When I was small, my parents and I always traveled to my maternal grandmother's house to spend Christmas with Nana and my Aunt Anne, Uncle Ed and my four cousins, who lived in the same small town as Nana. Going to Nana's for Christmas was always the highlight of my year. Way back then, long before the freeways of today, it was a very long drive to Mt. Vernon, in northern Washington state, from our house in a tiny little town near Tacoma. We set out just after breakfast and drove and drove and drove. It seemed to take years to get to Nana's big, white three story house.
The house was always beautifully decorated and the piece de resistance was the giant (at least to me!) Christmas tree in the high-ceiling living room, dripping with ornaments, lights and tinsel. Delicious smells wafted from the big kitchen, so big it even had a comfy wicker armchair just by the door to the big cold pantry*. There was always something cooking on the large old stove and dishes and silverware were set out in the butler's pantry that was situated between the kitchen and the formal dining room. That kitchen seemed as big as my whole house.
My aunt and uncle and their four wonderfully rowdy children always came for dinner on Christmas Eve. Sometimes my mother's younger brother and his family were there, too, all the way from Pennsylvania. We would all sit at the round oak table in the dining room and be fed Nana's Christmas Eve feast. Course after course, every mouthful delicious, would be presented. We ate and ate and ate. And then we all ate some more when the steamed "plum" pudding with hard sauce was brought to the table. The pudding was actually a carrot pudding, I discovered many years later, but it was truly delectable and we looked forward to it all year long.
After the feast we repaired to the living room for the opening of our gifts. It was controlled bedlam---loud, joyous, chaotic and magic.
And late on Christmas Eve I would be given my stocking to hang on the fireplace and carted off to bed. And once I was watered, tucked in, storied and kissed good night, I would tell myself I was going to listen really, really hard, no matter how long it took, so that this year I would hear Santa land on the roof and plummet the three stories to the hearth where he would stuff my stocking full and leave a few gifts for me under the tree. (And my Pennsylvania cousins, too, if they were there that year.) And I always fell asleep within seconds of the light being turned off and the door closing.
Very early on Christmas morning I would wake up, creep mouse-like down the grand staircase, past the big Palladium window on the landing, and scurry into the living room to find my stocking. And it never disappointed. Santa would have been there and he was always very, very generous. Lots of wonderful treats would be within.
I would carry (drag?) my stocking back up the stairs to the corner room with it's high double bed and old-fashioned (even then) chenille bedspread that was my traditional bedroom when visiting Nana, and I would look at each and every treasure, play with some, eat some, adore them all.
And then....the very best, the most special part of Christmas would happen!
The door to my room would quietly open a crack and my Daddy's head would appear around the door. He's say, "Ready to come with me?" And I'd leap off the bed, the stocking and the toys forgotten. I'd jump into my clothes and shoes as fast as ever I could and race down to the kitchen, this time by the back stairs. There Dad would be waiting in the wicker chair. I'd skid to a stop in front of him and he'd slowly rise up and head to the cold pantry. Once inside we would look over all of Nana's home canned fruits and pick the perfect quart jar of Bartlett pears. It had to be stuffed with perfect pear halves. It had to speak to us....
We would carry that quart of pears to the counter by the sink, open it up and eat every pear half, sweet and full of late summer goodness, with forks. Dripping the syrup on the counter, and probably in my case, all down the front of my shirt, we'd eat them all. Once the pears were finished, very bit, we'd take turns drinking all the syrup from the jar, until it, too, was empty.
And then Daddy would take me by the hand and walk me the three blocks to the only cafe that was open in town on Christmas morning, and we'd order pancakes and Daddy would read the comics to me from his newspaper.
The real meal, though, was always the pears---Nana's home canned Bartlett pears. Christmas in a jar.
Pears are now a memory made tangible. If I pick up a pear I am immediately transported back in time, to Nana's kitchen, Christmas morning, with Daddy.
May your holiday be as sweet as my memories of Christmas pears.
*The cold pantry at Nana's was a room with a big, screened window that had no glass and let in the cold, crisp and mostly really damp air of a Washington winter. In the cold pantry Nana stored her homemade preserves, pies, pantry items like flour and sugar and all sorts of wonderful foodstuffs.