Sunday, November 26, 2006

The Nesco Roaster
(Or...What I Am Thankful For and My Christmas Wish.)

When I was a child, pretty much from infancy until I was twelve years old, Christmas day was all about my Grandma Julia's house. My father had three older brothers, all of them with three or more children. My father and his brothers had all been born five years apart which put 15 years between the youngest and the oldest. My dad was the youngest (and the cutest, evidently, my older girl cousins used to swoon about Uncle Ray because he looked like a movie star.) However, the net result of my father being fifteen years younger than his oldest brother is that my oldest cousins were in their late teens by the time I came around. There were still plenty of cousins my age to make Christmas day one of those year-round, frantically anticipated holidays for me.

Grandma Julia was the cook, and she grew up on a farm, so Sunday lunch at her house meant two meats, three vegetables, potatoes and bread. She was diagnosed with diabetes when I was ten due to her lifelong eating habits. Well, her eating habits and genetics, I imagine. So imagine what Christmas dinner was like. The turkey in the oven and the Nesco roaster in the basement with the ham. Yams and sweet potatoes and mashed potatoes - all made liberally with butter. Homemade pickles and olives, cookies and baked breads (spice and banana breads).

There was the bun warmer. You heard me. An appliance made solely to keep the yeasty yummies warm. A buffet line was set up in the basement, we lined up in the laundry room (by the deep freeze where she kept Eskimo Pies) and meandered our way under the stairs (past Grandpa's workshop where he aged the black walnuts and made apple wine) and out into the rec room. (Grandpa was from Quebec, so everything was "Up dere, eh?", and my dad, who was a Firefighter, worked at the Fire Barn. Grandpa Andy taught me to say the Hail Mary in French when I was three years old, all I remember now is Ave Maria.) The four brothers (my Dad and three Uncles) had set up two picnic tables (and moved the NHL hockey game for dinner, but until dinner the four "boys" played table hockey and drank their Hamm's out of long-neck bottles.) Russ, Art, LeRoy and Ray. They would sneak us kids beer sips from their long-necks if we asked. Their wives sat in the kitchen helping Grandma Julia and herding the children around. Aunt Mary, Aunt Karen (pronounced Karn), Aunt Sherley and Aunt Pam sat at the kitchen table gossiping and smoking their cigarettes leaving the prints of their bright coral lipstick on the butts; smoke was a bluish cloud around their heads.

Grandma used to cook for Northwestern Airlines and she belonged to their Christmas Savings Club. Grandma Julia used her savings every year to buy one gift for each grandchild. There were thirteen of us, but back then it seemed like so many more. There was one present for each grandchild from Grandma Julia under her tinsel tree with the revolving light. Every year I received a Madame Alexander doll from a different country. My doll collection. Twelve years of Christmas that were a chaotic joy, and that is what I remember at Christmas time. My last chaotic Christmas happened when I was twelve.

Grandma Julie died when I was twelve from cancer, my Uncle Russie (my godfather) died shortly afterwards from a massive coronary, Uncle Donnie had a heart attack when I was fourteen and Grandpa Andrew succumbed to Leukemia when I was 18. LeRoy hung around a few more years, but he passed from liver disease when I was in my late 20's. My father passed away on November 7 of 1997. The Aunts all still live on, but Grandma Julia was the heart and soul of those Christmas Days and I have spent every year since then trying to put that heart into every Christmas celebration (it was much harder after my daddy died, but you push on.)

Several years ago I asked my mom for a Nesco Roaster for Christmas. She thought I was nuts and could not understand what I would do with a Nesco roaster, but that roaster brings me back to Grandma's basement and that chaotic joy I experienced as a child. The joy of a family living and loving life together and celebrating. So this holiday season I will be cooking in my Nesco Roaster and using Grandma's bun warmer to keep the rolls warm, even though the cord is a little dicey, I can't seem to let it go. Even though my new family does not share all of my memories, my mom, my brother and my sister will be here, we will have only eight children running wild, but I hope the chaotic joy of Christmas at Grandma Julia's will again visit a generation of children.

Comments:
What a lovely Christmas essay!
 
the web is such a wonderful place to meet such a wonderful person like you.. i never had such a huge gathering and my dad come down once a year during christmas..so i do a bit understand the joy of celebrating christmas.. do visit my blog and lets make the christmas much more merrier...
 
What sweet memories. Thanks for sharing them with us. And for passing them on to the next generation in a somewhat modified form. BTW, you might be able to replace that cord on the bun warmer, giving it a whole new life.
 
What lovely memories. Thanks for sharing.
 
What a wonderful memory you have of Christmas.
Happy Holidays!
 
What nice memories - told so beautifully. Thanks for sharing with us.
 
That is such a beautiful story. I can picture everything. Wish I could have been there!
 
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