A celebration for the scrapbook
— by Ray Rodriguez, The Dalles Chronicle
As we get older, the scope of Christmas and its meaning changes dramatically; we switch from what we are going to get as a child to what we will give as adults.
The holiday also serves as a way to show love, share the memories of the past and spend quality time with the people who mean the most to you.
That is why Christmas has such a profound impact on my life.
We all have stories of dragging drunken family members from under the tree to get at the presents, maybe a few family squabbles, some fun card games, cooking tamales, or, as a child, sneaking a sip or three of wine from the table when no one was looking.
The stories are endless, but they are still a small part of what made us who we are.
My fondest Christmas memory came in the winter of 1991.
I had one thing on my list. One thing – Tecmo Super Bowl for the Nintendo gaming system.
Hours and days were spent logging addresses, phone numbers and driving directions to each location that had the game available for purchase, which ranged from Toys R US, Target, JC Penney, Thrifty Ice Cream and Zody’s, to name a few.
I gave my mother, Debra, the five pages of notes and how many games were in stock at each location.
Days passed by, I did not hear anything.
I asked my mom if she bought the game for me.
I begged and pleaded, promising that I would be a better son, that I would start getting better grades. I would not get referrals from school anymore, the days of terrorizing my sister were over, no more stealing money out of her purse, the dishes would be washed, the trash taken out, world peace would ensue — if she bought the game.
I turned the house upside down in the process, looking for this game, and, to my frustration, I came up dry.
Anger, confusion and pain took over.
Those addresses and phone numbers were correctly written.
Did my mother accidently throw those pages away? Was she not even going to make an attempt at buying me the only thing I had asked for? Was I just going to get a hand-knitted sweater and footie pajamas instead?
Then the day of reckoning — Christmas Eve at my Auntie Lena’s house.
You have the hugs and kisses and the usual family introductions, but I used that time to ask any and every person in attendance if they knew whether or not my mother had purchased the game for me. I even snooped around my auntie’s house and the garage in a desperate search.
I came to the conclusion that this was about to be the worst Christmas ever.
My brain threw around plans of moving away and living on the streets as a protest to constant disappointment.
To pass time, the kids were mainly outside playing ball. It was California, so there was no snow on the ground; as a matter of fact, it was 70 degrees outside and a little chilly.
The adults were inside drinking and laughing, all huddled together at the dinner table — an assembly-line formatted tamale station — and scattered around the house wrapping gifts, on the phone, passed out, dancing or watching television.
By nine o’clock, the kids were ushered off to the bedroom to sleep.
Why? Because the adults were allowed to stay up all night, but the kids had to go to bed.
What kind of dictatorship was this?
My protests were met with threats of bodily harm, so I did the sensible thing and followed orders.
All 10 of us, on two full size beds, and some on the floor, were supposed to get some shut-eye, but instead we whispered our thoughts and hopes of gifts, and whatever subjects filled our brains at that time, pretty much nonsense.
There was no sleeping going on.
The adrenaline was too high.
The anticipation was too much to bear.
Those three hours seemed like an eternity.
Finally, the children were awakened by a drunken uncle Jeff, dressed in a crusty Santa costume, but not the historical visions of Old Saint Nick you see in publications or at the shopping malls across the world.
One of our great family traditions is that each gift is announced and then unwrapped, one at a time, with a display and then a thankful kiss and hug, and so on.
I waited four hours, mad, while my cousins were all smiles with their brand-new gifts, showing off.
At that point I had reached my tipping point, my inner thoughts were of punching everyone in the room, stealing everyone’s money and walking to the nearest store to buy the stupid game myself.
Enough is enough.
Uncle Jeff (I mean Santa) then cleared his throat and barked my name.
He drug in a big box, almost like something that would house a television set.
Now I was confused.
In record pace, I slashed through the wrapping, unearthed old newspapers and packing paper, scattering the contents of this box all over the living room.
There it was.
Tecmo Super Bowl.
I jumped so high I nearly hit my head on the ceiling, then ran to my mother for a hug and a kiss, with tears streaming down my cheeks and my lips quivering, knees buckling.
There was no greater joy in my life.
As I type this story, tears still fill my eyes, thinking about that moment.
My mother is and always will be my biggest fan, my biggest supporter and my rock.
As a single mother, she broke her back and gave and gave and gave and never asked for anything in return.
A pretty thankless job at times, most of the time.
