Goodbye 2018 — and Mom (Lillian)

Lillian Applegate Westfelt
1932-2018

For those readers who don’t know, my mother, Lillian Applegate Westfelt, the Lillian in “Lillian’s Cupboard,” passed away on November 11, 2018. I wanted to make an announcement post before this but just couldn’t face it. Now, with the old year running out, I thought it was a good time to pay tribute to a great woman.

My mother was 86 years old and didn’t start her blog until right before her 70th birthday. She jumped in with both feet and made a terrific success of it. (I only wish I’d had the number of hits she racked up on her worst day.) If you take a look around the blog going back over the years, you’ll see what an accomplished woman she was. A great cook and baker, talented quilter, and enthusiastic knitter; and a fine writer, a compliment she never really accepted. (I AM a writer, and an editor as well, and I know good writing when I see it.)

We’re hoping to leave Mom’s blog up indefinitely. It’s a wonderful archive of information, recipes, and memories; a true legacy as well as a fitting tribute to who “Lillian” was and what she cared about.

If you’re here only for the recipes or the quilting, someday take some time to read her memoir posts about life in the 30s and 40s and as a young mother in the 50s and 60s. She also was a tireless chronicler of life as it happened. If I ever need a refresher about a birthday celebration, holiday, or other event, I know I can go to this blog and relive the whole thing.

The day after she died, I posted a tribute to her on my own blog here and more about that night here. Frankly, we’re still reeling. We had a good Christmas, though, which would have made Mom happy. She insisted we go on celebrating no matter what and not become morose or bitter when she was gone. She adored Christmas.

To all her readers and followers, thank you for supporting her over time. She valued each and every one of you. Even though she slowed down in her blogging over the past year, she remained dedicated to it. There’s a wealth of reading on “Lillian’s Cupboard.” I hope you’ll stop back now and then to relive special moments in a long and happy life.

Best,

Nancy Susanna Breen (Lillian’s eldest daughter)

Summer Sundays on Gotham Place – 1940s

My sister on her bike in front of the red brick house, with Gotham Place in the background
My sister on her bike in front of the red brick house, with Gotham Place in the background

From 1943 to 1950, I lived with my parents and younger sister in a little red brick house on Gotham Place in the East End section of Cincinnati.  To the east was the gas works, to the west was the water works, to the north was Eastern Avenue and to the south, the Ohio River.  The red brick was the very last house on Gotham Place, then came a garage and then came the riverbank.

Shirley and Lillian - last day of school, 1947
Shirley and Lillian – last day of school, 1947

In the seven years we lived there, we had to completely move out of the house three times during flooding.  In the summertime, however, the Ohio River was beautiful and filled with pleasure boats and happy people.  Several times a day, the Island Queen steamboat made the trip from the downtown river landing to Coney Island and back, playing lively calliope music all the way.

The Island Queen
The Island Queen

On a typical Sunday morning in the summertime in the 1940s, my sister and I would wake up in our second floor bedroom and have the leisure of not hurrying so much as we might on a school day.  The room was fairly small, as were all of the four rooms in the house.  The bathroom adjoined this room and the stairs leading downstairs were along one wall.  The odd thing about this room is that there was a door that led nowhere.  In the warm weather, Mother tacked up screening material but we still had to be careful that we didn’t walk through it and take a big step down one floor to the yard below.  My sister and I slept together, as we always had, and at this time had a tan metal double bed.  There wasn’t too much else in the room that I recall – probably a chest of drawers of some kind.  Linoleum was on all of the floors of the house, due partly to economics and partly to the fact that the river covered the first floor quite often and had gotten to the second floor in 1945.

Mother would be in the kitchen downstairs, getting breakfast.  On Sunday we would have pancakes with homemade brown sugar syrup.  During the week we ate cold cereal or oatmeal, but on weekends we enjoyed Mother’s pancakes, made from scratch  We all preferred the homemade syrup and I particularly liked the white sugar syrup which Mother made when she was out of brown sugar.

