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A bear and Miss Piggy, both dressed in their holiday best, greeted Layla Jean when she arrived home from the hos-pital earlier this month, then graciously posed for a photo a few days later.

Merry musings from the Daily Globe news staff

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The Christmas dress

About 26 years ago, I gave birth to a baby girl. She was a big baby, weighing in at 9 pounds, 5½ ounces.

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My aunt had given me a pretty red dress for Maggie to wear for Christmas, but by the time the holidays rolled around, my little girl was 2½ months old and the dress was too small. I tried to squeeze her into it, but she looked like a stuffed sausage about to strangle on a lacy collar.

Someone else had given Maggie a stuffed bear, and for some reason I don't remember, I decided to put the cheery outfit on the bear. For the next 18 years or so, the bear travelled around with us, making appearances at Christmas. A few years ago, I was cleaning out my boxes of decorations and had set aside a few things to give Maggie. She ended up with the bear.

I didn't give it another thought until I walked into Maggie's house last Monday in Rochester and found the bear sitting under Maggie and Luke's Christmas tree next to another old favorite -- a stuffed Miss Piggy wearing a Christmas outfit. When I spotted that bear still decked out in my daughter's old holiday finery, I got a lump in my throat.

Maybe it was because I tend to get emotional around Christmas. Maybe it was because I had been up for almost 36 hours and was feeling a bit punchy. Mostly it was because Maggie, who was diagnosed with a chronic kidney disease as a child and told she would probably never have babies, had just given birth that morning to a baby girl, Layla Jean.

Or it could have been that I was glad to see the darned bear.

A few days later, three reasonably intelligent adults were working together to take a picture of the bear, pig and baby. It took two cameras, 30 or so flashes, a mom, a dad and a grandma, a set of jingling keys and a lot of high pitched "Layla! Layla!" calls to get the perfect photo. Most of the time she was just wiggling or staring at the walls, but every now and then she would smirk at the three of us just before turning her head away from the camera lens.

The bear and pig behaved nicely. The dress still looks great.

-- Justine Wettschreck, reporter

Traditions more easily recalled than memories

Christmas, for me, isn't about a specific memory.

It's about traditions.

Don't get me wrong, I do have specific memories of Christmas. There was my attempt to drive through a horrible blizzard a couple years ago. I made it to Jackson before I decided that was enough and spent Christmas night in a hotel.

There was also the time I ate a piece of Christmas tree. It was the night of our church concert, and I thought it would be a good idea to have a snack. Needless to say, the needle didn't taste very good.

Concerts were a tradition growing up -- school concerts and church concerts. Singing is not my strong point. In fact, I'm pretty terrible. Once I picked up the saxophone, it was a different story. Finally, something I could make sweet, sweet music with. But alas, that hobby has gone by the wayside.

The candlelight service on Christmas Eve. Church is always a big part of our Christmas experience. For me, the best service of the year is the candlelight service. One year, I sat in the balcony of the two-story church and watched as the entire congregation lit their candles. I was still very young, but it's a memory I'll cherish.

Another tradition is reading the Christmas story. My cousin and I gather around my grandfather as he reads from the Bible. By now, I have the story memorized, but what makes it special is his inability to pronounce "Quirinius." We chuckle each time he passes the word. But it's those things I remember most.

Sometime during the day, large amounts of lefse and kringla are consumed. At times, it seems like my cousin and I have an eating contest. It's the closest I come all year to experiencing my heritage.

I don't know if I could remember many presents I've received. I don't think I could remember most of the food we've eaten.

But for me, Christmas will always be about the traditions we started years and years ago and will continue again this year.

-- Aaron Hagen, community content coordinator

A not-so-tack-y gift

A not-so-tack-y gift

I was probably about 11 years old, and it was Dec. 24. Thanks, in all likelihood, to my dad's example, it was high time to start my Christmas shopping.

Buying something for my mom, dad and brother was a given, but we were also having a significant McGaughey family get-together at my grandparents' place later that evening. It seemed appropriate that I purchase something for everyone, but even in the late 1970s or early 1980s, choices were limited given what I got for allowance each week (and that I wasn't the best at saving money -- an early hint of a substantial credit card debt I accumulated before I was married).

