One memorable Christmas, our family stepped back in time to experience an old fashioned family gathering. Mom had often wished for “…an old fashioned Christmas like I had when I was a child”. Her wish came true on Christmas Day, 1998 - her 75th birthday.
Mom often told stories of her country Christmases and how poor her family had been during the depression years. A small pine tree, decorated with simple ornaments made from used foil and colored paper, became a Christmas tree, and a shoebox was left beside her bed on Christmas Eve in hopes that Santa would fill it. If crops had been good and Grandma had been able to save some egg money, Mom and her brothers and sisters found an orange, a peppermint stick, walnuts in the shells, and one small toy in each of their shoeboxes. She told of the wonderful aromas of coconut birthday cake and warm gingerbread that wafted from the family kitchen at holiday time.
We could recite Mom’s stories from memory and the impatience of our youth overcame us as she told them each year. As adults, with families of our own, we finally understood Mom’s longing to return to a simpler time. To fulfill the only wish we’d ever heard her express, we secured a log cabin in the Hocking Hills of Ohio and transformed it into a cozy Christmas haven.
Mom's first surprise on Christmas Day was having us join her in church and sing together as we had when we were in the youth choir. This time our families sang with us. We had secretly planned the music with the organist and choir director. Mom had known nothing about our gift to her, and in fact, hadn't even expected the out-of-state family to be with her at all over the holidays. She had no idea that my brother, sisters, and I had been plotting her surprise for months.
At Mom's home, some of us diverted her attention as we packed her suitcase and sneaked it out of the house. Most family members made excuses to leave and my spouse and I asked Mom if she'd like to take a ride and told her our destination was a holiday display, as she questioned why we were on the back roads of Logan Ohio - she was sure we were lost. When the cabin was finally within view, Mom exclaimed that she would love to be able to peek inside it. Was she ever shocked when we told her we could do that, and she innocently asked, "How?". We revealed the surprise and Mom was overcome with emotion when I said, "Welcome to your old fashioned country Christmas".
Family members who had been hidden from view converged on the cabin and the celebration began. A pine tree cut from the hillside behind the cabin and left on the porch by the owner reminded Mom of her childhood trees. We baked coconut cake and gingerbread cookies as reminders of the special treats from her childhood. Children and grandchildren retreated to the cabin loft to make decorations and string garlands from popcorn and cranberries. They trimmed the little tree as Mom relived the Christmases of her childhood. At one point she said, “This day would be just perfect, if we only had shoeboxes". That was our cue to present each family member with a shoebox containing an orange, a peppermint stick, walnuts in the shells, one small toy for each child, and a pair of gloves or socks for each of the adults. Mom told the story of her shoebox Christmases once more and we realized how very much the gathering meant to her.
We celebrated the remainder of Christmas Day by popping popcorn over an open fire, sipping hot cider and cocoa, listening to music from the 30's and 40's (no TV or video games were allowed), and exploring the snowy hillsides until sundown. We gathered on the cabin porch to sing carols under the stars that night, and "Silent Night" was a perfect ending to our memory-making day.