Mother
Mother

We would put on our Sunday dresses, which were only slightly better than what we wore to school.  Mother prided herself on keeping us supplied with pretty, homemade cotton dresses which fit perfectly because she fiddled with them until they did, no matter what kind of odd seams and darts had to be taken.  We would put on our nice Sunday shoes and wait for Mother to fix our hair.  I had long hair at the time which Mother put into broad finger curls, my sister sometimes had curls and sometimes pigtails because her hair was fine, thin and had no natural curl.

Shirley and Lillian in the Victory Garden (Water Works in the background)
Shirley and Lillian in the Victory Garden (Water Works in the background)

We walked out the front door, through the trellis covered with pink tea roses, and started up the cobblestone street toward Eastern Avenue.  We might have passed other people walking to St. Rose Church because most of the people on our street were Catholic.  It was 6 or 7 blocks to our First Federated Church, but we both liked walking and avoided streetcars or friendly rides from neighbors.

First Federated Church was a nice little stone building which had  a flight of stairs leading up from the street.  It was an old church, a combined Methodist/Presbyterian, and we considered ourselves Methodist because Mother was raised Methodist.  The hymnals were both Presbyterian and Methodist, and they alternated the hymns during the service.  There were pretty stained glass windows, nice pews and the fascinating holders for tiny vials of grape juice for the people who took communion on the rare occasions they offered it.

The choir would file in, wearing their black shiny robes with white collars.  Julia, the ancient and sweet organist, was banging away on the nice pipe organ for the processional.  She was a trained musician but still played something in the style of my grandma, not being too concerned if she hit the wrong keys.  The choir was a group of neighborhood women, none of whom had a particularly good voice.

The minister was a nice looking young man who had a tall, thin, gaunt wife who didn’t appear to match him at all.  Their daughter was my age and they had two sons, one a cute toddler who gave his mother fits.  The sermons weren’t too long or too tedious, but everything in church was tedious for my sister.  She twitched, scratched, moved her feet, did everything I thought was unseemly in church and I was constantly correcting her.  But we both loved to sing the hymns and I always sang the harmony, although probably too softly for anybody to notice.

My sister's wedding at First Federated in 1955
My sister’s wedding at First Federated in 1955

After church, we’d make the long trip back home and by then I was absolutely famished.  Mother would be frying chicken with that wonderful smell filling the house.  There would be mashed potatoes with cream gravy, maybe creamed peas or another canned vegetable (my father didn’t care much for vegetables), and as a salad – some lettuce on a plate with sliced tomatoes topped with mayonnaise.  I’m not sure that anybody except my father had the salad – I didn’t care for the mix and particularly I didn’t want the mayonnaise.  For dessert we usually had pie – mostly cream pies with a small amount of meringue stretched out over several pies.  Mother never seemed to have enough eggs and was always skimpy with them in her recipes.

After dinner, we might help with dishes or not, depending on Mother’s mood.  Then my sister and I would have the afternoon to just spend together in the make-believe world we had invented with a lot of teenage characters, male and female.  Or we might get together with some school friends and make the long walk up Eastern Avenue to the Jackson Theater to see a second-run film, a serial, a cartoon and a newsreel.  Then, we’d make the long trip back as the sun was starting to go down.

In the evening, Mother brought out the dinner leftovers – a few pieces of chicken, mashed potato pancakes, and pie.  We’d eat in the darkening kitchen while listening to Jack Benny or Fred Allen on the radio.  The rest of the evening was spent quietly writing, coloring, or doing jigsaw puzzles while listening to the radio.

By nine o’clock my mother and sister were always ready for bed, but I was never sleepy.  Most of the time I was allowed to stay up and quietly read along with my father until I felt I could fall asleep.

My memories of those Sundays are always of peace and quiet.  If there had ever been an uproar over something, that unhappy memory has faded over the years.

