My Christmas Dinner Memories
By Tom Morrow
One of my most vivid of holiday memories is Christmas dinner at big gatherings of family. Of the Christmas’ I spent before leaving home to venture into adulthood, the most memorably were those dinners spent around my maternal grandparents’ table.
Traveling the 80 miles west on state highway 2 to a small Southwestern Iowa town was a 90-minute trip for us. Dad seldom ventured past the 60-mph mark. His philosophy on speed was: “If you need to get there in a hurry, just start out a little sooner.” That annual trip didn’t get underway until we had our Christmas morning ritual of Gift-giving under our family tree. That usually began around 6 or 7 a.m., depending what time we got to bed on Christmas Eve. The night before Christmas was special because Mom let us open one gift that was under the tree. She was the arbiter on such matters.
Upon our arrival in the little farm-market-town of Clearfield, the aroma of a special holiday feast was in the air as we invaded my grandparents’ home. Most prominent among those scents filling the air was that of the Christmas goose. Today, the tradition of serving goose for Christmas dinner has all but been forgotten, at least here in the West. In “A Christmas Carole,” Charles Dickens described the goose Scrooge gave to the Cratchit family for “its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness being the themes of universal admiration.”
For most families across America the menu has given way, for the most part to turkey. Ham is a close second, but beef prime rib roast is gaining in popularity for the more non-traditional families.
In addition to the dinner as the foundation for bringing the family together, there was another reason for serving goose. The grease from the bird had a practical use: it served as medicine for a bad cold, bronchitis, flu, even pneumonia, or any other bronchial ailment, all of which were annual occurrences among the populace during those bleak Iowa winter days. After the dinner Mom would skim off the grease from the roasting pan, put in a jar, seal it and stow it in the refrigerator until needed. When that time came, which nearly every winter assured its arrival, the ensuing chest congestion meant Mom would rub warm grease on your chest, then tie a rag around your neck. Most likely the next morning you’d be shed of most of the congestion. But, for the next day or two you’d smell like … well, goose grease. Nearly every one of my classmates’ had moms using the same remedy, so it went more or less unnoticed.
The display on the dinner table was a sight to remember. Being the eldest grandchild I was awarded a seat at the big table. My younger sister and cousins were relegated to the small table in the front room. I outranked my sister by four years – a fact that did not amuse her.
Of the most memorable dishes of this annual feast were green bean casserole, a variation of fruit salads (depending upon which aunt could find what flavor of Jello), corn stuffing, big, freshly-baked biscuits, luscious sweet potatoes (or yams), cranberry sauce, and of course, the most important of combinations: plenty of mashed potatoes and gravy. It was enough food to make you miserable for at least two hours after leaving the table. Don’t forget the pumpkin pie with real whipped cream.
Regarding last week’s column on Christmas gifts, I was reminded by one of our readers I was missing two important items usually found by at least one or two neighborhood friends with more affluent connections to Santa Claus: Erector sets and Lincoln Logs. The Erector set was the more expensive metal counterpart to wooden Tinker Toys. They came in all number of piece counts, but if you couldn’t get one of the bigger sets, forget about it – there wasn’t enough pieces screws and bolts to make much. The toy construction set which was originally patented in 1913 by Alfred Carlton Gilbert. In 1916, the company was reorganized as the A.C. Gilbert Company.
Lincoln Logs toy sets were invented by John Lloyd Wright in 1916. He was the second son of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This popular set remains so to this day. It’s one of those items that has no need for directions. You just “build.” You still can find both of these toys on Amazon.