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When one thinks of Christmas time, it's hard not to think of the different traditions handed
down for generations in each family.  Maybe as a kid you helped baked plates of cookies
that were given out as gifts to friends, families and neighbors.  Maybe you would be a part
of a group of carolers who toured local nursing homes or the neighborhood in the weeks
just prior to Christmas Eve.  Perhaps it's the memory of a special food you get only during
the holidays at family gatherings, or maybe it's a cherished tradition your family passes
down from generation to generation, like opening the content of your stocking on
Christmas Eve or gathering with your family for eggnog and cookies following the candlelit
evening service.
The same is true whenever I think of my own family's preparations.  Each major
holiday in the year had its own particular set of decorations and choice of ingredients
for the main meal.  For example, every Easter decorated cardboard store bought egg
shapes and bunnies would appear on the front door and for weeks before, Gram Irwin
would spend hours to pick just the right ham to be served for Easter dinner.  For
Thanksgiving, the decorations were always turkeys, cornucopias, and various autumn
leaves gathered from the maples and oaks that grew nearby.  These leaves were then
lovingly pressed in sheets of waxed paper and kept flat in between the pages of the
huge old family bible.  When Gram judged them to be ready, they were carefully
fashioned into wall hangings that decorated the door behind the dining room table
which led down to the cellar.  She even had sets of salt and pepper shakers which
looked like pilgrim couples, and little wax candles shaped like little turkeys (which she
never burned) that formed the basis of the centerpiece on the table.

At Christmas time, there was always a huge poinsettia plant sitting in the middle of the
dining room table resting atop the old oblong mirror she kept there.  Christmas Day
dinner always consistent of a roast of beef, usually served for the night time meal.  A
garland of plastic ivy was draped over the doorway that led from the front hall to the
dining room.  A huge evergreen wreath would hang a window on the front door, made
from the leftover branches Grandpa Irwin had trimmed off the real Christmas tree to
get it to fit old metal stand so it could rest in front of the window in the parlor (formal
living room) which faced the road that ran along the south side of the property so the
lights could be seen by the passing cars who drove by at night.  And unlike many
families I know of, about a week later, we always had a goose or a  duck for the dinner
Gram put on for New Year's Day.
When I was about three years old just before the conflict overseas got into real swing, my dad
joined the Air Force, a move up from his old Army infantry days.  Newly trained as a Registered
Nurse, they promised him a commission as a second lieutenant if he joined as an Air Force nurse.  
They immediately stationed him at the Hill Air Force Base, located in the city of Layton, Utah, just
outside Salt Lake City.  This was just prior to the real American involvement in the Vietnam War,
and Hill was to be his permanent duty station (though in fact, he spent very little time there, but
rather was bounced around on all sorts of classified missions while he was on active duty).  About
three months after Dad left us, Mom and we kids followed behind him, to be installed in that I
remember only as "Sunset".  I don't know if that was the name of the street we lived on, or was
the name of the actual little city or housing development, but I remember that our time in that
house was very short.  Because we were considered to be "gentiles", our Mormon neighbors
invited us to leave the neighborhood (and the sooner we were out, the better --- for the last
month we were there we were told we weren't allowed to play with the kids in the neighborhood
unless we converted).  Consequently, Mom fund herself having to pack up and move some scant
9 months after moving all the way from New York, and having to purchase a house for the second
time in as many months.
Just after arriving, Mom got work as a nurse at St. Mark's hospital, and there she specially
cared for a Mormon bishop from the nearby town of Centerville who had been crushed
between two railroad cars.  Mom and his wife had become close friends during the days
that he convalesced in the hospital, and when she heard about the difficulties Mom and Dad
had encountered at Sunset, she and other members of her local stake (church parish)
showed up unannounced at the new house on moving day, completely apologetic for the
actions of their rather zealous brethren in our old neighborhood, where they proceeded to
get the household goods not only moved in, but completely unpacked and settled in just
one day!  In addition to that, they brought enough cooked food to keep us well-stocked
for the first week in the house until such time as we were able to familiarize ourselves with
where to buy groceries and shop in the new neighborhood. Thus began a close friendship
that has lasted until the present.

