Your Holiday Memories: Tales from December

Readers contribute their favorite holiday memories
Rotterdam resident Nancy Bedard shows off the dollhouse she received as a Christmas gift in 1944.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Rotterdam resident Nancy Bedard shows off the dollhouse she received as a Christmas gift in 1944.

Categories: Life & Arts

Candles are lit, cookies are baked and tales are told — people can count on all three during the holiday season. The Daily Gazette asked readers to contribute some of their favorite holiday memories for the annual Celebrate holiday section. We are publishing all received; in no particular order, here they are.

MEMORY IN MINIATURE
By Nancy Bedard, Schenectady

In 1944, we were living with my grandparents so both my parents could work at GE.

My Christmas present that year was a beautiful handmade dollhouse. My father and grandfather made it from plans in a magazine. They must have made it in the cellar workshop, because I was totally surprised.

It was partially furnished with miniature furniture purchased at Barneys. It even came with a deed.

Every holiday I received additional furnishings. I even got a small velvet-lined box with sterling silver settings for four. I played with it for many years after.

I still display the dollhouse. My grandchildren love to play with it.

It will be passed down to my granddaughter, a treasured piece of family history.

THE LONG DRIVE TO CHRISTMAS 
By Adel Murray Fredenburg, Glenville

My dad, Alan D. Murray, was employed by the County of Schenectady as Naturalization Officer — his job as I knew it for 37 years before his retirement in 1964.

As a young man aged 17, Dad enrolled to serve his country in the First World War. He joined the cavalry and served in France, returning home to finish high school and continue his education as an accountant with GE. He was a true patriot and I know he loved his country.

He volunteered during World War II to drive Army trucks from Schenectady to the Carolinas with supplies for that war. I’m not sure at all of the content of these trucks; I do know that it was important work and he was dedicated to that and the long drive.

The Christmas which stands out in my mind is one when Dad had to make one of his trips on Christmas Eve day. He drove the trucks on the older highways with only one headlight because of wartime orders, directing him on long dark roads.

My mom, Dorothy Bradt Murray, was concerned always for his safety.

However, this Christmas trip in particular was important to all of my family. We would delay our Christmas Day celebration until my father arrived home safely Christmas afternoon.

The wait for a little girl was memorable to say the least, along with a sense of possible danger in our home, along with the joy of celebration also to take place on Christmas Day. There would be dinner at our house with my grandparents and my older brother and I to enjoy wrapped Santa gifts along with the wonderfully anticipated holiday tastes by fragrant smells that came from the kitchen!

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My brother Alan amused me that special morning as we waited and waited for our father to pull safely into the driveway.

And he did! That very moment stays in my memories to this day.

There he was, unshaven in his old fedora hat, the weathered trench coat he wore on these trips and a huge safety pin at the throat of his coat keeping him warm against the winter elements.

That Christmas afternoon, while enjoying the meal at our dining room table, he told us a story from his trip home which made this holiday even more memorable.

Dad stopped at a diner for coffee and a doughnut somewhere in the hospitable South. He approached a counter as he came in from parking the truck and gave his order to the waitress. When it was time to pay she told him the coffee and donuts were on her and “Merry Christmas.”

Perhaps the old fedora and the old coat with its safety pin warmed her Christmas heart.

My mom cried. They were her tears of joy.

THE CHRISTMAS PARADE
By Michele E. Lupe-Bowe, Schenectady

One of my favorite memories during the holiday season was going to the annual Christmas Parade in Schenectady.

My father bundled up my sister and I in our winter coats, hats, scarves, snow pants, mittens and boots!

Mom smeared Vaseline on our cheeks and then wrapped the scarf around our face to keep the frostbite away. Yes she did, seriously.

She also made us put baggies on our feet before the boots, too! Then dad got our miniature lawn chairs out, a thermos of tea and we set out to sit on the parade route. Of course, with a handsome young man with two adorable “Snow Daughters,” we always sat right on the curb.

When the novelty guy came around we got a toy, too. The marching bands and the firetrucks were my favorites. Candy was thrown to the crowd and we felt so special when a marcher just handed it to us.

Well, they took pity — we could barely move in our winter gear.

I was about 5 or 6 that year and I will never forget that Saturday night parade.

CHRISTMAS BELLS — WEDDING BELLS
By Caroline Brooks, Scotia

Christmas Eve morning in 1983 dawned icy cold with the day topping out at 13 degrees.

