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To Grandmother’s House We Go

In the early years of our marriage, we alternated between Lev’s parents in San Antonio and mine in Texarkana, a not completely satisfactory arrangement. Christmas in San Antonio was a very formal, adult affair, traipsing from open house to open house on Christmas Day. The tree was artificial, on a small table in the dining room, decorated by the housekeeper.

On the other hand, we faced a 500-mile drive to Texarkana on Christmas Eve; and Christmas was very quiet. Daddy was a railroad man—Terminal Trainmaster—in charge of every train that came through Texarkana, the union station and the mail terminal, second busiest in the U.S. December meant long days work, on call every time a drunk switchman pulled the wrong switch and derailed a train, every time a hobo in search of a ride on a freight train was run over by a moving train.

Our last trip to Texarkana was in 1969, when our son was two. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. We knocked over the tree on Christmas morning. The Butterball turkey exploded in the oven. The mixer went beserk and flung egg nog all over the kitchen. Daddy was called away from the dinner table to handle a derailment. He was retiring in two months, and he wanted to take his grandson for a ride in a train engine on the 26th. A typical two-year-old, my son could not be found when it was time to leave for the station. I found him hiding behind the toilet; and when I reached down to pull him out, I pulled his arm out of the socket. Looking back, I am surprised I was not reported for possible child abuse.

Staying Home on Christmas

February 1967

The next year, with a new baby, I announced that we were staying home on Christmas and grandparents were invited, beginning a tradition we maintained until the last grandparent died in 1996 and the children, now married with children, established their own Christmas traditions.

Mama always cooked the same traditional turkey-and-dressing dinner for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and Lev’s mother did much the same. Growing up, I did not like a single thing about the meal, so cooking it twice within a month was out of the question. Thanksgiving, a unique American holiday, needed to be traditional American fare; but I turned to England for my Christmas dinner of standing rib roast and Yorkshire pudding, ending with mincemeat pie.

The side dishes have varied over the years, and I switched from Yorkshire pudding to popovers (almost identical ingredients) and added pecan pie to the mincemeat long ago. Mama always had salted pecans and a vegetable relish tray on the table, and so do I—always including one bunch of green onions in memory of Daddy, even though no one eats them. I found my earliest menu in my files recently:

Christmas Dinner 1976

Standing Rib Roast with Yorkshire Pudding
Pepper Jelly and Horseradish Sauce
Salted Pecans     Cranberry Salad     Relish Tray
Baked Cauliflower
Red Wine
Mincemeat Pie with Hard Sauce

Photos: Top, Christmas morning at home with our son, 10 months, and Snigglefritz, our beagle, 1967 I made the robe I wore. And remember jump suits? Bottom, Caribbean cruise February 1967.