Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Practically Synonymous

Anyone who knew my parents knew my mother's favorite time of year was Christmas.  According to my husband, she was Christmas.  For her the fun would begin around Halloween.  That was our deadline to have the gift lists ready.  She did not want to be shopping after Thanksgiving.  She wanted her pick of everything with the least amount of hustle and bustle.  



Mother had a system. Decorating the house occurred about 3 weeks prior to Christmas.  This included hanging the exterior lights, the big old fashioned ones, under the eaves.   She would buy a freshly decorated wreath for the door.  We had a lovely creche with hand carved, painted wooden figures.  It went on a side table in the living room.  We had some outside lawn figures that were kinda corny.  One year Dad made a giant Frosty the Snow Man out of plywood and covered it with a giant cut out Frosty. It was just like paper dolls; must have been a kit.  He put a spotlight on that thing and if the wind came up, ole' Frosty would blow over every time. 

Bullock's Wilshire  street side Wilshire Blvd, LA


Mother set aside a day for us to dress up and go shopping. When I was very young and her mother alive, we went downtown to Bullocks' Wilshire, where her mother, whom I called "Manga", worked in designer clothes. 

 

Hinshaw's Whittier, CA.ca 1960



When Manga became head of the children's department at Hinshaws Glendora department store , we went there.   We wore dresses, hats, gloves and I carried a purse.  In fact, I remember that purse being stolen one year when I left it in a dressing room.  I can still see it too: pewter grey leather with marcazite studs and soft grey leather trim.  Imagine! 

After Manga died suddenly, we would shop at the new Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks.  It was the first upscale mall built in the San Fernando Valley.  Lunch in the Bullocks' tea room was special.  We'd order a crab Louis salad and buttered rolls.   


Tea Room Bullock's Wilshire


Mirro Cookie Press

Cookie baking day coincided with Christmas vacation.  I was her assistant.  She made at least four or five kinds by the dozens:  pure maple cookies with a whole pecan on top, iced sugar cookies, snowballs, oatmeal with raisin for my Father, and her favorite, cream cheese cookies made with a Mirro cookie press.  I learned to make dough, cut cookies, decorate, ice, etc.  One cookie she felt she couldn't master was Scottish shortbread.  Our babysitter/second grandmother from Scotland made those ever year and brought us a big box.  They would melt in your mouth. 

 
No, not us...It's a representative
pink flocked  Christmas tree in this photo
 taken at a 1955 Alcoa Aluminum party.

We never bought a tree before mid-December.  We lived in Southern California and they didn't last long so perhaps that is why.  Mother always bought 2 trees, one for trimming and one to cut up for pine boughs.  We had two fireplace mantels she would cover with pine boughs and red trim like berries, bows, etc.  They were so beautiful.  On each mantel, she put three large graduated candles.  I remember the white candles she kept from year to year.  They had frosted candle wax on them and were decorated with artificial holly & berries & velvet bows.  She lit the candles each night before Dad came home. 



Every year we discussed whether or not to get a flocked tree.  Mother loved the flocked trees but my father did not.  They were  more expensive and he thought they were phony.  One year, she went all out and bought a pink tree flocked in white.  Sounds horrible but it was pretty.  They used to spray paint trees is colors and flock with a bit of glitter if you wanted it.  It was the one and only time we did that.  As a young child, I always had my own tiny tree in my bedroom.  It sat upon a kid-sized card table and I decorated it myself and was very proud.  It was probably only 2' tall.  I have no idea why my parents were so generous but I cherish the memory.

My mother was a terrible letter writer; she did not like to write.  Yet, she always sent scores of Christmas cards which she addressed and signed by hand.     I would go with her to the local Hallmark ("When you want to send the very best") store to pick out an elegant card.  She didn't follow a theme, i.e. no Santas or Snowmen or what not.  It was rather what she considered the most beautiful card available.   I think, one year,  she had them printed but didn't feel it was personal enough and resumed hand writing ever after.

As I grew older, the intensity of effort ebbed.  But, my mother never stopped writing her cards or baking her cookies or decorating her beautiful tree.  We wrapped her presents for her, put up and took down the ornaments, hung the outside lights.  I often cooked the dinners and my brother and I did the dishes.  But we'd still have stockings and Santy would fill them with necessities and we'd wake up Christmas morning, light the tree, get our cups of coffee and sit and admire it all while enjoying our stuffed-to-the-brim stockings which my mother had filled. 

It never got old. 



Share/Bookmark   

22 comments:

Kate Hanley said...

That was a beautiful tribute to your mother and Christmas. It really puts me in the holiday spirit because this is truly what Christmas is all about.

DawnTreader said...

Interesting to read about your (your mum's) traditions - thanks. ♥

DJan said...

My parents treasured Christmas for the kids (that was us), but it's not something I have carried forward. Without small children around, it just doesn't have the same joy, I find. We treat it like a special day, but not an amazing day. I always find some traditional holiday event to attend, but that's about it.