I showered, ate a bowl of hot Cream of Wheat and piled into the car with my brother. We drove away with my parents coming later after getting stuck sideways in our long, uphill, icy driveway.

The drive felt like a movie, one that I was supposed to star in, but felt oddly distant. In no time, my brother pulled into our church lot; I grabbed my oversized dress bag and headed up to the choir room.

The dreamlike quality continued as my friends helped me into my dress. It was as if I was watching someone else prepare for the life-altering day ahead.

Then it was happening. It was just my dad and me, alone in the narthex as he awkwardly fluffed my train.

The music rang out, the congregation turning to stare at me, clutching my bouquet of mistletoe, clinging to my dad’s arm, as I glided firmly toward my future husband, Bill.

It sounds cliché, but all else really did fall away, then and for the rest of the day. There are clear snapshots in my head of poinsettias everywhere, confident voices as we exchanged vows and an impromptu photo by the coat rack with our humble priest.

As we moved through the reception, there were surreptitious glances at watches as families were eager to get on with their own Christmas Eve activities. Then, in a blink, the bouquet was tossed, the cake was cut and we had made our escape into the single-digit temperatures.

Decades later, I find a quiet peace as I move through the season. The poinsettias, the mistletoe and the icy cold all hold an extra layer of joy as that dreamy film runs through my head.

THE CHRISTMAS GOAT
By Crys Hamelink, Ballston Lake

“Get a gift for Julie.”

This message kept playing in my head as I prepared for the upcoming holiday. Why should I give Julie a gift? We had never exchanged gifts before.

Each year, our extended family would draw names and we would buy for that person. I already had a name for the family gift in 2006. It was not Julie.

But this urge to get her a gift was overwhelming. Earlier that year, I was fortunate to become the coordinator of the Schenectady Community Ministries (SICM) free summer lunch program. With the help of two college interns, we designed the program, created menus, got funding, hired a food service provider and recruited, trained and supervised hundreds of wonderful volunteers to feed hungry kids over the summer break.

One of those interns was my 18-year-old niece Julie Settle (now Dr. Julie Settle Adamchick). 

Together we served over 25,000 meals and then she left for Cornell. I would not see her again until Christmas.

We had grown closer over the summer, and she was a tremendous help. Maybe I could get her a gift after all.

Julie is not easy to buy for. She’s not into jewelry or clothes or shopping or all the kinds of things that appeal to others her age. So I thought — what does Julie like?  She obviously liked feeding hungry kids in the parks, but I wasn’t sure what I could do with that. Then I recalled how much she had enjoyed her youth-group service trips to Central America.

She helped repair and paint school walls, became fluent in Spanish, shared stories, taught kids to sing and dance, and learned from them. She told me: “The people are wonderful, but so poor. I wish I could do more for them.”

Perhaps the gift could relate to this.

Then I remembered how much Julie loved her goat. Her parents have a barn on their property and she had convinced them to buy her a pet goat.

Velvet was soft and silky, and her “velvety” lips would tickle your arm as she gave you gentle goat kisses.

Velvet followed Julie everywhere, and she simply adored her goat.

“That’s it,” I thought. “I will buy a goat for a low-income family in Central America! That would be a perfect gift for Julie.”


I headed off to search one of those catalogs where you can order a goat or other farm animals for needy families in developing nations. Goats, however, are expensive. Much more than I had realized.

But you can purchase “half a goat” in someone’s honor, at a more reasonable price. Some other unknown donor can cover the other share of the cost of the goat.

So, for Julie’s gift, I purchased half a goat share for a family in Central America — and felt great about this choice.

THE WOODLAWN CHRISTMAS TREE
By Taire Valley Pulver, Ringgold, Georgia

When I was a little girl in the ’50s and early ’60s, I lived in Woodlawn on Halsey Drive.

I have since moved away but always come home for Christmas. Every Christmas for several years we had a huge Christmas tree at the entrance of Patrick Court.

My dad, Jerry Valley, would use a jackhammer to put a hole in the road (and yes, he had to get permission from the city first). He would then place the tree in the hole and secure it so the wind did not blow it over.

It didn’t matter what the weather was, the neighborhood would come out to help my dad. Everyone would bring some kind of decorations and my dad would use his big equipment to string lights around the tree.

My mom would ask the other moms in the neighborhood to buy and wrap a small gift with their own child’s name on it and bring it secretly to our house so she could give them to Santa to pass out. My brother and I knew nothing about this at the time.

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Mom would give the bag of gifts to Santa (we believe he was Mac MaCabe). She always had extra gifts so no child was left out.