Daddy, Mother, Lillian, Shirley in front of 247 Gotham Place
Daddy, Mother, Lillian, Shirley in front of 247 Gotham Place

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Labor Day in the 1930s-40s

All the years when I was growing up, Labor Day meant a two-hour trip in the back seat of a rumbling old car (or what we called a “machine”) to the outskirts of Dayton, Ohio.  When we passed a little road sign that said “VANDALIA” and saw a big billboard, we knew the next right hand turn on a country road led back to Grandma’s house.  There were just a few other houses on the road and lovely country scenery on both sides – something foreign to us, coming from Cincinnati’s inner city.  Finally, we got back to the little cottage with the screened-in porch, the big flagpole with the stars and stripes patriotically flying, and the dirt area that served as a driveway.


Sleeping arrangements were creative – people slept on couches or big chairs or sometimes on an ironing board between two kitchen chairs.  We always seemed to sleep well, listening to the crickets chirping and feeling a breeze blowing in the open windows.

We would be awakened in the morning by Grandma starting a fire in the kitchen stove so breakfast could be prepared.  There would be a trip down to the outhouse – along a path and far from the house.  The chickens were chased out and we used the smelly hole-in-the-board toilet before walking up through the chickens and wild flowers to have our breakfast.  We all took turns pouring very small amounts of cold water into an enamelware basin and washing up the best we could.

Breakfasts were hearty – bacon, ham, eggs, toast and real creamery butter, plus Grandma’s delicious blackberry preserves.  There was a glass bottle of milk – not the evaporated variety in a can which we usually had at home – rich milk with a layer of cream at the top.  In those days, the bottle was shaken vigorously before using to distribute the cream, but since I was undeniably the favorite granddaughter (mainly because I was named after Grandma), she would pour me a little glass of pure cream right out of the top, leaving milk for the rest of the group that was more like 1%.

Grandma Lillian

After breakfast it was time to get spruced up for the big Labor Day Montgomery County Fair.  The fair was an important event back then – we wore our best dresses and had our hair curled to perfection before starting out, crowded into the car with Grandma and any assorted relatives who were there at the time.

My parents – ready for the fair

We drove to the fairgrounds and each time it was a thrill to see the ferris wheel loom in front of us as we approached the gate and drove into the huge centerfield in front of the grandstand.  In that 1930s-40s era, Dayton, Ohio, was very prosperous and the fair was considered one of the best in the area.  Everything seemed large and modern and clean.

One year it poured down rain not long after we arrived and we had to huddle in the car for what seemed like hours.  My father had gone to the horse barns to wait out the storm, but Mother, Grandma, my little sister, my cousin and I were stuck in the car, dressed in our finery, waiting to go out and see the sights.  We were told to sit quietly and not get dirty which my cousin and I did, but my sister, Shirley, got down on the floor and got herself all tousled and grimy (at least in Mother’s eyes) so that when the rain finally stopped she wasn’t allowed to go on the grounds and had to stay in the car with Mother.

Grandma set out with my cousin, Dixie, and me and we looked around the exhibits and walked gingerly through the water-soaked midway.  Grandma had bought all three of us identical yellow silk dresses with brown bows and accordion pleated skirts.  She stopped at a a dime photo booth to have pictures made of Dixie and me and later Mother got Shirley straightened up, went out on the grounds and had her picture taken, too.


Lillian

Dixie

Shirley

I liked walking around the fairgrounds and  looking at the canned goods, baked items and various needlework exhibits.   I didn’t care for the rides at all.  My sister lived for the rides and I can remember her sitting in one of the little cars going around in circles and calling out to Mother, “Look, Mommy – I can let go and scratch!”.

What I loved was going to the grandstands and sitting by my father watching the harness races.  Just the sight of the horses and sulkies with the drivers in bright-colored caps and coats was exciting.

We started back home late in the evening,  riding along in the dark, looking forward  to passing through Lebanon because I knew that was the halfway point.  I just prayed I wouldn’t get carsick on the way home because my father was in a hurry and in no mood to stop.  He had to go to work the next day and it was our first day of school.

The fair on Labor Day was a glorious ending to summer and a new beginning to the school year.

