Friday, December 15, 2023

Christmas Memories

Christmas Memories



We always put up a real tree. Selecting the tree, and a wreath for the front door are an annual tradition.  Hauling the heavy cast iro🌲n tree stand up from the basement along with all the ornaments, the wrapping paper, all the holiday paraphernalia. Once the tree is in the stand with water to keep it fresh, the fun begins. First the star on top. We’ve had it for years.  Then the lights. Traditional ones, nothing fancy.

 And now the ornaments:  Victorian angels and Santas out of paper from the great grandfather’s tree in Kansas.  His family were Mennonites, rather jolly ones who liked nothing better than to gather around the piano and sing carols with the decorated tree dominating the living room. And the food. Pennsylvania Dutch cooking, rich and flavorful and filling. Food was important to these hardy people.  Not fancy food, but not plain either, just wonderful, tasty, Kansas cooking.  And lots of sweets for the holiday.

I so treasure their old ornamemts. The ancient Santa made out of felt is getting decrepit, but I love him even more for his showing his long age.  We have ornaments from a little craft village south of Tucson.  A jackrabbit and an armadillo.  We have an owl with feathers.  She looks so real. Ornaments from my parents, some handmade in felt by my mother.  I love each one of them. 

Every year, as we age, our tree becomes a little smaller, but always big big enough to hold all these ornaments. The house decorations are, again, a family collection.  Families are important this time of year.  A link to the past, just as a new baby is a hope for the future.

I love the old carols, the religious ones, I sang as a child and often with a little chorus in church during the holidays. I love “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful” in Latin.  So beautiful. Christmas carols are always special, replete with memories of Christmases past.  

I bake a lot at Christmas, mostly my mom’s cookie recipes. She had the best. Her deft fingers created miracles with dough and icing. I miss her cookies so much. When I bake them, it’s not the same.

It’s okay to  be sentimental at Christmas.  Almost required. A little snow is even welcome, just a covering to turn the world extra-Christmas-y.

I would so love to go back in time and spend another Christmas at my grandmothers, with all the uncles and their wives gathered together. My uncle Bud had a sweet dog named Tojo who came from Japan after World War II.   My aunts were all good at needlework, a skill I did not inherit. Politics were a banned topic, with two Democrats and two Republicans.  My grandma did not like her children arguing.  She did love to have her family together, and to cook for everyone.  I dried dishes as soon as I was old enough. The camaraderie of the women together in the kitchen after the meal is something I always remember. 

Time passes and our lives shrink, but they always expand at Christmas to welcome old friends and new.  To welcome the holy family and relatives from near and far.  It’s  a beautiful, special time, and I cherish it every year. 


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Friday, April 21, 2023

As an author, how do you breath life into your characters?

 Who wants cardboard characters?  Not the author and certainly not the reader.  Have you heard the old but always good advice?   Show, don't tell. This is best done if it flows out of a situation the author has set up.  A situation that simmers.  

Below is a short scene where one of my characters gets an unexpected surprise.  We are at a Mennonite summer camp for missionaries in the Colorado mountains.  Beth is the main character in the novel.

Charles gave a slight wave and watched someone approach our table.

            I turned to see who he greeted and froze. My heart began a frenzied pounding in my chest.

            It couldn’t be, but  it was. Her face paled as she recognized me. The “Oh Shit!” moment.

            No one had said a word. Charles looked from me to the other woman. “You two know each other?”

            “Yes,” I said, speaking quickly. “We  were journalism majors at the University of Missouri. I guess you already know Lauren." 

            If Lauren’s looks could kill, I would be a dead woman walking. She and I had been rivals for men and grades and then the job interviews at the university. I got the better grades and the better men, too, and had aced my job interviews. We had begun as friends until she black-balled me from her sorority. I joined another one, but she hated something about me. Maybe everything. I hadn’t thought about her for years. 

            The eleven years between graduation and now hadn't been kind to Lauren.  Her blonde hair was dry from over-coloring.  She had put on at least twenty pounds, and her face was pale.  Lauren had always sported a tan.  Not this year.  Finally she spoke.

            “Hello Beth. What brings  you to the mountains?’  She was trying, but not succeeding to keep the bitterness out of her voice.

            Before I could answer, Charles, who must have felt the tension, said, “Oh, I asked Beth to come out here and do the one-on-one interviews. She has eight solid years of newspaper work on her resumé.” He gave me a smiling look of admiration. “Not to mention that she has a contract with a university to write a book.” 

            He had no idea he was hammering metaphorical nails into my coffin,

            In my most sincere voice, I said, “I’m sure Lauren has reams of accomplishments she’s too modest to mention.”  

            “Yeah, a wedding, two kids a year apart, a divorce, and some  dead-end jobs. And now the kids and I are living in my parent’s duplex.” Lauren's emotionless monotone recitation  shocked me. I had expected  her at least to marry Mr. Success.  

            I said,“Oh, kids! I bet they’re as good-looking and smart as their mom.”

            She squared her shoulders and produced a hint of a smile. They’re okay . I’ve got some photos  I’ll show you.” 



I hope the reader wants to see these two  women interacting again. Do they have life?    I think so. 

These fine authors will surely have something to say about this month's blog topic. Comments welcome.
Saturday April 22nd - Breathing Life into your Characters

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