When the time came, even though it was cold and snowing, we all waited for Santa with such excitement and then we saw it, the big red fire engine with sirens and lights going off, and what a thrill for all of us kids. We jumped up and down yelled “That’s me!” as Santa called our names and handed us our gifts all wrapped up with Christmas paper and pretty ribbons.

I can still remember those feelings.

Every child deserves a Christmas memory in his or her life like that. All of those families have either moved away or passed, but I am sure if those kids (parents and grandparents now) who lived on Halsey Drive or Patrick Court or Nimitz Road can remember that time, it is a memory to hold onto forever!! Merry Christmas and God bless you all.

BY LANTERN’S LIGHT
By Liz Dobson-Davis, Glenville

Outside was a perfect winter night; not too cold and snow was falling, with the kind of snowflakes that stick to your eyelashes.

My family, along with some neighbors, decided to go Christmas caroling. I remember my dad attached a Coleman lantern to an old swing-set pole and held it high above our group, casting a warm glow as we walked, laughed and sang on the snow-hushed streets of our Woodhaven neighborhood in Glenville.

LIVING DOLLS
By Ms. Ann Kulkus, Scotia

Almost 70 years ago, my sister and I received very special presents for Christmas.

We were about 3 and four 4 old, and we had just recently moved to Schenectady from Burlington, Vermont, leaving behind a large, extended family.

My three brothers, my sister and I had enough of what we needed, but there was very little for extras.

When Colette and I woke up Christmas morning we found two beautifully dressed baby dolls sleeping at the foot of our bed.

MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Scotia resident Ann Kulkus, at right, and her sister, Colette Mozgawa old doll "Terry".MARC SCHULTZ/GAZETTE PHOTOGRAPHER
Scotia resident Ann Kulkus, at right, and her sister, Colette Mozgawa hold a doll.

Colette’s wore a pink dress and bonnet to showcase her blonde hair. Mine, a brunette, was dressed in navy blue.

These precious dolls were mailed to my mother from our godmothers in Vermont. I am sure our Christmas would have been very sparse that year if it hadn’t been for the generosity of those we left behind.

How we loved those dolls. I still have mine to this day.

MAIL CALL
By Joe Meuse, Saratoga Springs

Years ago, my wife and I were addressing Christmas cards. We wanted to send a card to a neighbor two houses up, but couldn’t remember their last name.

We dressed up our 5-year-old son, Eric, and asked him to go up and look at the mailbox to get the name.

In a few minutes he returned and took off his coat and gloves.

We said, “Well, what is it?” He proudly announced “MAIL.”

TEARS FOR DIANA
By Carol A. Armitage, Middle Grove

I had always adored Princess Diana. Shortly after her accident and death, the Beanie Babies became popular. It was difficult to get a Princess Diana bear.

On Christmas morning, probably 1999, I opened my gift from my son Kevin and there was my Princess Diana Beanie Baby Bear. I burst into tears. My family was so surprised because I cried.

I still have my Beanie and she has her own case, still displayed in my home. 

MY LIVING DOLL
By Audrey Osterlitz, Burnt Hills

When I was 5 years old, a doll appeared in the window of a business where my father worked. Peterson-Ashton Fuels was on Freemans Bridge Road, and my dad filled in evenings pumping gas.

The doll appeared a few months before Christmas. I was captivated.

I wanted, wanted, wanted this doll. She looked 3 feet tall and positively regal in her position in the center of the window display. I knew she would be perfect for the Christmas play.

Our kindergarten teacher had given me a role in which I had to hold a doll and say a few words. “I need that doll,” I told my parents, beseeching them every chance I got. 

In order to win her, one had to save a certain number of bottle caps. Mom and Dad were not optimistic.

Someone might submit the required number of bottle caps before we do, they said. It is not a sure thing.

Don’t get your hopes up. But I wanted her. No other doll would do.

It got closer and closer to Christmas and the doll did not come home with my dad.

Soon, she disappeared from the window. I was disappointed. I resigned myself to the fact that I would not be holding her in the Christmas play.

One morning, waking early and hearing the bustling sounds of the house (Dad getting ready for work, Mom in the kitchen making oatmeal), I sensed my father rush into my room, place something on the bed and rush off. He was gone before I could tell him I was only pretending to be asleep.

There was the doll, the very one I begged my parents to get for me.

This memory is as vivid today as if it happened yesterday. It is the Christmas present I remember best.

Another story comes from the Carl Company.

