My Post-Thanksgiving Assignment

Putting Up the Tree


Not Until December

I’m from the good old days – back when Christmas was not the Great Red & Green Retail Hope, forced down the throat of every shopper all year long.  There really were only about Twelve (Appropriate) Days of Christmas.  In fact, I remember when putting up Christmas decorations in the first week of December was considered pushing the season and people had them down by the first Monday after the 25th.

I kept a pretty close eye on the retail end of Christmas, because both my parents had jobs in the business.  Mom more than Dad, because Dad’s retail establishment was part of the Veterans Administration’s Hospitals, while Mom worked for a major department store, but both of them benefited from buying marked-down Christmas merchandise.  What my mom went through, as Christmas grew into the phenomena it is today, could not be called a benefit.

However, as Christmas grew in retail importance out in the world, my family kept it in perspective at our house.  While Mom might find prospective Christmas presents on sale at any time during the year and arrangements for Christmas were usually hammered out via phone or letter by mid-October, not a single decoration went up before the first weekend in December.  Well, at least not until 1973.

Home for Thanksgiving

In the Fall of 1973 I went away to college.  I didn’t go away far, just to Nacogdoches TX, but my absence rocked my mom’s world.  I had noticed in her letters and on our phone calls (few and far between, because long distance was expensive), but if I had missed it there, I would have realized it the minute I arrived home for Thanksgiving.

As soon as I made it home from SFA, I was informed I would be putting up the Christmas tree while I was home.  In fact, Mom didn’t see why I didn’t go ahead and get all the decorations out of the garage and start immediately.  I balked!  I wasn’t going to allow Christmas to start until Thanksgiving was over.

So, Thanksgiving morning I awoke to the smell of the turkey in the oven and up until the meal was over everything seemed normal.  However, as soon as the last crumb of pecan pie was consumed, Mom said she and my sister would clean up the dishes, while Dad got the decorations out of the garage and I got the tree set up.

The Queen of Christmas Reigns

I’ll be honest with you.  I wasn’t all that thrilled with this idea, but my mom was not one of those people you could ignore.  You might get her to postpone her plans, as in acquiescing when I balked at putting the tree up before Thanksgiving dinner, but while she would allow delay, defiance was not an option.

So, the box with the tree, which had already been pulled down off its shelf and was staged by the kitchen door, was brought into the living room.  I began assembling the tree and stringing the lights.  As Mom and my sister cleaned up the dishes, Dad carried in box, after box, after box, after…well, you get the picture…of lights, decorations and gift wrapping paraphernalia.

By the time all the leftovers were stowed away, all the dishes were washed and dried, and the silver had all been counted and put back in the flannel-lined case, the tree was up and lighted.  I was still pretty unhappy with being assigned the task so early.  Intellectually I realized that I wouldn’t be back again in time to set it up, but I wasn’t emotionally ready to deal with Christmas until after the first of December.

Then Mom and my sister joined me and began unpacking decorations to go on the freshly lighted tree.  Dad turned off the TV and put a stack of Christmas albums on the stereo.  Mom began the annual recital of Christmas history.

  • Oh look, I can’t believe this ornament made it another year.  Your Dad and I bought it for our first Christmas tree.
  • Do you remember the aluminum tree we had in Dublin?  I bought all these red balls especially for it.
  • Jane, I know you prefer a live tree, but do you remember the year Susan was allergic to the tree and couldn’t even open her eyes on Christmas morning?
  • Do you girls remember the huge flocked tree we got when we lived on Rupley?  It barely fit in the front room.

Every ornament that came out of the boxes had its own story, stories that I loved.  Even though I had determined to be pouty and indignant throughout the entire process, it didn’t take to many do-you-remembers to jiggle me out of my ennui.  Before I realized it, I was the one reciting the Christmas memories.  I began to sing along with the Christmas carols on the stereo and soon we were all having a mid-afternoon hot cocoa break.



Feasts on Frankoma Ware


Happy Holidays?

Christmas lights have been going up in my current neighborhood since Halloween.  Christmas decor has been available at the hobby stores since Spring.  I’ll confess they’ve already worn me out.  I’ll be doing my own decorating today, but not with the joy the task used to bring.

Autumn is my favorite season and it used to get its fair share of attention.  The bright colors of fallen leaves, chrysanthemums, marigolds and pansies reigned over September, October and November.  Instead of Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving marked the day the Christmas decorations blossomed.  I miss it more than I can say.

Thanksgiving at the Caves

Mom was big on decorating.  Every season got its due.  For Thanksgiving she liked to make elaborate decorations on Styrofoam platforms with cornucopia, fake fruit and colorful leaves.  I particularly remember a set of candles she had, a pair of pilgrims and a colorful turkey.