I could make something for my grandparents, of course -- grandmas and grandpas always like homemade things from their grandkids, don't they? -- and my parents weren't so difficult, as they always dropped enough inexpensive hints our way. But what for seldom-seen aunts and uncles?

I have a recollection of running around downtown Saratoga Springs that last-moment afternoon, shopping and scurrying so I could get home in time for us all to leave for Grandma's and Grandpa's. I also recall being stuck on what to get my Aunt Janet.

Ultimately, I reached a bit and took what I considered to be a small but somewhat calculated gamble. As she was either about to move or in the process of moving (at least this is how I remember it, 30-plus years later), I bought her a box of thumb tacks. It cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.29, I think.

When I got home and told Ian, my brother laughed and teased me mercilessly about the tacks. It wasn't long before I became filled with dread at what Aunt Janet would say when she opened my gift. Was it too cheap, too dumb or -- worse -- both?

The gift, of course, was received with grace and with what seemed to be genuine gratitude. I remember trying to explain right away my reason for the gift, but Aunt Janet didn't seem to require this -- she simply thanked me.

Becca has expressed considerable concern over the last few days about whether or not I'll like this year's Christmas gifts from her. I've repeatedly tried to calm those fears, stating that I'm sure they'll be wonderful.

And I know they will be -- even if they happen to include thumb tacks.

-- Ryan McGaughey, managing editor

It takes time to find that special gift

Seventeen years ago this week, I put a package under the Christmas tree intended for my older brother, Randy.

I was so excited that I'd drawn his name for the gift exchange that year because I wasn't sure I could keep my project a secret any longer.

Before I tell you what was in that special wrapped box, I need to share a little background with you.

Growing up, my brothers and I spent quite a bit of time at my Grandma Buntjer's house on Smith Avenue in Worthington. "Grandma B" was well-known for serving up tea and cookies every afternoon at 3 -- just after the "Guiding Light" soap opera ended. While I quickly picked up the habit of drinking tea, my brothers opted instead for a glass of lemonade or some flavor of Kool-Aid. Naturally, Grandma had to serve it in an Archie glass. The Archie glasses were marketed in 1971 and 1973 by Welch's and were sold with jelly inside of them. Each glass featured the teenage Archie characters with a saying written near the rim.

Well, after Grandma B's death, it was my older brother Randy who had hoped to get the Archie glasses. Like most everything else that belonged to Grandma, they were put on the estate auction to be awarded to the highest bidder. The only problem was that someone stole the glasses from the row of auction items. Randy was so disappointed -- the one thing he could have to remind him of Grandma B was carried off by some slick-fingered thief.

It took two years of scouring flea markets, antique shows and antique shops in the tri-state area to find the set of Archie glasses, but I'd managed to collect all of them.

I can still visualize Randy's reaction when he opened the lid off the box during that family Christmas gathering of 1995.

They may not be the same glasses that sat in Grandma B's cupboard all those years we were growing up, but then I suppose they don't have to be. It's the memory that makes the glasses special.

-- Julie Buntjer, reporter

Expect the unexpected at family get-togethers

The Froemming Christmas get-togethers have historically been rich with food, family, reminiscing, catching up and one relative doing something downright insane.

When I was 8, one of my uncles (I won't say who) bought me three presents after downing a bottle of vodka. Three VHS tapes: "Homeward Bound: The Incredible Journey," "Free Willy" and "Silence of the Lambs."

That's right, my uncle thought the psychological thriller featuring serial killers was a good choice for an 8-year-old to experience.

To be fair, in his state of mind, he only saw a movie title with an animal in it. At least that's what I think.

Of course, I wanted to watch it, but my parents felt otherwise. And since I was just a little kid, I had to follow their rules.

In hindsight, watching "Silence of the Lambs" at that tender age would have probably messed me up much worse than I am today.

My parents were not happy at all with this gift.

My dad grabbed the tape from me and took my uncle aside -- I'm guessing to tell him I wasn't old enough to watch Hannibal Lecter's wild antics.

Then my uncle passed out on the couch, snoring loudly. It drowned out the holiday music.

But it is stories like this that add a little color to my past Christmases.

Sure, at the time it was off-putting, but it's given the whole family something to laugh about over the years.

