Well, its two days after Christmas, and my wife and I have managed to return to our home even though we had to wend our way back through the blizzard that hit the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I was very impressed with the civility of the drivers along the way. I’m sure that clenching the steering wheel with whitened knuckles did a lot to take the edge off of aggressive driving in horrible conditions.
I remember having to traverse the snow blanketed streets in Duquesne after a snow. The trip yesterday was a piece of cake by comparison. There was nothing quite as tricky as trying to safely traverse 2nd Street on a snowy night with cars parked on both sides of the street. Dad would be driving, Mom would be trying to wipe the windshield clear so my dad could see, and my brother and I would be in the back of our 1955 powder blue Hudson fighting over space infringements. My dad always seemed to pick the most treacherous route to follow whenever it snowed. I swear that he always managed to include Center Street in his route! Although I always thought of him as “fearless”, I am sure my mom would have described him in more “colorful” and less flattering terms!
It always seemed to snow on at least one of the days during the week following Christmas when I was growing up in Duquesne. However, no matter how severe the weather, we would always seem to be able to make the rounds of holiday visits to all of our aunt and uncles. The days when we visited each relative were cyclical. Aunt Mary and Uncle Lou were the day after Christmas, Uncle Tim and Aunt Jane’s house was always two days after Christmas and Mom and Dad were the hosts three days after Christmas. The visiting continued to Aunt Rose and Uncle Sam, Aunt Kay and Uncle Mike and would always culminate on New Year’s Eve at Aunt Clare and Uncle Hank’s during the first week. Visits always continued after New Years Day. Some days included two different households, one on Dad’s side of the family and one on Mom’s. Aunt Bubs and Uncle Clell were always doubled up with Aunt Helen M. and Uncle Gary’s gala, and Aunt Fran and Uncle Tom were on the same evening as Aunt Peg, Uncle Chin, Uncle Joe and Aunt Helen.
Each visit’s cadence of events was as if they had been taken directly from “The Hunky’s Book of Etiquette.” We would always arrive with some sort of gift in hand for the hosts. It was usually a bottle of whiskey and some sort of covered dish for the evening’s feast.
My dad and uncles would somehow act surprised when they opened the bottle and howl with delight at the prospect of partaking of its contents that evening. Mom and the aunts would first unload their food in the kitchen and then retreat to the living room to await the “whiskey sours” that were being prepared by the guys.
We kids would already be clustered around the tree checking out what our cousins had gotten for Christmas. We would always bring along one of our own Christmas toys to share while we played with theirs. There never seemed to be any fights that kids usually have. Things were pretty cool back then. I think our parents were taking mental notes of which toys we played with so that they would know what might appeal to us for our birthday or some other special occasion. Crafty sort they were!!!
Once the ladies had their whisky sours in hand, the uncles would join all of us with shots and beers in hand, and a holiday toast would be made by the host. Glasses clinked, shots were downed, cocktails were sipped and the party began. There was always some type of holiday music playing in the background, probably Mantovani, Lawrence Welk or Henry Mancini. Everyone would sit and graciously “ooh” and “aww” as the hostess would show off all of the gifts that were received. Usually, by the time she was halfway through the presentation, the men would be so “antsy” that they would have already retired to the kitchen to continue “imbibing” and to begin taste testing that evening’s feast.
Ahh, THE FEAST! Let me just say this, the cabbage growers, kielbasa makers, walnut and poppyseed distributors, as well as the pig farmers HAD to have made their annual profits during Christmas from the sales of their products in Duquesne. The menu was as traditional as they came. Sliced ham, stuffed cabbage and kielbasa, potato salad, poppyseed and nut rolls, and a relish tray that always consisted of radishes, green onions, olives and pickles. The presentation might have been different from home to home, but the content never changed. Occasionally, some daring aunt would try to interject a new item, but the tried and true always prevailed. While the adults continued to enjoy the “spirits” of the season, we kids were using enjoying a bottle of Regent pop or Mission Grape or Orange. Remember how we would go with our dads to Green Valley Beer Distributors to get the refreshments each year???
After the events of the evening, we would all grab our coats and hats off of the bed they were piled on and head home. Somehow, my Dad seemed to drive better after his evening’s celebration. Also, after her whiskey sours, Mom was less “concerned” with the snow that had amassed during the party. And we kids, we would just sit back, and enjoy the countless strands of multicolored Christmas lights that glowed even more brightly against the newly fallen snow. Ahhhhh, the good life!
Those were the days my friends. How I miss them.