Most people I know have their holiday dinners in the late afternoon or early evening.  That wasn’t the case at the Cave household.  We had our big meal at lunchtime.  I can’t even tell you why we did it that way.  It was just our tradition.  Perhaps it was a holdover from our farming heritage.  A huge meal midday and leftovers for the late evening.

Our Thanksgiving dinner was one of the few meals we ate in the dining room.  Mom would begin setting the table days in advance.  The spotless white linen tablecloth, gleaming silver flatware, colorful place mats, festive napkin rings surrounding crisp napkins – it was all very Southern Living Magazine.

And the Frankoma Ware

My mom loved dishes.  For everyday use we had an odd assortment of tacky plates gathered from a variety of sources.  Some were leftovers from a time they changed the china at Dad’s work.  He rescued the white plates with their rings of burgundy and black, because he said they held the heat of the food better than our other plates.  (Mom hated them, by the way, and secretly rejoiced whenever one broke.)  I can’t even tell you where the rest came from.  They were just everyday plates you set out with the jelly jar glasses for homemade meals.

But on most special occasions Mom pulled out the Frankoma Ware.  She had a set of Christmas China and a very formal set of fine porcelain, but those were saved for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, or maybe a birthday if you were lucky and in her very good graces.  For everything else, from Sunday dinner to Thanksgiving, you got Frankoma Ware.

Mom’s collection of Frankoma Ware was impressive.  You name it, she had it, from the Wagon Wheel Sugar and Creamer to every imaginable shape and size of serving dish.  We even had individual side plates especially for corn on the cob!  On Thanksgiving it all came out, even the tumblers.

Now the tumblers were a bone of contention.  Dad loved his iced tea and had a huge glass of it at dinner and lunch.  He was very particular about what it was served in.  He didn’t want any of that plastic stuff and the glass needed to be clear so he could see that the tea was the right strength.  He liked to watch the sugar melt as he stirred.

The Frankoma Ware tumblers were not see through and they were probably a third of the size of his usual tea glass.  He made his displeasure known in an assortment on non-verbal passive-aggressive methods, including multiple trips to the kitchen for refills.  Each refill required an elaborate stirring and tasting ritual, not required with his usual iced tea glasses.

The Usual Schedule

The turkey went into the oven in the wee hours of the night to be ready for the mid-day meal.  By breakfast time, the giblet gravy was on the boil and  cornbread dressing in a large pyrex baking dish was ready for the oven.  Yes, we had green bean casserole, but the funniest thing to me was the relish dish.  Each holiday Mom used a huge sectioned platter to create a crudites extravaganza – celery sticks, tomato slices, pickles, olives and more, spread out in a glorious array – and after each meal, it looked just like it did at the beginning of the meal.

As the baking and cooking progressed, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade offered entertainment in the den.  Dad held court from his recliner.  The females rotated in and out according to what was being prepared at any given time.  The second the parade was over, dinner was served.

I had a delightful Thanksgiving dinner with some of my husband’s relatives this year, but it is always a bittersweet day.  Regardless of the quality, quantity or elegance of the repast,  all I really want is cornbread dressing made with the Mobley recipe and a few olives from Mom’s relish dish.  I had no idea of the value of those days when I lived through them.  In fact, if asked I would have probably complained of mediocre food and boring conversation.  How blind we can be!

Ruth and George are gone, so their house will be empty during this holiday season.  I hope,  even now, someone is planning to come to our Open House on Sunday and they will fall in love with 10935 Carissa.  The home has been completely renovated and is waiting to help another family make unforgettable holiday memories.



How Do You Play This Again?


TV Favorites

My family loved TV.  I can easily go through a list of favorites.  While we all enjoyed some shows, my dad and my sister were the real fans of the medium.  Mom and I were happy reading books, magazines and the paper.  We also loved any excuse to go – wherever it was and for whatever reason.  For us, TV was more of a team sport.  We watched it to be a part of the family.

Last week I told you about the game of musical chairs we played in the den on Wednesday evenings, as the type of programming went from the news, to country music to the paranormal, but Sunday was our big TV night.  Though I can’t recall their order, I can tell you the three shows we watched religiously: Wild Kingdom, The Wonderful World of Disney and The Ed Sullivan Show.

Many households turned to Bonanza on Sunday nights, but I can’t say that I’ve ever seen an episode of it.  Westerns weren’t really a genre of choice.  We’d watch Have Gun Will Travel sometimes and I watched the Rifleman in rerun, but we leaned more to variety shows, documentaries and sports, when Dad was in control.  If he abandoned his post, we’d watch Bewitched, Star Trek, Dark Shadows and lots of movies. Dad’s qualifying question for TV shows was, “Is this real?”