In the old days, we often shopped for Christmas at the downtown Carl Company on State Street in Schenectady.

As the holiday approached, I dropped my 8-year-old, Tom, at a friend’s house while I took my 5-year-old, Lisa, to Carl Company’s second floor to look at the toys.

We visited my uncle, Henry Dodge, who ran the credit department, and then browsed the aisles.

At the end of a row of displays, in an unremarkable chair, we found Santa Claus. There was no one around; he sat all by himself. Lisa was entranced.

He gathered her in his lap, asked her what she wanted for Christmas and gave her a lollipop.

As we were getting ready to leave, Santa called out, “Would you like one for your brother?” We both turned in amazement; Lisa looked at me, her eyes big as saucers.

Slowly, and somewhat reverently, she walked to him and accepted the gift for her brother.  

At that magical moment, any doubt in her young mind as to the existence of Santa evaporated; and I, an adult mom with two children, took up again my belief.

BELLS AND FUDGE FOR CHRISTMAS
By Flora L. Ramonowski, Schenectady

Having grown up in a small city (now a town) named Hudson, N.Y., most of the residents recognized one another, as most stores were on the main street called Warren Street.

Everyone walked the main street shopping and browsing the many department stores, five-and-dime stores, diners, restaurants and hardware stores.

During Christmastime when I was around 10 or 11, I decided to ring the bell for the Salvation Army in order to make a few dollars to buy gifts for my four siblings, mother and father.

Each night I stood in front of one of the five-and-dime stores ringing the bell for the Salvation Army.  I remember light snow coming down and the people strolling up and down the streets — greeting one another with a “Hello” and “Merry Christmas.”

I could hear the Christmas music coming from within the stores. Shoppers seemed so happy and friendly.

The streets and stores were decorated in lights, Christmas wreaths and bells. I could feel the happiness and joy everyone showed.

After ringing the bells for some time, I was allowed to go into the five-and-dime store to warm up. I sat at the counter where I enjoyed a cup of hot chocolate as I listened to the Christmas music and took in all of the wonderful decorations. I felt such warmth and joy from watching the shoppers.

They strolled slowly up and down the aisles in no particular hurry, browsing around for gifts and greeting each other with warm greetings as they passed by. There was no stress or anxiety, just pure happiness spread amongst each other.

On my last day of ringing the bell just before Christmas, I shopped and purchased some small gifts for my four siblings and parents. Upon arriving home, I could smell the sweet aroma of fudge being made.

The house was filled with Christmas music with my mother singing along. The house was beautifully decorated and the stockings were hung — filled with walnuts, oranges, candy and a small gift.

The big annual event was taking place. My mother was making her homemade fudge and the aroma was enticing. I joined my siblings as we waited in great anticipation for my mother to finish making the fudge so that we could spoon out the remaining fudge clinging to the sides of the pan.

After my mother stirred and stirred and stirred, the fudge was ready to be put in a pan. We finally got to taste the most delicious fudge ever.

Then we went to bed to await the wonderful surprises of Christmas Day.

In later years, my siblings and I attempted to make fudge like my mother made in order to recapture that wonderful memory. However, none of us came near replicating the taste and texture of my mother’s fudge — but we enjoyed trying.

THE RECITAL
By Shirley Savage, Gloversville

I can remember my favorite holiday like it was yesterday.

We had 10 kids in our family — David, Paul, Delbert, Phillip, Thelma, Linda, Allen, Ralph, Shirley (Twin “A”) and  Sheila (Twin “B”).

We all went to Sunday school where church directly followed. As the kids got older, that number would winnow down. 

Our dad, Allen Savage, never went to church except for one time. I’ll never forget.

Our Sunday school teachers were going through songs and poems. My mom said, “This one is perfect for Shirley to recite.”

I rehearsed and rehearsed for our Thanksgiving pageant. I pretended I was Shirley Temple, my favorite actress. After all, we did have the same name. I did her smiles and frowns, hand and arm gestures, just like she did on TV.

I wasn’t nervous at all. My heart was pounding when I saw Daddy walk into the United Methodist Church in Ephratah and sat down next to Mommy and Sheil earlier. I knew he would be there. After all, this was all about him.

The name of my poem was “Rheumatism.”

I asked Mommy what it meant. She said, “Aches and pains.”