School Days–Cincinnati–1930s-40s


The day after Labor Day in 1938, I began my education by entering old Raschig School in downtown Cincinnati.  I’m sure Mother must have pointed out the school to me many times before I started the first grade there.  It was just across Central Parkway from our first floor two-room apartment on Elm Street.  If we were standing on the street or even sitting on the front stoop, we would have been able to see the big red brick building and the heavy iron fence that surrounded it.

I remember the dress I wore on my first day of school because a picture had been taken the day before at the County Fair in Dayton, Ohio.  My grandma had bought it for me – a yellow silk dress with brown velvet ribbons and a full circle accordion pleated skirt.  This was before World War II when silk was the fabric of choice for special occasions.


I can remember Mother walking with me to my first day at Raschig and then suddenly being gone.  I don’t recall being particularly happy or unhappy – I was just there.  Because I hadn’t been to kindergarten, they put me in a class with kids who needed to be evaluated.  The teacher was a middle-aged lady and not particularly friendly  Soon after I arrived,  I noticed kids were passing around food for our mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks.  One bowl held the most gorgeous purple plums.  I don’t believe I had ever seen plums before.  I asked the teacher if I could pass the plums and she was very brusque and said the children were chosen ahead of time and to go sit down.

Luckily, I left her class within a couple of weeks and had Mrs. Clark and a young student teacher who were wonderful.  I remember struggling with reading – it didn’t seem to make sense and then one day it all came together and I never had any problems after that.  I also struggled a little to make the cursive letters that spelled out Lillian.  We never did learn to print but went into handwriting immediately.

I looked forward to the stories the teacher read to us – “Lazy Liza Lizard”, “The Three Bears”, and particularly “Little Black Sambo” because I loved the description of the butter and the pancakes.

Ours was an inner city school but during the housing shortage of those war years there were many middle-class people living in the area with children going to Raschig.  Kids like Rollo, a black boy who always wore stylish knickers and argyle knee socks and appeared to come from a well-to-do family as well as a girl named Mary Jane and another girl named Patty Lou (double names were big in the 1930s).  Our family was about middle-ground economically – there were kids much poorer – Dorothy, Mary Lou, and poor Otto, a raggedy boy whose shoe soles flapped as he walked.


This was a Valentine I designed one year to show Rollo, Otto and myself in our classroom


Those Raschig years were good for me – I did well in school, the teachers seemed pleased with my work, I thought most of the kids liked me, nobody bothered me except for teasing occasionally about my long finger curls and I never took that seriously.  When I was 9 years old, I jotted down a poem about school starting again at old Raschig.   I never did outgrow my love of school.

Poem by Lillian (9 years old) – August, 1942

I love to go to school
And see the teachers dear
There to teach us children
All through the year.

I love to go to school
To learn to write and read
And there to learn to be
Very good indeed.

I love to go school
Because it’s so much fun
For when I have gym
I sometimes get to run.

I love to go to school
Way up into June
For you see I am so anxious
School will be starting soon.

In autumn when the leaves are falling
We hear the children’s voices calling
I think how glad they must be
To go to school the same as me.

Mother Went Dancing

From the time my little sister and I  were toddlers sitting with Mother on a daybed in a one-room flat on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati, we heard her tell about her days as a teenager and how much she loved to dance.  She gloried in the days when she would go to local grange dances with her friend, Ruby, and they would dance together all night long – never mind trying to meet a boy.

Mother sat with us in her plain cotton house dress and talked about the joys of getting dressed up and going out for a night of dancing.  I remember she owned one tiny sample of Tangee lipstick in a natural tone, a small disc of rouge, and a sample bottle of Jergen’s lotion.  These were her cosmetics and she had to use those sparingly, both to save money and to keep her young husband from noticing and denouncing her as a floozie.

I remember Mother listening to my Great-Aunt Anne talking about the wonderful barn dances they used to have when she was a young girl in the early 1900s as she described in detail the fiddlers, the girls in their best dresses, the noise and fun of everybody kicking up their heels with great gusto.  In the 1970s after my father was gone, my sister talked her into taking square dance lessons.  Since she didn’t have a partner, she danced with other club members and practiced the calls in her mind constantly.  Finally, she got to the point where she was out of class and could go to easy level dances.  It was there that she met a refined, soft-spoken gentleman named Norton and they set off on a whirlwind of dances, both round and square, all over the area.