Game Night

While TV was popular with us, we also loved playing games.  For many years, we played an old board game called, “Go to the Head of the Class.”  You moved along in the game by answering questions and the questions were divided into various age groups.  That meant my little sister had just as good a chance of winning as my dad did.  However, we loved playing it so much, that eventually we’d all memorized the answers to all the questions at every level.

Our favorite card game was Spades.  I’d learned it on a mission trip and taught it to everyone else.  Dad and my sister would be partners, so that left Mom and I to plot against them.  It really wasn’t a fair match up.  Once everyone had bid and played once around the table, my dad could pretty much tell you what everyone had. 

That was until I learned about going nillo.  A nillo bid meant your team wasn’t supposed to get any tricks and if you managed to pull it off, you got some huge number of points.  You could also go blind nillo, which meant you bid nillo before you looked at your cards.

Mom and I got pretty good at playing nillo, primarily because my dad couldn’t wrap his mind around it.  It infuriated him that he’d be on the cusp of winning, hundreds of points ahead, and I’d call blind nillo.  Over and over again he raged how ridiculous the concept was, but if I hadn’t ended up with both the Ace and King of Spades, then I could usually manage to pull it off.  Then we’d win, even though dad had been trouncing us all night long.

What Color Pie Do I Need?

Then Trivial Pursuit was invented and we all loved it.  Everyone was on a level playing field, because even my younger sister had her own category where she could wipe the floor with us.  It was pretty cut throat and we played it often, but it didn’t matter how often we played it, my dad would always ask, “Now how do you play this game?”  To this day, I don’t know whether he just had a hard time understanding it or he was just asking to set us all off.  He was capable of that kind of humor.

We’d go through the board and the pies and what you had to do to win, but then there was another kind question he drove us crazy with.  He could never remember which colors went with which question and to make it worse, he always confused the colors.  To him brown looked like orange and green like blue.

He couldn’t see why in the world he had to answer questions for all the categories.  He seemed to think he should be able to fill his pie with blue and yellow (Geography and History), then win the game.  “Dad, you’ve already gotten that pie,” was a frequent refrain.

He’d get downright mad when a green question wasn’t related to sports or was instead related to some sport he had no familiarity with – like curling.  “Dad, it’s sports AND leisure,” we’d remind him.

Pink was his Waterloo.  He’d accuse us of stacking the deck against him with questions we knew he wouldn’t have an answer for.  “I’ve never watched that show,” he’d say – as if that mattered.  Then he’d accuse us of giving each other easier pink questions than we gave him.  “Susan got a question about TV, Jane got a question about the Beatles and your mom answers a question about a musical she’s seen 20 times and you ask me something about some drinking song from the French Revolution?  How can that be fair?”   It got to the point that we allowed him to pick his own card for his pink questions, or the game would come to a standstill.

In spite of Dad’s antics, we dearly loved the nights when we’d put a card table in the middle of the den and gather around it to play games.  My sister and I would give anything to return to those days and play one more round of Trivial Pursuit.  We hope with all our hearts that whoever buys this home will make wonderful memories there, just like our family did.

She Had Green Fingers


Another Family Night on Carissa

On January 5, 1972, Mom came home from work and got dinner cooked.  My sister and I set the table as she cooked the meal.  Mom whipped things together pretty quickly, as my sister and I regaled her with tales from our day.  As all this happened, my dad watched the news, moving from the color TV in the den to the black & white portable in the breakfast room, when we told him dinner was served.

After dinner on this particular evening, Dad returned to the color TV to watch Hee Haw, while the girls cleaned up the kitchen. He loved that show, but the rest of us hated it.  We were more interested in Night Gallery, which would come on shortly after Hee Haw.

As Dad enjoyed his corny country music show, my sister and I cleared the table and loaded the avocado-green dishwasher.  Meanwhile, Mom cleaned the avocado-green stove-top, avocado-green Formica counters, and every other avocado-green thing in the kitchen, including the sheet linoleum floor that was supposed to look like small Satillo tiles, but, of course,  in avocado-green.

TV Time

Mom always remained in the kitchen long after my sister and I were released to join my father in front of the color TV.  I doubt Dad stayed in the den with us very long that evening, however.   He didn’t have much patience with fiction, especially a show like Night Gallery, which bordered on the paranormal.  When we watched things like that , he often retreated to the breakfast room to watch the other TV.

As the family watched TV, Mom usually dropped into the den from time to time to keep up with the plot.  She’d sport a pair of yellow rubber gloves cradled in her apron, to avoid dripping on the avocado-green shag carpet.  Some nights, she would give up all pretense of cleaning and sit down to watch.  And that’s exactly what she did on January 5, 1972.

