A Difference of Christmas Opinions



A Harvest of Gifts

Looking back at Christmas, the family tree is central to my memories.  Once the tree appeared in all its glory, presents began to blossom around it.  My mom was an extraordinary gift wrapper.  Each present was a small masterpiece, one you almost hated to destroy by opening it, but as I grew older, each wrapping hid a secret I wasn’t quite at peace with.  I already knew what was inside.

I love surprises.  My fondest Christmas memory is the year Santa filled our living room with Barbie clothes and paraphernalia.  It was no surprise Santa would come, but the sheer visible impact of all the pink boxes stays with me until today.  He was never quite as generous with me again.  Instead, slowly but surely, Mom picked up the slack with more practical offerings.

Somehow Christmas became the setting for me getting what I needed, rather than an explosion of surprises.  I realize the love that went into the gesture.  I just wanted a little fun.

Christmas Shopping with Mom

When Mom was still working, we’d arrange for me to come to her store and scope out my Christmas list.  I’d try on clothes, show her things I was interested in and tell her the stuff I wanted/needed that wasn’t sold at Titche’s/Joske’s/Dillard’s.  From my selections, Mom would pick out the things she wanted to get for me.  While this wasn’t as exciting as the pink Barbie boxes, there was an element of surprise to it.

But then I noticed a trend.  Instead of trying on several outfits and allowing Mom to choose which she preferred, I realized she wanted me to nail down the exact pieces to buy.  As we walked around the store discussing other possible gifts, she went ahead an made the purchases right then and there.

And so the struggle began.  We began a series of conversations in which I expressed how important the element of surprise was to me and Mom tried to convince me it was more important to be practical and allow her to purchase exactly what I picked out.  No resolution was ever reached.  She continued to require me to pick out exactly what I wanted for Christmas and I secretly wished for a surprise.

Act Surprised!

There was one more thing about this process I haven’t mentioned.  I was supposed to act surprised when I opened my gifts.  It began as a sort of joke, but as the years passed, it wasn’t all that funny.

Along the way, she also started picking out what I was going to give her.  Some time in October or November, long before I actually thought about Christmas, she’d say, “I saw this great Liz Claiborne/Ralph Lauren/Jones New York blazer/suit/trousers/skirt on the End of the Month sale rack.  With my discount it only cost $_____.  I thought you might want to give it to me for Christmas.”

I really didn’t.  I really wanted to go out and pick out something myself.  Something she wouldn’t have thought of for herself.  Something that wouldn’t have been bought with her discount.  Something sensational, extraordinary and personal.  But then I would remember her oft-repeated mantras about practicality.  Even though she couldn’t bring herself to give me what I wanted (a surprise), she had provided me the opportunity to give her exactly the practical gift she had picked out for herself. 

So, I’d say, “Sure Mom.  I’ll pay you for it next time I’m at the house and take it home with me so I can wrap it.”  The things we do for love.  

We did a lot of things for love at 10935 Carissa.  When you walk into the house much of that love still echoes in the halls, but it is getting fainter.  It’s time for a new family to come and make it their home.  The Cave traditions need to be traded out for new ones.  Won’t you come take a look and see if you are the right family for my house?

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.



The Holidays Are Coming


Bountiful Living

Blessed, that’s the word for my family.  Were we perfect?  Of course not.  Collectively we had more warts than a Texas horny toad.  However, in this day and time, when it’s almost fashionable to air your dirty laundry, I have nothing to share.

My parents were only married to each other – ever.  There were no affairs.  There was no abuse.  There were no arrests.  There were no skeletons in the closet.  The bills were always paid.  There was always a comfortable roof over my head with heat and a/c.  I always had school supplies, new clothes and money to spend.  There was always food on the table. 

In fact, at the holidays, there was always more food on the table than there needed to be.  With Thanksgiving right around the corner, I can’t help but think about the feasts my mom used to prepare.  She worked long hours in the retail business, so she could have been given a pass for making things convenient, but she wouldn’t have taken it.  She planned out her menu some time in October and would have the meal, all but cooked, days in advance.

Ideas Over Recipes

As marvelous as Mom’s epicurean delights were, that’s not what I remember best from our family get-togethers.  I belonged to a family of philosophers, historians and politicians.  Most of them never crossed the threshold of an institute of higher education, but they were better informed and more intelligent than most of today’s American population.  They would have had no trouble naming any of the top officials in governments around the world and they could find any country on a map, whether it was ancient or modern.  They cast votes rather than solicited them, but they knew our country’s founding principles and documents.  What a wonderful heritage!

The internet can’t decide whether it was Socrates or Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “Strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small minds discuss people, ” but by that measure, my family had strong minds.  They also had strong opinions.

Poor Old Marty Robbins

A recurring subject in our household was music.  Our range of preferred musical genres was all over the map, but with a very few exceptions, we were able to appreciate each others’ favorite genres, even when we didn’t particularly like them.  To this day, I will listen with pleasure to everything from opera to blue grass.

Dad’s primary interest was lyrics and in particular the stories behind the lyrics.  He loved sharing these stories with us.  I wish I could remember them all, but back then I didn’t realize how fondly I would remember this catalog of lyrical history.

Into this atmosphere, was dropped the question, “Why do they call it country and western music?  Isn’t country music and western music the same thing?”  The resulting holiday discussion resulted in the closest thing to a family feud we ever had.

The conversation started out pretty well.  Dad reached into his encyclopedic knowledge of country/western music and talked about its roots in folk music and blue grass, as well as its influence on rock and roll.  To better understand the theories my dad was offering, one of my aunts asked, “So, for instance, is Marty Robbins country or western?”

That’s when things went left.  My Aunt Edie took one position and my dad took the other.  I can’t even remember who took country and who took western, but the fireworks began.  They argued about every aspect of Marty Robbins’ recordings from the instrumentation to the lyrics.  My dad’s Marty Robbins albums were taken from the shelf to be used as exhibits.  Dad and Aunt Edie were so passionate in their arguments, you would have thought it actually mattered whether the artist was country or western.

Mom called a truce when the meal was ready, but the atmosphere was thicker than her giblet gravy.  We made small talk in order to please my mother, but it was merely nervous chatter.  What seemed so ridiculous was that my dad and my aunt were both the nicest of people – kind, generous, and forgiving – almost to a fault.  They were usually the peace makers when others got into a disagreement.  None of us knew what to think about this musical standoff.

When the meal was over, the dishes were all dried and the silver had all been counted, my Aunt Tommie tried to lighten the atmosphere with some quip about Marty Robbins, but it fell on dead air.  Dad tuned in to one game on the TV and another on his radio.  Aunt Edie disappeared into the back of the house and closed the door to whichever room she was staying in on this particular visit.  The rest of us moved to the living room and tried to have a conversation, but soon Aunt Tommie found a reason to leave.  The holiday was over.

That was as heated as any conversation ever got in that house, but before too long, if you wanted to create gales of laughter at any family gathering, all you had to say was, “Is that country or western?”  Dad and Aunt Edie might look a little sheepish, but the rest of us had a good laugh at their expense.  In the Cave family, laughter was an elixir that cured many ills.

None of us live at 10935 Carissa anymore and the decor has been transformed from Mid-70’s Traditional to Mid-Century Modern, but I like to think the laughter is still there.  I think it has seeped into the brick of the wood-burning fireplace and saturated the picture frame paneling.  Now we want to pass that laughter on to you and your family.  Wouldn’t you like to live in a home like this?