Once settled in the new house at Layton (nicknamed
"Bedrock Village" after the fictional
town in the Flintstones cartoon by the Air Force personnel living there because all the roofs
are flat.  Gabled roofs were often a casualty to the gale-force winds which blew down from
the nearby Wasatch Mountain Range, and since the base was nearby, any flights taking off
usually did so right over the houses in the area), Mom and Dad were faced with the
prospect of having to find a Christmas tree suitable for the new house.  Like many of the
homes built to house military personnel, the Layton house was a bare-bones affair with an
attached garage, no cellar or finished basement (just a shallow crawlspace over a concrete
pad just big enough to access the plumbing and heating), and no fireplace or anything
even resembling one.  Being so far from the farm areas where they grew up, they also had
no clue where they could go to cut a real tree, or even purchase one, for that matter.
As this was my second Christmas away from both sets of grandparents (for some reason it
was the first that I really remembered), I was very concerned that things weren't going to be
right in the new house.  Maybe it was just the effects of having to move so soon after
leaving the grandparents under such difficult circumstances, but when living with Gram Irwin
and Great Grandma Wallace, I knew right where Santa would come in on Christmas Eve.  At
Gram Irwin's there was a decorative covering that plugged an old hole which opened into the
old brick chimney that went through the attic up on top of the flat roof next to where the
widow's walk used to be.  It had been originally cut in to account for an old wood burning
stove, long since gone after the addition of a centralized furnace.  Gram always told me that
it was a magic portal for Santa to squeeze through so he could bring presents and fill our
stockings on Christmas Eve.  At Great Grandma's house, Santa entered the house through
the woodshed attached to the kitchen, and we often left plates of cookies out there next to
the old hand pump so Santa to grab a snack while he pumped water to refresh his reindeer
on their long journey.  But where in the new house could Santa possibly get in, especially
since there was no sign of a chimney anywhere that could be seen anywhere on the house?
Gram Irwin's Milk Peas

1 package fresh or frozen peas
1 quart milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon baking soda
pepper to taste

Directions:
In a pan, cook peas in water according to package directions (or if using fresh, cook until peas are tender).  Drain
and return peas to pan.  Add milk and simmer over a low heat until milk is thoroughly heated through.  Add butter
and continue heating until it is just melted.  Serve hot in bowls, and sprinkle with a little pepper just before serving.

If you're using frozen peas, add the baking soda to the water you boil the peas in.  Gram always said that this
helped the frozen peas taste fresher, and I agree that it does make things taste better.  You can omit this if you
choose.
Leona Irwin's Roast Beef Hash
1 - 2 pounds, leftover or cooked roast beef, cut into pieces that will fit in a food grinder
1 - 2 pounds masked potatoes, or equivalent amount of boiled potatoes, quartered or cut into pieces
1 medium cooking onion, peeled and quartered (I prefer the milder Vidalia kind, but mild red onions work just as
well)
4 large eggs, whisked
2 teaspoons garlic powder (if garlic salt is used, decrease to  1/½ teaspoons and omit salt)
½ stick butter
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Grind beef, onions, and potatoes (if necessary), alternating between the beef, onions and potatoes. When
grinding is completed, mix meat, onions and potatoes together thoroughly in a bowl, along with garlic powder.  
Set aside in a glass bowl.

In a large skillet, melt butter. Spoon out hash mixture into skillet and flatten mixture into an even layer.  Let cook
for about two minutes before starting to turn.  Depending on personal preference, cook hash until golden and
crunchy.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cut up into 4 - 6 portions and serve hot.

NOTE: I have ever tried to make this recipe using a food processor, but I suppose that with a little
experimentation, it could work.  Rather, Gram always used to use that old silver grinder which cranked and had to
be screwed on to the table or other similar, flat surface.  By the time the ingredients were ground up, enough
energy was used, I think, to offset the calories added with the butter.  I still have that grinder to this day, and
much prefer it because it doesn't make the paste that food processor produces if you overwork ingredients.
If you don't want to use butter, you can add enough extra-virgin olive oil to coat the bottom of the skillet so the
hash doesn't stick.  I prefer butter because it makes for a creamier hash.