Is every Christmas this weird in my family? No, this was probably one of the strangest. But just about every year some relative will show up completely inebriated and do or say something incredibly hilarious (to me at least).

In recent years Christmas has been fairly laid-back and without incident. It's been a while since we had a "crazy relative blowup," which I'm sure my parents appreciate.

So I'm looking forward to my trip up to St. Cloud this weekend. Family, friends and maybe a weird relative acting crazy.

-- Joe Froemming, night editor

Hark the herald angel smells

There's a barely discernible odor lingering in the vicinity of our Christmas tree this year, and it has me keeping a watchful eye on the décor. I have no doubt it's emanating from the angel atop the tree, which although beautiful and a family keepsake, does not conform to today's lighting safety standards. The tiny golden lightbulbs that give her a heavenly glow are probably 40 years old, and they are not cool to the touch, as modern bulbs are required to be. The smell -- I can't describe it except for "hot" -- becomes more distinct after the tree has been lit for a few hours, and Hubby Bryan and I are careful to never leave it unattended.

But I couldn't resist putting Seraphina (did you know the name means "burning ones" in Hebrew? I hope it's not an omen!) atop the tree this year. Because we've utilized a non-traditional Christmas tree -- white metal --for the last number of years, she had been relegated to the bottom of the decoration storage box. For Christmas 2011, we purchased a green (although artificial) tree, and she is just the perfect size to grace the top.

I wish, however, that I could remember Seraphina's exact legacy. I know she was special to my mom, and if memory serves, DotMom brought her back as a souvenir of a trip to either Chicago or New York. New York seems more plausible, since Mom and Dad did make occasional pilgrimages there to take in Broadway shows, but for some reason, I think it was Chicago. And I know she came from a big department store's exclusive Christmas gallery, which would have likely been Marshall Fields in Chicago. So that's going to be my story from now on.

Seraphina is the angel that I remember being atop the tree throughout my childhood, and she rejoins a cast of ornaments that also played major roles in my holiday memories: beautifully decorated eggs with scenes inside that were crafted by the late Ruth Willemssen; needlepoint stockings stitched by DotMom; sequin-studded felt ornaments sewed by my Grandmother Margaret, who died when I was just 2; my third-grade class picture affixed to a ceramic holly leaf; wheat ornaments that were gifts from friends in Germany. I've added a few more modern ornaments throughout the 19 years of our marriage, but almost every one tells a story that I cherish as I unwrap it and hang it on the tree.

So this Christmas, Seraphina keeps watch over my holiday memories -- while I keep a watchful eye on her sockets.

-- Beth Rickers, features editor

The gift that keeps on giving

My brother (11 years old at the time) and I (8 years old) had paid our dues and that big box wrapped in red Christmas paper was ours.

There was no way this was not it.

While many of our peers were praying for a Sega Saturn or a Dreamcast, my brother and I were aiming low, since we were used to being a few game systems behind, thanks to our parents wanting us to breathe fresh air at some point.

And then, it came.

After blindly tearing through the paper with no regard for the person cleaning up, the Super Nintendo we had hope for emerged. I recall being excited, but not so much for the gift itself, but rather who it was from.

It was from Gramma, who had died four days earlier from leukemia.

Like any mother, she was the bringer of bread and milk; the woman with my mother's face, but who was free to spoil me rotten without regret, and the woman, although strong-willed -- as evidenced by the time she chased my teenage mother with an umbrella after finding out she skipped church -- whose heart you could literally see melt when she was with her grandkids.

She was a woman with a clear sense of humor, since I later found out she was indeed the "Santa C." that signed a letter my brother and I had received in our stockings a few years previous, along with some coal. Apparently, my brother and I had a rough year. Thanks Mom, Dad, Gramma and anyone else involved with traumatizing my sibling and me. We were never the same after that.

She was the reason we got excited upon seeing a car in front of the house when we were walking home from school and turning right on Kolmar Avenue -- and it wasn't just because Gramma's hearing aid didn't work very well and we could do our evil kid plans in radio silence.

She was my gramma.

Although that present may have been the last wrapped thing she gave me, the Super Nintendo was far from the last gift my grandmother gave me. She helped mold me into the person I am today, due in large part to the family she raised.

Most importantly, she gave me my mother, and that's the gift that keeps on giving.

-- Chris Murphy,

sports editor

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