We Are Nearing the Holiday Season | Part 2

This Year, OEBGMC is working hard on some classic tunes that remind me of my roots. As we sing in “Silver Bells,” “Whatever happens or what may be, here is what Christmas means to me…”

Oakland - East Bay

Thanksgiving at our house always began the seemingly interminable Christmas Season. It began with the smell of turkey roasting on that often overcast Thursday morning. My grandmother cooked the Turkey in a roaster in her basement, and even though it smelled like it was freshly roasting, I was always pretty sure she had started it sometime around Halloween. Like the turkey in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, it was dry as dust, and required much gravy to get through. I learned early on that dark meat was moister; the breast was almost useable for sandpaper. The rest of the meal was equally enjoyable: cottage cheese and Jell-O salad, green bean casserole made with cream of mushroom soup, canned green beans and Durkee onions on top, brown-and-serve rolls, cranberry sauce that had those slicing-guide rings from the can imbedded in them, and pumpkin pie from the freezer section in the grocery store. Nowhere near the “happy feeling nothing in this world can buy, when they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie,” (words from “Sleigh Ride” that OEBGMC is singing). My grandmother was a woman who thoroughly loved the ease of instant food that 1950s manufacturing gave to middle America. However, a meal to honor the harvest with nothing fresh on the table always felt odd to me.

As an adult, I escaped the inedible family meal by fleeing to New York City for the Thanksgiving weekend with my partner at the time. Mom was devastated, but I got to see some great shows in those years (“Jelly Roll’s Last Jam” with Felisha Rashad, post-car-accident Ben Vereen, and a very young Savion Glover, “Miss Saigon,” and always the Rockettes). I also got to see the Macy’s Parade up close and personal (it’s better on TV), and the balloons blown up the night before and tied down around the Natural History Museum (they are awesome!! And someplace I have an almost erotic picture of flying Superman tied up behind crawling Spiderman…). We always took a handsome cab through Central Park, thought of Barbara Streisand who lived on the east side (“j-j-j-j-j-j-Jingle bells, j-j-j-j-j-j-jangle bells!”), and we made sure to stop in FAO Schwartz and play the giant piano that was in the Tom Hanks movie, Big.

Although my current husband’s family does the day-after-Thanksgiving-shopping thing (if we are there, I choose to sleep in that Friday), my family didn’t go shopping. However, I do remember going to the downtown department store in Columbus during December to see the Animatronic window displays, and thinking about “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style.”

Mom wanted to get a live tree up as soon as possible after Thanksgiving.  As we brought the tree into the house to decorate, mom would put her favorite Christmas albums on the record player. I always loved the album of music box Christmas songs, one of which was “Silver Bells;” to this day, when bell choirs play Christmas hymns in church, I have an emotionally laden memory of the smell of pine, the stickiness of pinesap, the rash on my forearms from the pine needles poking me, tightening the screws to hold up the tree, the musty smell of opening the ornaments boxes for the first time 9 months, decorating the tree, and arguing with Mom over whether we had to hang the reindeer I made in kindergarten. (She always won, and it had to go prominently on the tree, so that everyone in the world could see it).  We had the old kind of lights, the big bulbs that heated up, and we tested them every year, plugging them into an outlet, and replacing the burned out or broken ones.  We drank eggnog if it was available that early, or Hot Toddies.  Alcohol was a big part of my family growing up.

And then there was the Fruitcake. Our high school band (go Golden Eagles!) sold Ruby River grapefruits and oranges, as well as fruitcake for fundraising. Near the end of November or early in December the shipment would come in, our band room was filled with boxes, and we had to pick up and deliver all the goods we had sold over the last few months. Although no one ever claims to like fruitcake, we sold lots of fruitcake; once, I delivered the fruitcake to someone in their mailbox, and then got a call form the family that they didn’t get their fruitcake; the mailperson had thought it was her Christmas gift from the family and took it home for herself ! I had to give up one of the fruitcakes we had bought for our family, a sadness because I loved the sticky cake made of chopped citron, nuts, and spice. And the rum (well, that was my family’s enhancement).

With those fruitcake memories, I agree with the words we are singing, “when it comes to Christmas time can anyone dispute, that when you bake a Christmas cake it really should be…made with fruit?” However, I’m jealous of the high tenors who get sing “add some rum but just a drop…” because it reminds me of a family tale about my mother’s first foray into Christmas cooking. When she made chocolate rum balls the first Christmas she was married to my dad, she hardly put any rum in, so they were mostly dry chocolate balls. No one said anything, but the next year, she recognized her mistake and added extra rum. Dad also remembered the mistake and added extra rum. My grandparents also added some, and by the time Christmas came, the balls were swimming in rum, and the fumes pretty much bowled them all over when they opened the tin. I imagine that was a good Christmas, and certainly set up what was to come in my family holidays.

Our concerts on Dec 9 and 10 (Dec 2 has already past) is meant to bring out your memories, as well as give you gift of some new songs. I hope to see you in Clayton (Dec 9) or Freight And Salvage (Dec 10). Have you bought your tickets yet?