Gram always added eggs to the hash if she didn't have what she considered to be enough  leftover roast beef.  
Add the eggs last after the hash has had time to get nice and crunchy, then mix in until completely cooked.  As a
breakfast variant, or perhaps as a quick lunch, she would take leftover mashed potatoes or cut up boiled
potatoes into bite-sized pieces and cook them in the skillet, without any meat, along with some minced onion
until nice and crunchy.  She would then add in the whisked eggs and cook them together until done.  This mix
she called Eggie Potatoes, a dish which is still a favorite comfort food to this day.  It's especially good on extra
cold  wintry days or at times when the flu or a cold has you in its grip.
I have included here the recipes for Gram Irwin's roast beef hash, eggie potatoes and milk
peas.  The hash and potato dishes are fairly straightforward, but I have never seen anything
like the recipe for milk peas before.  I don't know whether it was born of the Scottish/Irish
traditions their ancestors brought with them when they emigrated to America, and although
somewhat of an acquired taste, as long as my grandmother was alive, they were always part
of our Christmas dinner.  I hope you enjoy them, as well.
As you begin this holiday season, I hope that you have some pleasant
memories of your family's traditions to warm and inspire you.  As for me,
there's a special, old key that needs a good polishing and a new ribbon so it
can be hung on the front door.  After all, Santa will be listening.
Despite having our own house, from the very first year back, our Christmas presents from
Santa were delivered to and our stockings always hung at Gram Irwin's to be opened just
before Christmas dinner at her house on Christmas night (presents to and from my
grandparents were always opened after dinner with dessert, another fact which always
delighted me because I always got to decorate not one, but TWO trees for Christmas --
one at each house).  The beautiful hand quilted Christmas stockings that Great Grandma
Wallace and Auntie Julia had made for us just before Dad went into the Air Force, were
lost in the move back from Utah along with countless other things like photographs,
genealogy research, certificates, etc.  For the first two years home,  our stockings
consisted of an old pair of nylons, relics of World War II, that Gram Irwin hung from the
banister of the stairs that led to the upstairs right inside the front door.  Imagine our
surprise first seeing these huge receptacles hanging all the way down to the floor, laden
with such goodies as oranges, candy, nuts, gum, and other small toys, looking for all the
world like a mannequin's legs that have been used to decorate the stairwell.  It wasn't
until much later, when I was a teenager, that the old nylons were traded in for newer,
commercially bought ones.  Somehow, though, the red, furry ones never seemed to have
the same appeal or character as those old nylon hose did.
A few short months after our return back home, my parents had bought the old farmhouse about two miles up the road from my
grandparents that had served as their first home together after they were newlyweds.  Christmas with our parents was always
celebrated in the morning right after we woke up.  Then, while we played with our new acquisitions, Mom (then later, my younger
sister) usually spent the time between breakfast and about an hour before dinner making anything we were going to take to Gram
Irwin's for Christmas dinner.  As we usually had a choice of the least three different kinds of pie for Christmas dessert, it was usually
up to us to make the pumpkin one (my grandfather always swore that no one could make an apple pie or mince pie like my
grandmother-- looking back now, I think it had to do with the fact that she always used beef lard in her crusts, not vegetable
shortening like we do now).  Sometimes, we even boiled the potatoes that would be transformed into mashed potatoes at my
grandmother's to be served with Christmas dinner.
The key stayed with us all during the time my dad was on active duty with the Air Force, and despite the losses moving home
after his discharge, the key managed to make it back safely home with us.  I'm sure the neighbors around us in Layton were
dying to know why, when huge wreaths adorned their doors at Christmas time, our sported a huge silver key strong on a red
ribbon.  When we got back home, the key was proudly hung off the old fashioned crank doorbell positioned in the center of
the door below the big window, right under the evergreen wreath Gram Irwin made every year.  Even though in later years
Gram Irwin had installed an electric doorbell, she had never removed the old one from the door, nor was it, until the house was
remodeled about 10 years ago.
"Santa Claus sent a message back to your Uncle Ronnie that he really didn't know we had to move so soon before Christmas, and he
thanked your Uncle Ronnie for letting him know our new address in time so that he could deliver your presents to the right place.  Santa
also sent this key," Dad told me, putting the key gently into my hands, so that he could get in the house even though we don't have a
chimney to come down.  "We just have to hang it up on the front door after we lock it and go to bed Christmas Eve.  This key is a
magic key that Santa Claus will use to unlock the front door and come in so he can leave your presents under our new tree."

With that, Dad got up, took out a huge nail, and proceeded to pound it into the front door far enough to allow our glass screen door to
close.  Taking the key from my hand, he hung it on the nail by the red ribbon it was strung on.
"Now, just in case Santa accidentally loses the piece of paper that has your new address on it while he's flying," Dad continued,
"this key
lets off a special noise that only he can hear, like the radar beeps that Uncle Ronnie let you hear what he showed you the cockpit of his
jet.  This way, Santa will hear the beeps and be able to come right to our front door and his magic key."

