Monday, December 04, 2006

I love everything about the Christmas holiday season (well, except for wrapping presents). There is a sense of joy and wonder as decorations begin to appear in store windows, living room windows and the exteriors of homes all around town. Holiday music is everywhere and it's fun to sing along. I remember anxiously waiting for Santa to arrive in my small town so I could pay him a visit and tell him all of my heart's desires. Moore's Department Store had a mechanical polar bear that jumped out of a box - over and over and over. He was moving oh so slowly the last Christmas the store was open, but I could have watched him for hours anyway. He was still magical to my jaded teen aged eyes.
At home, we decorated a tree. It was festive with red lights, red bows, red balls and candy canes. My mom's favorite color was red and she did not spare it's use at Christmas time. Our house was comfy and cheerful, filled with all the things you would expect to find. I would get up every morning and check my stocking . . . just in case.
My real love of all things Christmas came at the knee of Mrs. Neff. I spent a good deal of my childhood with Mrs. Neff and 'Neffer,' her husband. They were both very dear to me and expanded my view of the world greatly. From Neffer I learned about shoeing horses, how to reload shotgun shells, and about doing a professional finish when doing home-repairs.
Mrs. Neff was my stay-at-home mom when my own mom no longer could be. I watched her can beans from the garden, make crabapple butter, made consparitorial trips to the burn can in order to destroy the evidence of a cake mix being used. Neffer would swear he could taste the cardboard if he saw the box, but would praise with delight the very same cake if no box was spied. But holidays were an extra special time in their home and I always felt privileged to share in them.
Each year there was a fresh-cut tree, decorated to the hilt with balls and ornaments of all colors, a string of lights in every shade available and more tinsel that should be allowed in one home, angel hair that made my itchy but was pretty to look at, garland swirled around and around. I don't know how those trees managed to stand under all that ornamentation.
Each year there was much work to be done in the kitchen. Fruit cakes baked and left to "age." Batches and batches of cookies, baked, decorated and placed carefully in tins. Candy coated walnuts - different colors of candy for different batches then mixed together for an eye-pleasing arrangement. And then there were the pecan rolls. Delicious vanilla-y fudge, shaped into logs, home-made caramel sheets cut to size and wrapped around. Once they were completely encased in caramel, pecan halves were neatly pressed into the caramel before they were wrapped up in waxed paper. Those pecan rolls are still the most delicious candy I have ever tasted.
Over the years, Mrs. Neff outfitted my Barbies, came to my piano recitals, put Band-Aids on skinned knees,picked me up at the bus stop, took me Camp Fire Girls meetings, watched me turn into a bratty teen and waited patiently for me to return. She sat proudly with my mom in the front pew when I got married. Gave me my first Mother's Day present and The Princess her first doll. And, of course, she gave me a box filled with hand-made Christmas ornaments that find their way on my tree every year. They are starting to show their age, but they will never run out of love.

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21 comments:

Sue said...

Oh Libby this was such a delightful and loving post. You and I have so many of the same precious memories of Christmas from the past.
I love your description of the pecan rolls.. Do you still make them?
The angel hair on the tree was so beautiful (and scratchy). I just posted a picture of a tree from my first Christmas coated in angel hair!
:)

Anonymous said...

That is such a lovely story - how precious those ornaments must be to you.

Patti said...

What wonderful memories. Thank you so much for sharing! You made my mouth water just describing all the food - especially the pecan rolls!

Anonymous said...

Great post! That's what the holiday is about, huh?

Judy said...

Aging, fruitcake...ah memories! my MIL used to wrap the fruitcake with cheesecloth and drown it in whiskey or burboun and keep doing that for one year before it was "ready".

What a lovely story Libby!

Anonymous said...

I love to read the posts on holiday traditions. As a military dependent, I missed out on a lot of this. Moveing every 2.5-3 years is hard. I have few memories of Christmas that stand out; but 2 are prominant 1) always had steak and artichokes for Christmas dinner and 2) mom's silver rotating aluminum tree with red ornaments. But I treasure those that I do have.

Carol said...

What wonderful memories Libby...thank you for sharing all those very traditional Christmas memories. Many reminded me of my grandmother...especially the fruitcakes aging. I can smell the cookies baking. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful post. You are truly blessed to have Mrs. Neff in your life. Thank you for sharing her with us.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely story! I really enjoyed reading it. I've not been in much of a Christmas mood yet, but your story has sure put me there! Thank you for sharing it.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed reading your memories Libby. Thanks for sharing them with us. Sounds like the Neffs were great friends.

Darlene - Dazed Quilter said...

Wonderful story - thank you so sharing!

Finn said...

Hi Libby, sorry to be missing in action lately..*VBS* I love your post..I can almost smell the smells and hear the music pouring out of the loudspeakers all over town.
All that would be missing is the sparkle of fresh snow on the sidewalks and cars, and the squeak and crunch of boots, as people walked from store to store.
I read down a few most posts and have to tell you that your basket from rope and fabric is wonderful..! How about one in red???
And I can see why Angie is in love with your Tree Angel...*VBS* It's very clever and also very charming. Keep up the great job, I'll be back to see what else you decorate. Hugs, Finn

Princess said...

I was just thinking about Grandma's all red tree. She was themed long before it was cool to do so.

Anonymous said...

What a great story! (The bit about boxed cake reminds me of my own grandfather...)

Anonymous said...

May I add to your long list of admirers just how very much I enjoyed this entire post! You truly have the gift of re-creating the true magic of childhood, memories, friendship and all of the specialness of the holidays. I could feel smell, taste and hear through the sweet beauty of your words. Thank you so much,you have helped me remember just how special memories are, whether they are from years ago or year to year. You have the true gift of inspiration!

Anonymous said...

Your memories are so special! Thanks for sharing them with us! It was enriching to read and a wonderful reminder of the spirit of Christmas...

Tracey @ozcountryquiltingmum said...

I want Mrs. Neff....so thanks for sharing.
I always hide the packets as well!

Anonymous said...

Great post... another one of the great things about Christmas--- the memories it sparks.... Beautiful pictures in the past couple of posts. I'm learning more and more that one of the great things about being a quilter is your ability to give... and the love that's in those gifts

Katie said...

So many great memories and so nice of you to share and help so many of us to remember too. VBS

Anonymous said...

What beautiful memories Libby, and what a wonderful 'other' Mother. I laughed over burning the cake mix box! There is nothing like sharing a secret like that.

neffscountryloft said...

Finding you on the web after looking for Neff's Country Loft was a wonderful, delightful find and after reading your story ...well it was like you had openned a window of my past. Expecially about the cake box ...my father would do the same to my mother. I married a Neff and we are often called " Neffer or Neffie".. so being able to share your memories only makes me want to leave the same for my grandkids to beable to write some day. Thank you for sharing..
Beverly