I yearn for Christmas past, but not necessarily my own. That’s not to imply that I don’t have many fond memories of this holiday, because I do indeed. There is just something about Christmastime that brings out the sentimental idealist in me. As I trim my tree every year and look through magazines and the internet to plan my holiday baking, I often catch myself dreaming that I can achieve that good old-fashioned “It’s A Wonderful Life” yuletide experience for myself and my loved ones. I imagine a holiday celebration simply created by the coming together of family and friends sharing tasty treats and small gifts from the heart, while the sweet aroma of gingerbread wafts through the house. In my dream holiday, we have a jolly group belting out carols around the piano, until all rosy-cheeked and laughing, we all bundle into a sleigh … and, it’s “off to Grandmother’s house we go!”
Okay, so now I’m being silly … but, there was one Christmas from long ago that I hold most dear to my heart. In my mind’s eye, I can visualize it all unfolding as it happened with the memory still alive and captured inside an imaginary, magical snow globe.Most of my readers know that I grew up in Springs on Woodbine Drive. My family consisted of my dad, Mickey Miller (a fisherman), my mom, Cho Miller (a feisty Korean woman), my little sister, Jina, and Charlie Bateman (my mom’s brother who was closer to my age), and a long list of pets from cats and dogs to rabbits, pigeons, and baby ducks. A few houses down the road, up on a little hill, lived my Grandma and Grandpa Miller and my young Aunt Lori. Suffice it say, we were a unique household in the Springs of the ’70s and ’80s. We considered ourselves fortunate in that my mother had a group of dear friends that we also considered to be family, including Hanne Schapiro who lived on Red Dirt Road until she moved to Canada.
When I was around 13 years old, my mother announced that we would be taking a family car trip upstate New York to a little town called Hinsdale (near Buffalo) to meet Hanne and be with some other close friends, the Krampfs. We would spend an old-fashioned Christmas at their farm in the mountains, my mother smiled … and I inwardly groaned. A lengthy car trip with my family was not my idea of a great holiday in my adolescence. I was such a brat!
The Krampfs were another unique family. Tom was a humble, gentle poet. His wife Francois was a strong French woman who was a brilliant engineer by profession, but had given up that career and their life in New York City to raise their three daughters in a safer, rural environment and undertook the challenge of single-handedly running a farm to sustain the family.
The car trip was about 9 hours long, and my mother marveled at the landscape of the Catskills reminding her of the Korean countryside. Although I wouldn’t admit it to my parents, I, too, enjoyed the scenery (when I wasn’t restless and squabbling with my sister in the backseat). This was our first time traveling upstate.
Finally, when we pulled into the Krampf farm at the foot of a gently sloping mountain, Francois, true-to-form, charged out to greet us and without ceremony grabbed my dad’s arm to hustle him right over to the big, old barn. They were in the process of slaughtering a pig and needed an extra pair of hands! My poor dad got his new down coat all splattered with blood. On the side porch into the kitchen, we had to step over two duck heads that lay on the step. Inside, a couple of rabbits had free rein of the old farmhouse. Now, my sister and I were shocked by this farm lifestyle and secretly vowed to each other that we would not be eating any meat whatsoever in this place.
The Krampfs were also hosting two inner city girls as part of a fresh air program, and I remember their faces and strong personalities clearly, but don’t recall their names. Between them, the Krampf daughters, and Hanne’s two children, William and Taya, it was beginning to feel like a festive group.
We spent the night before Christmas Eve night at Hanne’s old, rugged farmhouse close by. The first thing I noticed was no Christmas tree, and immediately inquired what were we going to do? It can’t be Christmas without a tree! Hanne just smiled, and said not to worry.
After breakfast on Christmas Eve morning, Hanne came in with an antique two-headed saw, and told us to bundle up warm. We were going as a group up her mountain to find our own tree. Somewhere in a trunk of old photos at my dad’s house, we have a picture of our group trekking up the snowy mountain in a single file. I believe it’s Charlie who has the snapshot of himself and my dad about to saw down the little sparse “Charlie Brown” tree that Hanne said was perfect. We spent the afternoon making ornaments from pine cones, holly, and anything else we could find in nature.
That Christmas we had considerably fewer presents, but I remember it as by far the best one from my childhood. It was all about family, friends, love, laughter, and small gifts from the heart.
In closing, one such gift to share with all of you was kindly given to me by Mary Vorphal from my church whose gingerbread is famous and the absolute best … and so is Mary! Her gingerbread comforts us all winter long whenever she makes it, not just at Christmas. Here is the recipe:
MARY VORPHAL’S GINGERBREAD
2 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour*
1/2 cup oil
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup molasses
1 1/4 tablespoon ginger
1 tsp. cinnamon
2/3 cup boiling water
1. Oil a 9”x9” baking pan and preheat oven to 325º.
2. Sift together the dry ingredients and set aside.
3. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the oil, honey and molasses.
4. Beat the egg and stir into the oil mixture.
5. Mix in the boiling water.
6. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients.
7. Pour the batter into the baking pan.
8. Bake for 45 minutes.
9. Cool cake in the pan on a wire rack. Serve plain or topped with sweetened whipped cream or applesauce.
(*I’ve used all-purpose flour and that works too).
Yum! Hope you give it a try! I wish you all a beautiful day full of love and peace.