Green Fingers

The reason I know so specifically what happened on January 5, 1972 is because Wikipedia tells me that’s the evening Night Gallery first aired “Green Fingers.”  In this episode, there was an elderly woman who loved working in the yard.  The villain, an overbearing developer, was trying to intimidate her into abandoning her beloved yard.  The little old lady continually thwarted the developer’s plans, telling him, “I have green fingers.  Everything I plant grows.”  That was Mom – everything she planted grew (with the exception of ferns, but that’s a different story.)

Our yard had gone from a blank slate to something Better Homes and Gardens would have been interested in, had they ever been told it existed.  In the days before the internet, Mom pored over brochures and articles in magazines, newspapers and gardening books, to ascertain exactly what plant should be planted and when.  She also haunted all the local nurseries.  She was that customer we all hate, because she monopolized the only garden expert available.

A New Family Slogan 

So, in the Night Gallery episode, the developer sent in a thug to “take care of her.”  Only the thug didn’t kill her, he just chopped off her fingers.  The little old lady eventually died from a loss of blood, but not until after she managed to plant her fingers in her yard.  At the end of the show, a neighbor discovers the fingers have grown into more macabre version of the little old lady.  The neighbors looks into the TV camera with abject horror and echoes the gardeners works, “She has green fingers.  Everything she plants grows.”

Probably every other household watching this episode was gripped in horror, but not our household.  We were rolling in the floor laughing.  My mother rose from her chair and did a sort of Frankenstein walk saying, “I have green fingers…”  My dad yelled from the breakfast room, “What’s going on in there?” and I tried to answer him, but he couldn’t make much sense of it between my guffaws.

From then on, the punchline from the show was liberally sprinkled into our dialog.   There was no end to the gags:

  • We’d tease Mom almost daily, as she headed out into the yard in her awful yard-working ensembles. 
  • When she cut through the cord on the the electric hedger (again) we’d suggest she plant it, rather than buy another one. 
  • When Dad complained the pile of dirty shoes in the garage seemed to be multiplying, we’d ask Mom if she’d been planting her yard shoes again. 
  • If something in the yard died, we’d suppose some stranger had planted it , because everything mom planted grew.

And on and on it went – when Mom got gloves for her birthday or food dye on her hands making Christmas cookies or pretty much anytime something involved growing, green or hands.  We never seemed to tire of teasing my mom about her green fingers, any more than she tired of working in the yard. 

Mom’s yard is still lovely.  Over the years we’ve reduced the number of plants, pulled out ground cover and tried to tame the limbs on the trees, but Mom’s influence still seems obvious.  If you love gardening, perhaps you’d like to pick up where she left off.  I know she’d love to have someone care for her garden.

Moving In


 A Family in Transit

When your dad works for the government you move around a lot.  By the time I was 11, we’d lived in five houses.  The move to Dallas made six.  Two and a half years later, we moved into this house on Carissa and our vagabond days were over.  

There was so much packing and unpacking going on in my life that I don’t have a clear memory of packing up for the move to Carissa, the day of the move or unpacking when we moved in.  What I do remember is the yard.

Role Reversal

We’d never had a new house of our very own.  As we moved, sometimes we’d rent and sometimes we’d buy, but in each of the other places, the yard was already there and my dad was the one who took care of it.  Mom’s involvement was limited to an occasional stand of zinnias in the summer.  We did have one home where we had room for a garden, but it was a vegetable garden and Dad was in charge of what was planted and harvested.  Mom’s only connection to the garden was serving the vegetables with our meals and pickling the cucumbers.

Something odd happened when we moved to Carissa.  Mom was suddenly in charge of the yard!  Her first priority was to plant the lawn.  Back in those days, when you bought a house, that’s what you got, a house.  If you wanted a lawn or shrubs or a little seasonal color, that was completely up to the home buyer.  Mother went after the yard with a passion and when my mother had a passion, she involved everyone else in her project.

The Piles of Dirt

When we bought 10935 Carissa, the home was surrounded by black gummy clay and if you dug down more than a few inches, you’d hit white limestone.  It seemed as if I spent that entire summer spreading dirt.  Dad would order up a load of dirt – sometimes it was soil and sometimes it was sand, according to what my mother deemed appropriate.  Either way, as soon as it was delivered, the family grabbed up shovels and started spreading it.  Well, the girls grabbed shovels.  Dad was responsible for transporting the dirt from the pile to the spot where Mom wanted us to spread it.

I have no idea how many loads of dirt we spread that summer.  It’s probably the hardest work I’d ever done up until that time and I really didn’t like it at all.  There would be a crazy rush to spread the dirt before it rained, but then as soon as we would spread it, Dad would have another truckload delivered at Mom’s request.  As a kid, I didn’t understand the finer points of soil management and horticulture, not that I know much more now, but all I saw was the quicker I spread dirt, the more dirt I had to spread.

You would think the last load of dirt would have been cause for celebration, but it was just the beginning of a new phase.  Come back next week and I’ll tell you about it.