Thanks for the memories of your own childhood and how much you took into your adulthood. It triggered so many memories.

Brian Miller said...

i imagine not...some cool memories here...we had cookie baking day yesterday...today its snow day...

Linda Myers said...

Lovely post. Took me right back to the deep traditions my mother carried on. She's gone now, but there are some things I still do just like she did.

Grandmother said...

What wonderful memories to remember, cherish and share. They evoke the true meaning of Christmas and the joy of having traditions to look forward to and then reflect back on as we grow. It reminded me of the importance of making memories for my grandchildren. Thanks for this post. It's a little oasis.

Betsy said...

This was a wonderful post. I smiled through the whole thing.
I remember when it was proper to dress up to go shopping...back then it was proper to dress up to fly on a jet, too! ha.

What lovely memories!

gayle said...

Sounds like you had a wonderful childhood! Mine was too! I remember those trees. My rich aunt always had one and I remember thinking how pretty it was! I grew up in Southern, CA until 1968. What years were you there?

#1Nana said...

Wow, you shopped at the fancy stores. It was a big deal in my family if we went to Robert Hall's. I think most of my wardrobe came from JC Penney's and Sears (gotta love those toughskins!)

My mother died four years ago just before Christmas. Every year I put the ornaments that I saved when we cleaned out her house on my tree so there's a little bit of her celebrating with us.

California Girl said...

Kate: Thanks. When it comes to my mom, I could go on and on...

DT: Yes. Other people's traditions are pretty darn interesting.

DJan: I have no idea how I would celebrate w/o children. I think we'd go on a cruise at least once!

Brian: I am the WORST cookie baker! You'd think I'd be great after all that instruction but I never really got the hang of it. I can bake anything (pretty much) but cookies.

Linda Myers: I hope my children shall carry on too.

Baino said...

Maybe that's why I'm not 'feeling' it this year. Our family is all over and I'm going to my sisters so it's the first time the 14 of us aren't all together here. I loved women in the kitchen but all I have to do this year is bake a ham. No preparations or build up. I did get my cards out before Christmas this year which in itself is a coup. I think Christmas will come back when I have Grandchildren (god forbid)

Who Is Afraid of Alfred Hitchcock? said...

Hi! C.G.,
This is a very lovely tribute...
(The photographs, the well-written description of each memory, but most importantly, the memories of your mother and Christmas. )

...to your mother and the time spent with your family at this time Of year...Happy Holiday! to you, your family, and readers, too!
Thanks,for sharing!
DeeDee ;-D

Betsy said...

I hope you have the most wonderful Christmas! I'm so glad you are my bloggy friend!

~Betsy
xxoo

Pat Tillett said...

What an amazing tradition! A great tribute to your mother also...
I remember the LA Bullocks very well. It's been a long time since they closed shop... Too bad! Do you remember the other chain similar to them called "Buffums?"

California Girl said...

Pat, I do remember Buffums very well, particularly the original in Long Beach. At least, that was their hdqrtrs. I had them as an advertising account in the early 90s. That was Buffy Chandler's family, correct? LA Times...

Pat Tillett said...

That's so funny! The one in Long Beach was the one I went to...

Deborah said...

Deb, I've come to this very late but from my viewpoint as a reader, it doesn't matter. It's a lovely story and I think you were very lucky to have such traditions while you were growing up. It helps to be organized, as your mother clearly was, but I'm still impressed at how clockwork-like things seemed to go year after year. This was a lovely glimpse into your child's life - thanks. Belated Merry Christmass and a Happy New Year!

Susan said...

Traditions are what bind us to our history, and your mother made such wonderful ones for you and your family. This was a very sweet and loving tribute. to her.

I love that you called Santa Claus, Santy. So did we. :)

Barbara said...

Loved the tribute to your mother and Christmas.
That picture of Bullocks sure took me back. My sister and I both worked on Wilshire Blvd., right down the street from Bullocks. We would often meet for lunch there. They usually had a lunchtime fashion show which made it even more special. And it was a great way to advertise their clothes.
When we moved here to the San Diego area we always Christmas shopped at the Buffums in Solana Beach, which is long gone.

Stephanie said...

I'm always a sucker for a good Christmas story. This was a good one! Thanks.

Betty said...

I so enjoyed reading that! It was the picture of the Cookie Press that drew me in. My Mum had something very similar when I was little. Ours had a pink plastic/bakelite handle. She used to let me play with it. I liked the sound of air swooshing in and out when it was empty!

VP81955 said...

Beautiful pix, and a wonderful feel for SoCal of days gone by.

I want to thank California Girl for responding to my blog which looks back at classic Hollywood, specifically one of its best-loved stars, Carole Lombard. We celebrated our fourth anniversary last month, with more than 1,600 entries -- mostly on Lombard, her life and times and people she knew and worked with. I cordially invite you to visit http://carole-and-co.livejournal.com