"Will we have to send the key back to Santa after Christmas?" I asked, "Cause how will he get in next year?"
Dad said,
with a serious  face, "the key is yours to keep forever.  That way, no matter where you are, Santa will always be able to find
you."
"Over the years Santa has gotten to know your Uncle Ronnie very, very well."  I'm sure my jaw just dropped completely at that
revelation.  Imagine it!  MY Uncle Ronnie actually KNEW Santa Claus!  "Well, when he was visiting here last week, do you remember how
you told him you were worried that Santa wouldn't remember you and couldn't get into the new house?"  Silently, all I could do was nod
at my dad.

"Since Uncle Ronnie knew you were so worried, he went to his friends at NORAD and had them call Santa Claus at the North Pole a little
early, just because he knew you were so worried."  By this time, I'm sure my mother's look of disbelief must have been boring smoking
holes in my father's chest.  Dad's forte was not usually in his storytelling skills, and this one was a doozy!  She must've been just dying
to figure out where and how he had come up with THIS bit of fiction, but she would have to wait for a time when she was sure neither of
us kids is around to hear it.
Before the night was over and I was shooed off to bed, Dad had one last surprise for me.  "I almost forgot," he said to me, taking the red
ribbon from around his neck.  Attached to it was the biggest skeleton key I have ever seen. It had to be at least eight or nine inches in
length, and measured at least two inches at the widest parts.

"You know how the jet pilots like Uncle Ronnie have the very important job of protecting everyone with their jet planes?"  He brought me
over and sat me down next to him on the couch near the newly erected tree.  Uncle Ronnie was a test pilot for the Air Force who was
involved in all sorts of experimental projects, and often came to visit whenever he was at Hill Air Force Base to put in the flying time he
needed in order to keep his certifications current (he had a hand in bringing the astronauts on Apollo 13 home safely, flew the first
planeload of prisoners of war back home from Vietnam, and later lost his life testing out some kind of night vision equipment originally
destined for the unsuccessful raid attempt on Iran following the taking of the hostages during Jimmy Carter's presidency).

"Well," Dad told me, solemnly, “your Uncle Ronnie works for a special part of the Air Force called NORAD.  Every year the pilots who
work for NORAD keep track of Santa Claus as he starts his trip on Christmas Eve and protect him as he flies over America and other
countries like England, Canada, and so forth."  Of course, I was completely taken by this unexpected revelation, and Dad had my
undivided attention.
By this time it was supper time, so we took a well-deserved break to eat.  As soon as the supper
things were put away, Mom and Dad went back to see what they could do with the silver tree.  
Despite my mother's misgivings, my sister and I were ecstatic at our results.  The first thing we did
was to place a quilt that my Great-Grandmother Wallace and Auntie Julia had made to serve as a skirt
underneath.  Next came the Christmas lights which my dad carefully wound through the silver
branches.  After that came the golden garland, ornaments, and finally the silver metal icicles.

"Now watch this," my dad said proudly.  He opened the second box that had come in with the box for
the tree.  Out came the weirdest little lamp I had ever seen.

It was obviously made to sit on the floor, but it had a huge wheel divided into four sections, each of
a different color.  Dad set the lamp a few feet in front of the tree, plugged it in to plug shared with
the lights already on the tree, and turned it on.  Much to our great surprise and delight, the wheel on
the lamp began to turn slowly, casting four different colored lights in turn on the tree and the
decorations, making them come to life with a fiery splendor.  I was in love!  Again, not entirely
convinced, Mom just snorted, then finally grumbled,  "Well, at least it's not as naked as it was when
you first unboxed it."
With a snort, my mother turned on her heel and went through the door that led from the living room into the garage to paw through
what packed boxes still remained.  After about an hour of fruitless searching, Mom packed us up in our old, brown Dodge station wagon
and drove us off to the base commissary to search for Christmas decorations to do something about (to her) the naked silver tree
currently taking center stage in our living room (although a little bit prior to the time that the Charlie Brown Christmas special became
popular, make the little tree that Charlie Brown saved silver in color, and you have a good idea what Mom thought our new artificial tree
looked like.  Later, when she thought I wasn't around, I heard her asking  my did whatever had possessed him ever to buy such a weird
tree in the first place.  He told her that all the jet pilots who came into the clinic he ran had enthusiastically recommended the tree to him
and that all had gone to the base commissary to buy one themselves.  From that day on it became known as the "jet pilot tree" and I still
think of them by that name, urchin who believing that somehow they were made out of leftovers from jet planes just specially for Air
Force families so they could remember their daddies who were flying on the missions which took them away from home).