As I have gotten older, I realize the sacrifices she made to ensure I had a happy childhood.
We didn’t have much, but there is still that unbreakable bond and everlasting love that has guided us through so many rough times.
I love her more than anything.
That moment in time was so perfect.
It captures what life is all about.
The key for me is giving love, being positive, providing a great example, a beacon of light for everyone who comes my way.
All because that’s the way mama raised me.
If I didn’t or I don’t, there’s nothing scarier in the world than a mad mama chasing you down with a belt, looking like Indiana Jones ready to do some damage.
Everyone have a great Christmas and an even happier New Year.
Tell those who mean the most that you love and appreciate them, whether it is in person or through a phone call, letter or text.
Those words make a difference.
Spending Christmas miles from home
— By Emily Fitzgerald, The Dalles Chronicle
Christmas has always been a big deal in my family. For as long as I can remember, we’ve done the same 10 or so things during the season with minimal variation:
In mid-December, we have a nice dinner with my mom’s side of the family before going to see The Gospel Christmas at the Schnitzer; see a holiday-themed play at either the Portland Children’s Theater or The Armory; and have a white-elephant gift exchange party with my dad’s side of the family. On Christmas Eve, we go to the Oregon Zoo or The Grotto to marvel at the light displays.
Christmas day, my older sister drags us all out of bed too early, my mom plays her Charlie Brown Christmas CD while we open our presents and empty our stockings, and then someone pulls breakfast together while we get ready for church.
We spend the afternoon at the movies catching the year’s holiday blockbuster and then make dinner at my grandparents’ house, followed by a holiday movie. The day after Christmas, we take down our tree and disappear to the beach until New Year’s.
It’s been the same every year and I love that. I love that, through all the chaos of growing up, Christmas was always the same.
So you can imagine how weird it was when I first spent Christmas away from home — 5,462 miles away from home, to be exact.
I was 19 years old and studying abroad in Salzburg, Austria. The world was my oyster, as my mother would say, and I loved it.
But, at the same time, I was a homesick blob of anxiety. Particularly on Dec. 23.
Everyone told me not to miss Christmas in Salzburg: for one thing, it snows and, for another, the Christmas markets through advent in the old-town, offering mulled wine and a quaintness only found in fairytales, are considered some of the best in the world.
Instead of escaping to the beach for New Year’s, my family was going to embrace the adventure of a European vacation and visit me. I would spend Christmas on my own in Salzburg.
Dec. 23 found me nearly alone in a student-center, wallowing in nostalgia for the Portland Christmas I would’ve had if I wasn’t so far away.
Thankfully, there’s a big difference between alone and nearly alone. A few of my classmates were in the same position as I was: stuck in the student-center missing their own Christmases. So, we spent Dec. 23 together, clumped around a small table in a fluorescent kitchen, playing Apples-to-Apples while enjoying hot cocoa and a communal bowl of mashed potatoes.
As the night wore on, we became less alone: A big group came back from a trip to France and a few more students returned to the center with their own families. By Christmas Eve we had a nice big group to celebrate with.
We embraced everything Christmas in Salzburg had to offer: ice-skating in the square, mulled wine and the promise of snow and more food than anyone could eat.
I missed my Portland Christmas that year, but now I know that Christmas can find me wherever I am — even 5,462 miles away.
An unusual holiday tradition
— By RaeLynn Ricarte, The Dalles Chronicle
Some people decorate the Christmas tree or their house for the holidays, but our family was a little different — we decorated my grandfather.
I’m not sure how that tradition started, but it was a lot of fun for his five grandkids. When I grew older and learned what a macho man my grandfather had been, it spoke even more highly of his love for us that he submitted to such an undignified experience.
Every Christmas Day during our childhoods, my grandfather patiently sat in his recliner watching us open gifts. He would grin when we headed his way with some new bow or ribbon. Sometimes, we added a hat provided by my grandmother or an ornament to the ensemble.
My grandfather’s name was Delmar Franklin Felix and he was a tough man who was proud of being a logger. His father had been in the timber industry before him and his eldest son, my father, Duane, followed in that lineage, as did my brother Keith.
Like his grandfather, my brother is a hook tender, a working foreman in charge of a crew yarding logs. For those of you who don’t know, a yarder is a piece of logging equipment that uses a system of cables to pull or “fly” logs from the stump to the landing. This is a dangerous operation and the men in my family have sustained serious injuries from their line of work.
