Holiday Traditions Done the Ambiance Way
I was lucky enough to have many wonderful and influential people in my life growing up - my two grandmothers, my parents, and my mama's best friend, too.
They were very different from each other, and they all had lots to teach a young child, including the importance of family and Christmas traditions.
My paternal Grandfather, Pop-Pop, as his grandchildren called him, fought in World War I. When he returned, he wasted no time in taking Irene Forsyth directly to the church to marry her. Pop-Pop discovered something new while in Europe during the war - ice cream. As a dairy farmer, he decided to delve into the business of commercially made ice cream and opened Dairyland Ice Cream business which provided ice cream for area grocery stores for many years. He did well in the firm and in the 40's decided to build a home for his family. My Aunt Sue told me once that Pop-Pop had said that building that house was one of the biggest mistakes he ever made.
World War II began, and Daddy was snatched out of his Freshman year at Texas A & M and sent to France. I'm sure Pop-Pop was concerned about his eldest boy and the war and the country and probably thought this was the wrong time to be endeavoring on such an extravagant venture. But build the house he did, and I have fond memories of that house. I only knew my Mama Rene in the home as Pop Pop had already gone to his eternal home before I was born.
In Mama Rene's home, Christmas was always a special celebration. Mother told me that that was because Pop-Pop had always insisted that all of his family have their feet under his table on Christmas. Mama Rene continued that important tradition.
Every Christmas Eve, there was a lovely meal and presents for all of the children. That meal was exactly like the Thanksgiving meal we all had just four weeks prior and was without fail based upon the pentagon of required dishes; turkey, dressing, sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, Mama Rene's Apple Salad and Aunt Jessie's Chess Pie. I do believe that Aunt Jessie's Chess Pie recipe was instrumental in helping me snag my husband!
Fast forward a few years, and I'm in Nashville in my first apartment. I had this super cute boyfriend - one JR Ornelas - and I'm about to try my hand at my first Thanksgiving dinner. I was so unaccustomed to preparing this special meal I had to call Learline for all the instructions. Learline was our family's maid, nanny, Mother's side-kick and best friend for about forty-five years. She came to work for my parents when my brother, Steve was born. Learline always told me that after the first day, she swore she wasn't coming back, but the next day she got up and came back to our home and stayed for all those years. She was my second mother.
Learline and Mother were a miracle team in the kitchen. Learline told me that Mother taught her how to cook. So back to my first Thanksgiving - Learline was not there to help me, so she talked me through it on the phone. I remember asking her about the dressing and sweet potatoes. Her frustrated response: "baby, I don't know!"
There were no recipes, of course, just a little of this and a little of that, but bless her heart, she gave me some instructions I could write down and follow. There were recipes for Mama Rene's Apple Salad and Aunt Jessie's Chess Pie, however. JR had never had Chess Pie, and he was in love at first bite - as you've probably guessed, we did end up getting married not too long after that fateful meal. Of course, later, he traveled with me to Texas and had the traditional meals prepared by the pros, Mother and Learline.
As Christmas approaches, just remembering these special people and the meals and traditions we shared has been a tremendous gift to me, so I thought I'd share a few stories with you. Now it's your turn - what's a special family tradition or memory you love year after year? I'd love to hear your stories, too!