Mother loved sewing the square dance dresses and then finding matching petticoats, pettipants, shoes and even earrings.  When my youngest daughter was three years old, Mother made matching square dance skirts for them.

She absolutely glowed when she was dressed up to go dancing.  She and Norton were a close and loving couple until he died of cancer in 1983.

Mother continued to dance whenever she could, going often with her friend, Edna, and never being shy about taking the man’s part.  She survived breast cancer for five years and continued to dance three or four times a week.

When she was 72 (1989), Mother made a tape of old family stories and reminiscences:

As long as I can remember I’ve always loved to dance.  My father died of the flu during World War I and I always wondered where I got my love of dancing and Aunt Mabel said I got it from him.  He loved to dance and he would dance as long as anybody would play music.

My girlfriend and her mother liked to go to dances and she’d take us and we’d get out there on that floor – I was only about 10 years old – and we’d Charleston and we would dance and I’d go home and I’d wind up that old Victrola and put on records and I taught everybody around how to dance.  I taught Alice Mae (her older sister) and her girl friends, they’d come in and get me to teach them how to dance.  Alice Mae never could dance and she’d get so mad because I could teach them how to dance.  I guess I still love to dance to this day – I guess you never lose that.”

Mother died on July 31, 1991, and I sat under a clear blue sky in the back yard and wrote in my journal:

Mother went dancing today with her skirts swirling and petticoats flouncing, her golden red hair in perfect order and wearing her matching shoes and earrings.  She was smiling and light on her feet, happy at last to be able to promenade and do-si-do and twirl and swing.  She barely glanced back at the rest of us still struggling with our affairs.  She was going dancing!


On the 20th anniversary – RIP, Mother.

Last-Day-of-School Dresses

When I was going to school in the 1930s and 40s, the last day of school was in mid-June.  I always associate the day in Cincinnati with very hot weather, tiger lilies blooming, and my mother making me a “last-day-of-school dress”.   In the first grade (above), the dress was yellow silk with accordion pleated skirt and brown bows.  It was a beautiful dress and all the little girls in my class gathered around me to touch and admire the silky smoothness – before World War II when silk was a common commodity in dress-up clothes.

In 1942, Mother made a more grown-up dress of a beautiful light blue fabric.  She often made a dress of the same fabric for my little sister and we’re shown here with my cousin, Dixie, just after her First Communion.

 

In the sixth grade, my sister and I had dresses of a lovely blue voile.  We had just moved from downtown Cincinnati to the East End area where there were small well-kept houses with Victory Gardens.

I graduated from the 8th grade in 1945 and Mother made a beautiful white outfit with a flared skirt and eyelet top.  It was the fashion in our school that year to wear white socks with white sandals.

 

In 1946, I was finishing up my freshman year at Withrow High School, a prestigious school at that time where my classmates were way higher economically than I was.  As you can see, I was very unhappy with my dress that year.  This was very unusual for me – I normally wore anything Mother lay out for me with no complaints, but this dress was of a matronly rayon-type fabric and all the girls in my upscale school were wearing sleeveless pastel shirtwaist dresses to class.  I knew I was going to look completely out of style in my grandma-goes-to-church dress.  In spite of my scowl, I wore the dress to pick up my report card and found that the stylish girls were all in shorts and casual clothes, ready to take off for swimming pools and tennis courts, and paid no attention to me at all.

 

Mother always talked about her favorite last-day-of-school dress which she described as being so beautiful.  After she passed away, I found this picture of her and understood better why she made me such a matronly, out-of-style dress.  It looked a lot like her favorite.

I felt bad that I had disappointed Mother by not liking the dress, but apparently I made an impression  because she never made another one like that for me.  For my senior class day at Withrow, she made my sister and me these beautiful light blue dotted Swiss dresses which we both loved.