One of my favorite childhood memories was waking up to the smell of bear grease that my father used to condition and waterproof his nail soled cork boots. The aroma was pungent, but not unpleasant, as the boots dried next to the woodstove.
Our life revolved around the family profession. I learned how to land an axe in the bullseye of a wooden target early on. My father and sister, Maralee, won national ranking for their double-bucking skills with a crosscut saw.
I hope by learning my heritage, you will understand how humble my grandfather was in letting us make him the source of absurdity every Christmas Day.
Not to be left out here is my grandmother, Dorothy, who was born in a logging camp from a mother who died in childbirth. She was raised in the camp and could cuss up a storm and hold her own with the best of them. She loved watching my grandfather’s interaction with us, laughing as we wound colorful ribbons in his hair and put bows on his cheeks.
I was the eldest grandchild and the first girl to be born for several generations, which made it easy for me to wrap “Gramps” around my finger.
When my grandparents came to visit us, I gave him two marching orders: He had to bring grapes because I would be waiting with my hand out; and he had to take me on a long walk so we could catch up on our plans for world domination (yes, even then).
Later, when I was a teen, we moved within a 15-minute drive of my grandparents and I visited them almost every weekend. By then, my grandfather’s logging injuries had caught up with him and the arthritis in his hands was so bad that he regularly tried to get a bee to sting him because, for some reason, the venom brought relief.
It isn’t every day that you see your grandfather sticking his hand inside a beehive…
In May 1980, Gramps died of a massive heart attack. The following year my eldest son, the first great-grandchild, was born, and I wished with all my heart that he had been able to decorate one of the finest men that I would ever be privileged to know.
Searching for the perfect cream puff Christmas tree
— By Neita Cecil, The Dalles Chronicle
I can still picture the photo of a perfect cream puff Christmas tree that accompanied the recipe my mom clipped from a magazine decades ago.
I was always excited when she brought out that little clipping from her recipe box, because it meant that good eats and tasty treats were in my near future.
The clipping took on some wear over the years, with some kid fingers —mine no doubt — marring it with green food coloring in the corner. That just added to its allure.
Eventually, I learned to help mom make the puffs. It was so fun to watch them start out as little blobs of dough and come out of the oven as round, yummy-looking puffs.
Even more fun was cutting a little hole in them, and feeling the puff expand a bit as I filled it with whip cream.
The tricky — let’s just say impossible — part was arranging the puffs to resemble the perfect picture from the magazine. In my cynical adulthood, I now suspect fakery was used to arrive at that tantalizingly symmetrical ideal.
The recipe included a how-to on arranging the bottom and subsequent layers. But even the instructions on creating the bottom layer seemed impossible to achieve. And their puffs were each perfectly round and the same exact size. Not achievable in the kitchen of a mere mortal.
The puffs were “glued” together with thick, yummy green icing laced with toasted almond slivers. Once it was assembled, the remaining icing was thinned with milk and drizzled over the puffs.
Mom always achieved a pretty close facsimile, actually, of the cream puff Christmas tree in the photo, but it never seemed quite so tall as the one pictured. The final touch was a shake or two of round sprinkles on it, and then into the fridge it went to chill. I hated that part. I wanted to dig right in!
The tree was a hit at parties, and it was displayed on a fancy cut glass cake pedestal.
In my young adulthood, I’d beg Mom to make it when I came home for the holidays.
A few years ago, when Mom moved out of her house, I kept her recipe box. I looked for the recipe with its beloved and tantalizing image of the perfect puff tree, but was bummed when I couldn’t find it.
Nevertheless, I decided I’d create the holiday treat for my own family. I found the recipe on the internet and set to work. I can bake and fill a puff just fine, but dang, that tree assembly is like something the Grinch would devise just out of sheer meanness.
My tree looked more like a mound. It was a Christmas mound. Don’t get me wrong, it was still tasty, but absolutely no points were awarded for presentation.
The next time I tried it, I wised up and decided to create a Christmas wreath. Bingo! Sure, it’s just a circle, really, because I didn’t put anything on it, like a bow, to indicate wreathness.
But a Christmas circle just doesn’t sound as festive as a Christmas wreath.
Maybe this year I’ll go all out and attempt an actual tree.
If I fail, I’ll just eat the evidence. Nobody will ever know.
A Christmas surprise
— By Mark Gibson, The Dalles Chronicle
My memories of Christmas as a child are full of color, chaos and family traditions.
