Echos of Christmas Past


Mary Bowers

Jacob put down the pen, pushed back the stool, and stretched out his long, lean arms. His stiff back resisted painfully as he struggled to his feet. His feet – how they throbbed in their sandals!

It had been a busy day, reflected Jacob, stroking his long, graying beard. The profits were worth it, though. His sharp black eyes again scanned the figures of the inn’s assets. Yes, he had finally made it. He and Sarah could retire to that little farm in the country, and his son Ben could take over the inn.

Twenty years ago, when he had first bought this run-down inn, he had dreamed of this day. He had worked hard to enlarge the inn and the stables and to keep them in good condition. In a town like this, where the census was taken every ten years, a good innkeeper needed only two good chances to make his fortune. True, the years in between were sometimes lean, but at census time the coffers spilled over. Every night each room was filled with travelers, every stall in the stable bulged with stock.

Jacob’s reverie was shattered by a loud knock on the door. 

Finish the Tale

My Tiny Christmas Trees

Jane Applegate Belzer

Years ago, in another life, a full-size Christmas tree would stand in my living room in late December, hung with lights and ornaments. But sometime in January the tinsel had to come down, and a litter of pine needles had to be cleared away. One year those needles even broke my vacuum cleaner. 

Remarried now, and to a man of other holidays and other traditions, I’ve channeled my nostalgia for the Christmas trees of childhood into collecting miniatures. The first came from the Brandywine Valley ten years ago. Since then, they have multiplied during our travels in the United States and abroad. And every December some of them come out to march across the mantelpiece and hearth, the solution to ecumenical Christmas decoration in a mixed household – without the pine needles.

Let me introduce you to a few of my tree friends:

Ravenna is on the northeast coast of Italy, and there the Roman empire made its capital for a short while.

   Meet the trees

Dark and Stormy Night

Lindo Ho

It was a dark and stormy night. The fierce wind swirled relentlessly around the rustic oak cabin nestled in a lonely valley of the Smoky Mountains. By nightfall, snow drifts covered the three small windows of the one-room lodge built by the early pioneers of the Tennessee Valley.

Five-year-old twins Jeremiah and Johanna were huddled next to the fireplace, mesmerized by the crackling sounds of pine logs set ablaze and their brightly dancing embers. The warmth of the fire snuggled them in a cocoon of safety against the frightening storm.

It was Christmas Eve and the twins asked anxiously, “Will Santa be able to find us in this snowstorm?”

Find Out Whether Santa Succeeded

Texas Turkey

Neil Harvey

The Christmas season was fast approaching.  The year was 1944, the war in Europe and the Pacific had swung in favor of the Allies, and the holiday mood was upbeat and festive in Dallas, Texas.

In those days, I was the foreman, laborer, and chief chicken plucker and poop scooper for the Harvey family Poultry Enterprises.  My family was going to move into a more fashionable part of Dallas, and our wartime chicken-raising project would not be tolerated in the new neighborhood.  I had butchered and dressed out all the fryers for our customers.  Dad sold off the turkeys, laying hens, and George, the rooster, to a neighbor.

My grandmother, Nanna, who had lost her sight and lived with us, sat in the shade of our willow tree and plucked the feathers from the chickens I had butchered.  Nanna had been raised in the 1880s on the Kansas plains and never shirked the drudgery of any menial job.  She was an expert on all of the household skills like gardening, bread-making, and canning – skills needed to survive on the American Western frontier.  She was an authentic pioneer woman.

Dad had kept one large tom turkey, whom I called Jake, for our Christmas dinner.

Learn What Happened to Jake

Linzer Torte

Victoria Dym

I am in the checkout line at the Giant Eagle which is Pittsburgh’s version of Publix. While waiting, I skim an article on Christmas family gatherings: a recipe for a Holiday Ham, glazed with brown sugar and rings of pineapple (the way Mom used to make it), escalloped potatoes, lemony Brussels sprouts, and a Linzer Torte. The picture shows the food deftly plated and arranged on a Christmas tablecloth. There’s a vase with red roses, white lilies and pine.

You want the magazine? The cashier winks at me. Later that night, after my daughter, Sydney’s bath, and of course, her bedtime story, I read to my husband, Larry, in bed from the magazine, The Linzer Torte has two delicious layers of rich and buttery, nut flavored pastry sandwiched together with raspberry preserves. What makes this torte so beautiful is the lattice design of the top crust.

I keep looking at that beautiful picture of the Linzer Torte; Larry turns his light out. I stare at the Linzer Torte, the flowers, the tablecloth, and decide, this is what I will make for dinner on Christmas. Neither Larry nor I have ever tasted a Linzer Torte. And, I am pretty sure my brother and his family will be stunned when they see the table. This Christmas it’s my turn to cook: the first Christmas since my mother passed. The Christmas of the Linzer Torte!

Finish Your Dessert (and get the recipe)

‘Twas the Night Before

Neil Cosentino

KC-135 refueling a fighter

It was the night before Christmas Eve in 1970 at Torrejon Air Base near Madrid, Spain. I was a captain in the United States Air Force and the junior aircraft commander of one of the three Strategic Air Command (SAC) KC-135 tankers.  We were from three different air bases. My home base was Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana. We were there to provide backup air refueling for the SIOP war plan, emergency air refueling and training sorties. It would be another Christmas on SAC alert duty away from our families.

It was the first day of my two days off from alert duty. I had made plans to go into Madrid and do my favorite thing – enjoying the city as if it were a living museum. I was always surprised during my walks in Madrid, London, Paris, Tokyo, Copenhagen or Rome that when I roamed these cities at random, I somehow always returned to where I started, as if I was a human homing pigeon. I have lost that ability now and get lost after the first turn. I now have to use the hotel business card or name of a train station given to the taxi driver to return to where I started.

Just before I left the base, all three aircraft commanders were told to report to our operations center. There they shared the good news that one of the KC-135’s could fly back the next day to their home base for Christmas and that it was up to us to decide which one would go back. But instead of one of the three commanders pulling the short straw or the low number from a hat, the Major pulled rank on us and designated his own plane. That did not sit well with us. 

 Complete the Mission

We haven’t linked to all of our “Christmas Past” stories, but you can find them by going back to our Home Page and entering “Christmas” in the Search box.

We hope you are enjoying your Holiday season, and we hope you’ll join us in 2024 for more stories, memoirs, poetry, and art from your fellow OLLI-USF members. — Editors

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