I don’t believe the tradition of last-day-of-school dresses was active in my era (except for my mother) and it certainly wasn’t alive for my daughters or now for my granddaughters and great-granddaughter.  Pity.

An Airport and a Good Lenten Meal

Lunken Airport in eastern Cincinnati has been a popular destination for our family for generations.  When it was dedicated in 1930, it was the largest commercial airport in the U.S.  This photo was taken on a visit to the new terminal in the 1930s, showing my little sister, cousin and me.

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I still enjoy visiting the airport, having lunch and watching planes with my youngest daughter and her two children.  They’re just as fascinated as I was on my childhood visits.

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In the 1980-90s, my office was across the road from the airport and we enjoyed special lunches at the Sky Galley restaurant.  The first meals served on a commercial airliner (American Airlines) were prepared here.  The Sky Galley is in the original Art Deco terminal building and the ambience is wonderful – lots of airplane memorabilia and a view of the runways where some company jets and many small planes are constantly landing and taking off.  The food is good, plain home-style cooking.  It was a tradition for my oldest daughter to meet me for lunch on Good Friday and to enjoy their special Lenten meal of salmon patties, macaroni and cheese, and scalloped tomatoes.  Now that I’ve been retired for 14 years, I make it a point to cook the same meal several times during Lent and certainly on Good Friday for my two daughters.   I’ve posted the recipes for my version of salmon patties, macaroni and cheese, and scalloped tomatoes.

In addition to being just plain good food, the dinner brings back memories of grand old Lunken Airport.

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The Fragrance of a Horse Barn

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One of my favorite bloggers, hensteeth, had a post recently about the smells of different kinds of food and the memories they invoke.  (Be sure to read through the other posts on her blog – she writes so well and comes up with unusual topics.)

This made me think of one of my favorite smells, which is not related to food.  I love the smell of a horse barn – the combination of straw, horses, dust, even a little manure.

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My father spent his childhood in various horse barns since his father was a blacksmith and made part of his living traveling to county fairs to shoe the harness horses that were there for the races.  This is a ca. 1914 picture of my grandfather and my father in the doorway of their horse shoeing shop.

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My father had been one of the youngest harness horse drivers in the area but gave up working with horses when he married and had two daughters to support.  Of course, we always went to the county fairs and spent most of our day hanging around the horse barns, talking to the owners, trainers and drivers.  One of my earliest memories is sitting on a big trunk in a barn, collecting pennies from the horsemen for singing, “When I Grow Too Old to Dream”.  I loved listening to the conversation as I took in the ambience of the dusty barn with the plaid blankets hanging on the wall, the sharp smell of the Absorbine used on the sore muscles of the animals, and the horses snorting, neighing and kicking their stall doors.

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When I was very young, people would ask me what I was going to do when I grew up.  I always said I was going to get a job and help Daddy buy a horse.  Within months after graduation and getting my first job @ $30.00/week, my father told me he had a horse in mind and was ready for my contribution.  This is one of our early horses winning a race in 1955.  I made the jacket and cap my father is wearing.

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I owned shares of my father’s horses off and on for many years until he was better established and my own expenses with four children didn’t leave enough to support a horse.  My father continued to be a top driver/trainer in the southwestern Ohio area.  In 1978, at age 66, he was driving a horse called Peter Horn at a track in northern Kentucky.  After finishing second in a photo finish, he died of a heart attack.  Our family said they knew if he died on a track, he died happy except that he would have wanted to be the winner.  This is a winning photo of my father and Peter Horn in 1975.

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A few days after his death, I was at work when I suddenly got a whiff of a familiar smell – straw, horse, barn, tobacco – the unforgettable essence of my father in his plaid shirt and twill pants.  I turned around quickly, wondering who had come into the office directly from a horse barn and, of course, no one was there.  Or maybe someone had been there and walked briskly off, as he always did – always in a hurry to get to some horse or some fairgrounds or some barn.