Getting a Christmas tree was an early event that combined the joy of wandering the nearby woods with my dad and the frustration of attempting to find a tree that measured up to the exacting standards of my oldest sister, Beth.
A proper Christmas tree was always a challenge to find. Our family home had a 10-foot-high ceiling, which meant that to be considered at all a tree had to be 12 or 13 feet tall.
Dad didn’t like cutting a promising young seedling of that size, so he often cut the top out of an established tree that appeared to be in danger of losing its place in the natural succession. The tree lived and continued to grow, and the family had a tree for Christmas.
I remember “helping” carry one in, adding legs at the “top” of the tree as my dad and older siblings dragged it from the base.
We opened presents on Christmas Eve and some years there were socks Christmas morning as well.
But, before we opened presents, we had a Christmas pageant, with angels and shepherds and of course Mary and Joseph, a doll standing in for Jesus and my mother or father reading the biblical story aloud.
The tradition had its origin when my sister Beth was denied the role of angel in the Sunday school pageant. She was crushed, so my mother stood as stage director and we enacted the Christmas story: Beth was a winged angel in white, dripping tinsel and gold and appearing in the heavens with the aid of the piano bench; I was the little shepherd cowering before the divine in my bathrobe. Together we visited the stable where my brother “Joseph” and my other sister “Mary” sat with the baby Jesus wrapped in swaddling clothes.
We all sang carols and, when we finished, the narrator passed out presents.
The first present I remember receiving was from my grandmother. I opened it very carefully, tugging up tape and unfolding Christmas paper.
Eventually my careful work revealed — a lawn sprinkler.
It looked quite interesting, judging from the picture on the box and I said “thank you” to my grandmother. I wasn’t sure what I would do with a lawn sprinkler, to be honest.
A few minutes later my mother came over and said that I might want to open the box and look inside.
I did, and was astonished to discover that it wasn’t a lawn sprinkler after all, but several post-combat GI Joes with articulating ankles, knees and hips as well as wrists, elbows and shoulders — at least to the degree they still had arms and legs: They were all wounded to one degree or another, which is pretty cool when you are only 6 or 7 years old.
That was a very wet year. It rained and rained and the creek behind our house was in flood.
In the morning I and the casualties explored the flooded ditches and creeks of Christmas Day seeking high adventure. You can always find adventure when you are little.
The GIs rafted down some of the ditches, which looked like fun. When we got to the creek we all managed to survive the culvert whirlpool and I walked home with them to enjoy the rest of Christmas Day.
I believe that might have been the year Dad suspended a galaxy of glass sphere ornaments from the ceiling, all around the manger scene on top of the piano. With all the Christmas lights and tinsel it was, in truth, a fantastical place. I remember the GIs exploring the area for some time, and bedding down behind the stables.
Finding tradition in the rush
— by Chelsea Marr, The Dalles Chronicle
Christmas has always been a mad dash for me. It seems I am always behind. I started working in retail as a kid and anyone who has been in that business knows the holiday season starts early. Christmas music was already annoying to me by the time the real season came along.
I would help customers shop for gifts and then wrap them. By the time I got around to doing my own shopping, I was ready for the holiday to be done.
The newspaper industry isn’t much different. We start planning for the season before Halloween. Our retailers count on us to have the annual gift guide out by Thanksgiving because it helps market their holiday specials.
It seems my careers have always been so wrapped up in the season, I’ve had little time to enjoy it until the last minute.
It was when I had my son, now 11, that my focus made a shift. I still run around in a mad dash, but I have purpose. The willingness to make each holiday memorable for my son is clearly the goal.
A couple of years ago, my son insisted our family all wear matching Christmas pajamas and dance around the house, so we did.
It was fun and my son did an amazing job coordinating the evening, including help with pajama shopping.
Christmas cookies have become a tradition, mostly because we enjoy eating them. I have baked cookies with my son from a young age, often with the help of my mom. Cookie decorating has always been my son’s favorite activity. When he was younger, there was so much frosting and sprinkles adorning the batches that some were hardly edible without shaking off the excess.
In addition to baking, I look forward to the Christmas art my son brings home. He is a talented artist and it is fun to see what creative project the school classroom puts together. These various projects are reused each holiday to decorate our home.
The big holiday dinner is the one I look forward to the most. Sitting back, eating, drinking and relaxing with family.
I only wish my dad was still here. He loved my mom’s pecan pie and it wouldn’t be Christmas without it.