our family and seems like some of them were always in a war, guarding our country. We little ones would pick peanuts my dad had planted, fresh sweet potatoes and for dinner there would always be at Christmas a fresh roasted goose or a couple of hens. We had an orchard with my dad taking care of it and raising vegetables in the fields. We were never hungry, but didn't know that people exchanged gifts at Christmas. We were just made to feel we were rich in abundance with food. Mom would hang Dad's socks and once in a while we would have a fresh orange and a nickel's worth of chocolate and that was our Christmas. Oh what I would give to be back and enjoy it all once again."

Nancy Eggert, Dunedin:

"When I was 10, living up in Searingtown, N.Y., it snowed quite a bit. My parents loved it when the front yard was pristine and no footprints. You could play in the side or back yard, but leave the front yard alone.

Dad got the brilliant idea of removing the manhole cover in the street right in front of our house. He had me and my siblings shovel all the snow from the driveway and sidewalks down the hole. When he saw a snow plow coming, he would quickly cover up the hole and pretend to shovel snow. After the plow would leave, he removed the cover and we would continue.

Near Christmas, we had a huge snowfall — 4 to 5 feet fell. The neighbors were amazed that all our pathways were perfectly shoveled, but not one bit of piled snow anywhere!"

Eileen Sheahan, Dunedin:

"In the fall of 1957 my life irretrievably changed. My mother passed away and by Thanksgiving my younger brother (age 8) and myself (age 11) found ourselves living in a children's home with 748 other children.

The children who lived there for years told us about an annual Christmas tradition. Santa would show up in a helicopter on the front lawn. The children would circle the lawn and anxiously await Santa's arrival. The new kids, we were told, were allowed to stand closest to the helicopter. Santa would toss hard candy and coins to us!

My brother and I were very excited. We believed that the older kids were kind, generous and compassionate giving us the special place in the inner ring.

Santa arrived to our thunderous applause. We jumped up and down. Santa opened the helicopter door and stepped out. I'm guessing Santa used to be a quarterback. He began lobbing hard candy and coins. Throck! Plong! Ping! Half dollars and silver dollars and hard candy hit us in the face, on our heads and arms causing minor welts, tears and hysteria.

Those compassionate kids were gleefully laughing at us nonstop as we ducked, jumped and ran.

Local newspapers took pictures of the benevolent Santa "gifting" the poor kids who lived in the children's home. I suspect many of the pictures were edited.

My brother and I stayed in the outer ring every year thereafter watching the pandemonium of the new kids initiation to Santa's visit on the front lawn."

From Joydine Tiedeman, Palm Harbor:

"As soon as the Italian blue plums become ripe in the fall, I know it is time to start getting ready for Christmas. Why, you may ask? The answer is because I always make my mother's plum coffee cake recipe for our Christmas morning breakfast. To assure the maximum flavor, the plums must be soft to the touch, and ready to eat. Then I know. This is the time. . . . The aroma of the blue plums bubbling in their sweet juices wafts through the house. It smells like Christmas.

This is the beginning of the Yule season that has been our family tradition for more than 50 years. After the baking is completed, the cakes are cooled, wrapped, and put in the freezer for that special time: Christmas morning.

Now the page has turned. The years have gone on and our children have Christmas in their own tradition. No more plum coffee cake in my oven, but still there is giving of love. We are part of their Christmas, but no longer the central part, life has marched on. I no longer shop for the blue plums in the fall for Christmas morning breakfast, but look forward to Christmas as we travel to their homes and partake of their traditions, still bringing some of their favorite cookies, baked again by grandma with love."

Norma McCulliss, Palm Harbor:

"It was the 1940s, the Second World War had just ended, but times were still somewhat bleak. I remember bounding down the stairs that Christmas morning and the first thing I noticed was my old well-worn doll house sitting beneath the tree. Questions flew as to how Santa had mistakenly given me a toy that I had already played with thousands of times. My mother said that there had to be an answer and she suggested that I look inside. To my surprise somehow "Santa" had ingeniously redecorated the six small rooms with new curtains, new tiny rugs and a few new furniture additions.

Martha Stewart has nothing on the jolly old elf. But, somehow I think Mrs. Santa was the mastermind of the whole project."

From Craig Gross, Oldsmar:

"Christmas was the most important holiday of the year as far as our mom was concerned. She had seven children and she and Dad would save diligently throughout the year in order that the Christmas tree on Christmas morning would be stacked high with gifts of all kinds. One year my older sisters got the idea of "regifting" a gift to our mom; it was a glass bowl they had bought for her two years prior to the Christmas of 1964. You see, Mom would take some of her gifts and store them in the attic. Why she did this was a mystery to us all; most of the gifts we bought her were probably not worth more than a few dollars at the most.

So, my sisters went to the attic and found this glass bowl still in the original box, wrapped it in new Christmas wrapping paper and placed it under the tree.

Mom and Dad always opened their gifts last and this year was no exception. The very last box mom opened was the glass bowl she had received two years prior. As she opened the box and pulled out the bowl she said to my sisters, "Oh my gawsh! You shouldn't have spent that much money; this bowl is just what I've always wanted!"

Well, my sisters let Mom go on for a few minutes as she ranted and raved about her "new" bowl. Then they broke the news to Mom that she had been regifted with a present she had received two years ago. To this day I will never forget that Christmas morning. I don't think Mom put any gift from Christmas in the attic after that. The old farmhouse is still in the family, and whenever I am home and I walk past that attic door I can still hear Mom say "Oh my gawsh! You shouldn't have spent that money."

From Annie Laurie Bamford, Clearwater:

"During World War II many of us traveled to towns and cities we had never before seen. In December 1943 I followed my husband to the University of Buffalo, where he was stationed as an Air Force cadet.

Arriving there in December in temperatures below zero was quite an experience for an Alabama girl. . . . It had already snowed before my arrival and the first purchase we made was a pair of snow boots for me.

Before Christmas it had snowed for days and nights and we enjoyed walking in the snow. Especially me — I liked the crunch the icy crust of the snow made as we hit it with our boots.

We walked at night through the tree-covered campus where the trees were laden with ice and snow and glistened in the moonlight. . . . Christmas Eve the snow was about waist deep where the wind had drifted it along the streets. We had fruitcake in our room and then went to midnight church services.

As we walked in the snow we could hear the Christmas carols and organ music from the beautiful church.

Walking through the campus among the trees with the gentle symmetry that snow brings it was so very peaceful, calm and quiet."

From Roz Potenza, Oldsmar:

"It was 1972. My mother and I had been in a pretty bad car accident which left me with a compound fracture of my ankle and a Harry Potter scar on my forehead. Several weeks after the accident my father went into the hospital with chest pains. It turned out to be a blood clot by his lung and it put him in the hospital for 37 days. . . . They let my dad come home on Christmas Eve so we could spend some time together and I still remember my mom leaving to drive him back to the hospital that night. Christmas morning came without a lot of the usual fanfare. There were presents under the tree and all but the real joys of the season were askew — until I took my first step on my ankle since before the accident. I can't remember what I did but I just walked for the first time in about 8 weeks on my own. My mother always said it was the best Christmas gift she could have gotten and my Dad got the healing treat of his life when I hobbled into his hospital room on my own power."

Readers share holiday memories 12/24/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 2:26pm]
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