Windmill Spice Cookies

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When I was growing up in the 1930s-40s, we didn’t have cookies very often.  My mother didn’t care to make them and we seldom had store-bought cookies.  Once in a great while, when there was a small amount of change left in the food budget, Mother would let us get a few large, brown, spicy windmill cookies that were sold in bulk from a big tin container in our corner grocery store.  I loved these cookies, particularly the bits of sliced almonds scattered here and there.

Sadly, the “windmill” cookies found now in plastic wrappers aren’t shaped like windmills, don’t have almonds and don’t taste nearly as good as I remember.  I found a recipe about 25 years ago that I thought was very reminiscent of the wonderful cookies of my childhood.

WINDMILL SPICE COOKIES

  • Servings: Depends on size of cutter and thickness of dough
  • Print

  • 1 cup margarine
  • 1-1/2 cups dark brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. allspice
  • 1/2 cup sliced almonds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Cream margarine and sugar, add egg and mix well.  Stir together the dry ingredients and add to the creamed mixture.  Mix well.

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Roll out on floured board to desired thickness (I like the crisp ones about 1/4″ thick).  Cut with floured cookie cutter and place an inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.   Press sliced almonds into the cookies.

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Bake @ 375 degrees F for approximately 10 minutes.  Remove to wire rack to cool. 

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I have a nice collection of Dutch items and one of my favorites is this piece my daughter made for me a few years ago.  I love the Delft scenes all around the border.

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Celebrating St. Nick

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In 1943, when I was 11 years old, we moved to a neighborhood on the banks of the Ohio River called the East End.  Our area which included the gas works, the water works, St. Rose Church and School, First Federated Church and Highlands Elementary School, was made up of various ethnic backgrounds – German, Hungarian, Irish, African-American, and “Americans” who were a mix of a lot of nationalities.  Many of the grandparents were immigrants, many of the parents were first-generation Americans.  Everyone generally got along very well, although some families fought amongst themselves or were disdainful of other nationalities.  An immigrant German grandmother who lived next door to us spoke disparagingly of the Hungarians in the neighborhood, one of whom was her daughter-in-law.  Many of the Irish families had their own battles between the Collins, Breen, McCarthy, Hathorn and other assorted families.  My sister and I were accustomed to being with children of diverse backgrounds when we attended Raschig School in downtown Cincinnati.  My sister had her picture taken in Kindergarten with children who were Greek, Chinese, Hungarian, and African-American.  She stood at the front of the line and under her picture was a caption, Shirley Applegate, American.  Of course, they were all Americans, but they were proud of their heritage, too.  The picture appeared in the evening newspaper and that clipping was framed and hung in our home until after World War II.  A copy of the picture with all of the children is on display in the World War II exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center in the old Union Terminal.

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The despised Hungarian daughter-in-law lived three doors up the street from us and she was a lovely woman with a houseful of kids.   This is a picture of my sister and me behind one of the German/Hungarian daughters in our front yard.

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Despite our exposure to lots of nationalities, we had never heard of anyone celebrating St. Nick (Nicholas) on December 6.  The first year we were in the neighborhood, we were surprised to receive a gift from our Hungarian neighbor.  It was a small square tin with calla lilies on the lid and inside was a hand crocheted, old-world-looking ear warmer.

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I was so impressed and the lady told us how they always celebrated St. Nick with small gifts, candy and nuts for the children.  I vowed then that if I ever had children, I would have them hang up their stockings and St. Nick would come during the night and fill them to the brim.

Since my first daughter’s birth in 1954, we’ve gone through the routine each year and I still give St. Nick gifts to all four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.  My two daughters also loved the tradition and there is a very generous exchange between us of gifts and sweets for St. Nick.

We’ve used various stockings through the years, usually handmade, and these are the stockings that are hanging on my mantel right now, awaiting a visit from St. Nick.  My oldest daughter  requested a country-style quilted stocking when I first began quilting 5 years ago.

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When my youngest daughter was a teenager, she made this crocheted stocking for me.

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She also embroidered this stocking for me a few years ago.  It’s a Mary Engelbreit pattern which sums up my feelings for this season perfectly:

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I love Christmas! (and St. Nick)