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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 Villageâ
€� 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

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

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 Potatoesâ€�, 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 havenowcan’t you in its grip.
I have included here the recipes for Gram Irwin’s roast beef
hash, “eggie potatoesâ€� 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
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,â€� 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.
  â€œNow, just in case Santa accidentally loses the piece of paper that has your new address on it while heâ
€˜s flying,â€� 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.�

 â€œWill we have to send the key back to Santa after Christmas?â€�  I asked, “’Cause how will he
get in next year?�
 â€œNo,â€� Dad said, smiling, “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.â€�  I‘m sure my jaw just
dropped completely at that revelation.  Imagine it!  MY Uncle Ronnie actually KNEW Santa Claus!  â€œWell,
when he was visiting here last week, do you remember how you told him you were worried that Santa wouldnâ
€˜t remember you and couldn‘t get into the new house?â€�  Silently, all I could do was nod at my dad.

 â€œSince 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.â€�  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.  â€œI almost
forgot,â€� 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.

 â€œYou know how the jet pilots like Uncle Ronnie have the very important job of protecting everyone
with their jet planes?â€�  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).

 â€œWell,â€� 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.â€�  Of course, I was completely taken by this unexpected revelation, and Dad
had my undivided attention.
By this time it was suppertime, 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.

 â€œNow watch this,â€� 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,  â
€œWell, at least it‘s not as naked as it was when you first unboxed it.â€�
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

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, â
€œWhat kind of a Christmas tree comes in a box and one that size?!â€�  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).

 â€œLooks naked,â€� my mother said, after Dad had gotten the tree up.  â€œYou‘re not going to
make it look like a real tree, no matter what you drape on it.�

 â€œNow just give it a chance, “Dad told her.  â€œWhere‘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
Silver Christmas Tree
Santa and the Magic Key
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
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 -  

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.

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
(With Apologies to Jean Shepherd)
By Robin L. Wallace

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