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Christmases Past: Local seniors share holiday memories

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December 16, 2009 - Grace Holstein grew up in a time when the world seemed safer and no one locked their doors or were concerned about kids being left alone. Little did her parents know that one Christmas Eve, there was reason to be concerned— about her brother.

On that snowy Christmas Eve nearly 60 years ago, Holstein's parents put the kids to bed and went next door to the neighbor's house to play cards. Soon, there was a knock on the neighbor's door. It was Holstein, wearing brand new slippers that had been wrapped and placed under the Christmas tree.

"I said, 'Look, Mom, Santa came,'" recalls Holstein. "My brother had woke me up and told me Santa came. We unwrapped everything, even for the relatives. She was so mad."

The now 65-year-old Brandon Township resident was one of several senior citizens who recounted their childhood Christmas memories recently.

Despite their naughtiness that year, Holstein's memories are mostly nice ones, revolving around church and family. They would attend a Christmas Eve service, sing in the choir and participate in the Christmas play. Her father would always get the biggest Christmas tree that would fit in their house and he and her mother would decorate it after the kids were in bed Christmas Eve. Her favorite part was opening gifts Christmas morning— usually she would get one big present, like a doll, and then stuff to go with the doll. Often, Holstein's parents made the gifts. One year, her father made her a doll crib and her mother made a pillow, mattress and cover to go around it. Her father also made her brother a castle and knights out of wood and papier mache one year.

Catherine Morrison will never forget the year she got a candy store for Christmas.

Morrison, now 86 and a Brandon Township resident, grew up in Rutherglen, Scotland. Her mother, she recalls, did all the Christmas shopping on Christmas Eve. When Morrison was old enough, she joined her mother to help. One time, when her mother was unsure what to get for her daughter, Morrison suggested a candy store replica that had actual miniature jars of candy on the shelves. Her mother came through with it and on Christmas Day, Morrison opened all the packages of candy. Near the end of the day, Morrison's mother asked her about her candy store.

"I told her the store was closed, all out of candy, and I threw it away because the candy was gone," Morrison remembers. "She threw her hands in the air. She couldn't stop laughing, and said it would have been a lot cheaper to buy a few bags. It was one very memorable Christmas for me. I laugh everytime I think about it."

Unlike Holstein, who recalls that everyone had a real tree, Morrison said no one she knew in Scotland as a child had a Christmas tree. Instead, they decorated with paper chains of all different colors and hung big paper bells. They set a nativity on a sideboard and sprinkled stardust over it to make it brighter. They had Christmas lights and a lot of candles. Morrison's favorite meal at Christmas was clootie dumpling, a big dumpling that her mother made with brown sugar, flour, and fruits, nuts and raisins. She would set the dumpling in a pillowcase tied with string and put it into boiling water.

When it was done, she took it out of pillowcase, put it on a big platter and dried it out in front of the fireplace. It was then sliced, with custard poured over it and placed in the center of the Christmas dinner table. Also on the table was a sultana cake with raisins and currants, chocolate biscuits, an oval platter with cold meats, and homemade crusty bread. In the children's stockings, were an orange, apple, chocolates and chewy candies. "The thing I remember very clearly, most of the time, is my mother singing," Morrison said. "She had a great soprano voice. On Christmas she loved to have the place all decorated and kids running around. It was a very happy time. She would sing an Irish song and carols, 'Merry Christmas, merry Christmas, merry Christmas to you!' We would all join in and dance around."

Doris Warren, 85, and also a Brandon Township resident, grew up in Lake Orion with very special Christmas memories. She remembers some lean times, particularly during the Great Depression, but the family members always tried to exchange gifts, sometimes saving all year from vegetables they sold from their garden. Warren gave her mother the money she earned from selling vegetables and her mother would give her 10 or 15 or 20 cents to put in a dish in the china cabinet to save until Christmas. Then her parents took their children to the Kresge's dime store in Pontiac to select gifts for the family.

"We came home and wrapped them individually and had the joy of putting them under the tree and seeing their faces," recalled Warren. "We earned it."

In 1939, when Warren was 15, the gift she really wanted was a Thompson Chain Reference Bible. In it was a concordance, with a dictionary and Bible studies, like the one her father had. She received clothes instead and couldn't hide her disappointment. She thanked her parents for what she had received and then her father surprised her by going and getting his. "He signed it, 'From Daddy, with love, 1939,'" she said. "They had it and didn't let me know until I said I was disappointed. I was just thrilled. I have used it through the years and really appreciated it. One of my most memorable things.

That meant so very much to me."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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