In a little while we had managed to find 12 or so feet of a fluffy, golden garland, boxes of multi-colored glass ornaments, silver icicles (the
old-fashioned metal kind) and a couple of strings of the old-style, big-bulbed multicolored Christmas lights (the tiny twinkle lights we
have today didn't exist back then).
I can still remember the sound of the indignant squeak that my mother made when she demanded, “What kind of a Christmas tree
comes in a box and one that size?! Without a word, he set down the boxes and began unpacking an artificial silver tree.

My mother, used to real trees, was of course horrified.  And even as young as I was, there was no mistaking the look on her face which
left no doubts as to exactly what she was thinking about the silvered branches and six-foot center pole that were emerging from their
cardboard carton.  He worked for about 20 minutes until it was fully assembled and anchored safely to the window in the living room
(long experience with cats in the house had taught them both to make sure the tree was firmly anchored so the cat couldn't crawl up in
the branches in search of something shiny or interesting and ride it to the ground if they climbed up too high).

"Looks naked," my mother said, after Dad had gotten the tree up.  "You're not going to make it look like a real tree, no matter what you
drape on it."

"Now just give it a chance,"Dad told her.  "Where's  the box with all the ornaments and stuff in it?"
I must have really been fretting over these twin problems, because I can remember asking
Mom and Dad multiple times if I could go back and live with Grandma Irwin for good so Santa
would remember who I was and be able to get in where I lived.  Being toward the end of
November, I was just sure that there was no time to get another letter to Santa in time to let
him know where we had moved to.

 About three days later, probably in response to my incessant fretting, Dad came home off
his regular shift at the Air Force hospital toting two  boxes, one big and one small, and
wearing a mysterious red satin ribbon around his neck whose end was hidden by his uniform
jacket.  When my mom asked him what was in the box, he proudly announced, Our new
Christmas tree for our new house!
Silver Christmas Tree
Santa and the Magic Key
By
Robin L. Wallace

Dedication: To Thomas, Gerald and Shelly for keeping me
writing and keeping the dream alive.
One of the many joys I receive from collecting vintage recipes and building this site is meeting
people from all over the country, that I would have otherwise never had the pleasure.  A
wonder of the age we live in I suppose..... straight from science fiction, a reality never dreamed
of when I was a child.

One of the most wondrous of those is a writer, whose adopted pseudonym is PenVampyre.  
Someday, some film maker will discover her charming stories of growing up in a bygone era,
then truly will the whole world be in for a special treat. Not just those of us, who for the love of
cooking,  discovered her special talents and family's vintage recipes by accident.

With such an introduction, I give you..................
Robin L. Wallace               First North American Serial Rights   
Copyright © 12/03/07
Email: sheltiemom2shelties @  yahoo.com (put the email together before you request
price quotes from her)
Christmas Recipes
An old Christmas Tree photo found
in an Ebay box.  No one should
ever be forgotton.

Got vintage photos of your family
and a family recipe or two, you
would like to add to the site?  
Please don't hesitate to send -  
starlina@bright.net

O, my gosh, is that a popcorn
stringa Ir on that tree?
Read, "The Story of the Missing
Cookie
Jar" by PenVampyre.  A
delightful little Christmas story
with mouthwatering  recipes for
the most wonderful time of the
year!

Read "
Easter and Where NOT to
Hide
Eggs"  Memories of Easters
past and a few vintage recipes.

Logan's
Halloween Story -The
original story won first place in
sixth-eighth grade division of
Southeastern Middle School,
2005 by Logan Lyon

Food and Genealogy.  A story By
Robin L. Wallace.  Our lives, our
families, our very history's are
defined by the foods we eat.

Family Reunion Recipes.
"The Fourth of July and Other
Disasters"
(With Apologies to Jean
Shepherd)
By Robin L. Wallace

A short story by Suellen Fry.  
Memories of my father and his
version
of Kickapoojoyjuice.