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More Stories - The Way We Were

Memories of Christmas Past
Hilda Graham

I was looking at pictures today and found one of the house I was born in, and thought about the Christmases past.  Here is my picture in front of this house.hildas_birthplace.jpg (10974 bytes)

I I noticed that the address had been changed to #18 from #2 because more new homes had been built below where I had lived as a young child.  That used to be a wooded area so they changed the postal address to accommodate this change. There were five small two-story houses in a row when I lived there. The original houses were between one and two hundred years old. Oh, how things have changed over the years. This picture was taken in 1994.  If you notice in the picture how short the door is, I am 5 ft. tall and you can see by the picture that the door is not a lot a lot taller than I.  A lot of the old houses in Britain are that way; I guess people must not have been as tall back then.

One thing came to my mind about the cooking of all the Christmas goodies.  I thought about how my mother and father liked to cook and wondered how in the world they managed to make such delicious foods in the oven.  I will try to describe the oven.  It was part of the fireplace and we used to use coal for heating.  When the oven wasn't in use they had what they called a draft; it was a piece of metal that slid over an opening between the fire and the oven.  When they needed to use the oven they would get the poker and raise the metal slide.  This would pull the heat into the oven and make it ready for cooking.  I have not the slightest idea how they controlled the temperature in the oven.  I know there was no thermostat so it must have been by guess and by golly.  Anyway they managed and as I said, the food was always delicious.

Now I must tell you what I did; keep in mind I was about 5 years old at the time.  My father took such pride and joy in the appearance of the fireplace and oven combination.  It was made of cast iron and was black with brass trim in front of the fireplace.  There were about three rows of bricks and in front of the bricks was a brass fender to prevent the coals from falling out of the fireplace and rolling out onto the main floor.  Every Friday night my father used to polish the fireplace and oven with something called blacklead, a type of liquid polish.  He would put the polish on with a cloth and then polish with a soft brush and it seemed to take for hours.  You could literally see your face in the oven door.  He really made it shine and then he did the same thing with the brass trimmings using" brasso" (you can still buy this), then the grand finale were the bricks, which were white, and they used something like a pumice stone.  It went on wet and when it dried it was pretty and white.  I recall one Christmas we had decorated, making the chains with coloured strips of paper and fastening them to the ceiling from corner to corner.  The tree was trimmed and we had to use little candles almost like birthday candles which fit in little candle holders clipped to the tree branches.  We only lit these on Christmas Eve, and had the tree catch fire more than once.  Of course in those days they did not have the electric lights.  Father had gone through the usual polishing on Friday night and if my memory is correct Christmas day was on the Monday.  My parents both worked, yes, back in those days it took two paychecks to make ends meet as it does today in most families.  My parents worked half days on Saturday and my brother and myself would stay at home by ourselves until they came home at noon.  Well, big brother Teddy went out to play,  I was so excited about Christmas and was so proud of the decorated house but it lacked something, so I looked at the fireplace and oven and thought how pretty it would be if it was all white?  You guessed it!   I took the pumice stone and went all over my father's blacklead brass and all.  Oh, I was so proud of myself and could hardly wait until my parents got home to see what I had accomplished!!!   When I think back on this I realize more and more what wonderful parents I was blessed with.  They knew how proud I was, and after the initial shock to them (I would have a heart attack if my children had done this) they said it looked very nice, but the oven would not work right with the white residue all over it as the heat would not penetrate and they would not be able to cook Christmas dinner, so they painstakingly removed all the pumice stone and restored the blacklead shine.  It took hours but they never made me feel guilty. That was a Christmas to remember. 

Auntie Doris and Uncle Billy, my mother's brother and sister, always came.  Uncle Billy always had a big bar of Cadburys chocolate to put in our stockings and Auntie Doris always managed some kind of a toy for us.  How I loved them both.  I remember on the Christmas morning it had been snowing and it was so cold and the roads were so slick, and my mother remembered she had forgotten the cream for whipping, so Uncle Billy elected to go to the farm house at the foot of the moors.  I was going with him.  It was an uphill climb and it seemed for every step forward we slipped back two, but it was fun.  Uncle Billy held my hand and when we got to the farm they insisted that we should have some hot cocoa and homemade scones and sit before a roaring fire in the kitchen until we thawed out that.  Our trip back home consisted of trying not to slide forward as we were going downhill.  When we got home I was freezing again and remember my father taking my hands between his and rubbing them hard to get the circulation going again.  He said it hurt, but I did not tell him because he was trying to help.

We always went to church on Christmas morning and the congregation all stayed for breakfast.  The children always wanted to hurry home to play with new toys but we had to be patient and when we got home the turkey cooking in the oven always smelled so good.  What wonderful memories.  How I wish I could re-live them once more, be a child again, but that is wishful thinking and I must count my blessings that God gave me these wonderful memories.

Copyright Hilda Graham 1997

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