When it was my turn, I said “I’m reciting a poem for my daddy, it’s called ‘Rheumatism, Samuel Taylor Coleridge.’ ”

My pa has rheumatism,
it bothers him severely;
It is the kind that comes
and goes
And acts a trifle queerly
On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesdays
He doesn’t mind the
showers
On rainy rheumatism
Saturdays
It bothers Dad for hours.
But I have always wondered
Just why a rainy Sunday
Is so much worse for
rheumatism
Than a rainy Monday!

I looked directly at him while saying this poem. And he gave me the biggest wink I ever got. I ran to him, he hugged me and kissed my forehead.

I was so proud. I’ll never forget it.

REMEMBRANCES
By Stacy Kimball, Fonda

In December 1988, in response to a local paper’s call for people to share their “Holiday Memories,” my mother submitted the following memory:

A very wonderful woman recently said to me, “As you go through life, build a memory.” I realized that I have been building my “Christmas memory” for many years.

I have a child’s rocker that my grandparents gave me for my first Christmas. Sitting in that rocker (I still fit) reminds me of many wonderful things: the smell of turkey roasting, of pies baking when I walked into my grandparents’ house, and my Grandpa Jay saying, “How’s my little girl?”

It mostly reminds me of my 16th Christmas. My grandmother asked me what I wanted and I told her, “A rag doll.” She made me one, and today that doll has her home in my little rocker.

I have many wonderful memories that include other family members, but somehow, I think grandparents are able to make the best memories. I remember the times spent in a snowball fight or climbing on a lap to read a story on a snowy Christmas afternoon.

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My Grandpa Jay and Grandma Stevens have been gone for some years. Many times, I feel sad that my children never knew them, but then my thoughts brighten. My children have wonderful grandparents also. I have seen my dad throw a few snowballs, and many times my mom and dad’s laps are full of books and two little children.

Although my memories are always with me, Christmastime makes them seem a little more special and somehow, it seems more important to make a few more. 

Merry Christmas to all grandmas and grandpas, and a special one to Grandpa Ken and Grandma Bev from my children, Stacy and Scott. 

By the way, Mom and Dad, thanks for all the memories I have, and especially the ones yet to come.

Leslie Kimball, Fonda

Since that time, our lives have changed in so many ways. Our family was heartbroken when we lost my amazing Grandpa Ken after a courageous battle with cancer in 1993. Yet we were filled with such joy when my brother married his beautiful wife Angela and our family started growing with their precious son, Noah, almost 3, and another little boy — coming soon!!

Now, it is my mom and dad who are grandma and grandpa (or Gigi and Papa, as they are lovingly called) and their laps are filled with books and a smiling little boy.

Despite the many changes, one thing has remained the same. Our family continues to make special memories together, and some of these memories still revolve around the little rocking chair that Mom received from her grandparents on her first Christmas.

It is always a special treat for Noah to come visit Gigi and Papa and be able to sit in “Gigi’s rocking chair.” It fits him perfectly, and he thinks it was made just for him. Seeing the big smile on his face as he rocks back and forth is a memory that will forever be precious.

It is amazing to me that this one Christmas gift from my mother’s childhood continues to mean so much to so many. Looking at that chair, which still holds Mom’s rag doll, never fails to remind me how one small gift can make such a big impact. 

Wishing you a very merry Christmas and many happy memories.

BUTTERHORN BAKERS
By Anne Marie Peltier of Ballston Lake and Cathy Busher of Scotia

The Friday after Thanksgiving, or Black Friday as it is now called, has become synonymous with the start of the holiday shopping frenzy.

Not so for my sister and me, as neither of us like to fight the crowds on this very busy spending day. So, while many people are tying up their sneakers, putting on their coats and dashing out in anticipation of getting the best bargains, Cathy and I are donning our aprons and oven mitts. It is the start of our annual Holiday Baking Extravaganza!

Growing up in a large Italian-American family, food was an important part of our home life. Our kitchen was always filled with delicious aromas.

My mother loved to cook and bake, and she passed on her love of baking to her three daughters. My sister and I continue with a tradition that we started over 25 years ago.

She and I lived in a two-family house from 1984 until 2002. On Black Friday, we would get together to begin baking our Hungarian Butterhorns. Presently, we do not live in the same house, but we still get together for the start of our Christmas baking season.

The Butterhorns that we make are delicious but can be time consuming. We have found that it is more fun being with each other to bake, talk and enjoy each other’s company.

During the month of December, we both bake our own goodies and then divide them between us. Last year we had a combined total of 15 different kinds of cookies, fudge and truffles.

We always enjoy sharing our treats with family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers. And they are always thrilled to reap the benefits of our hard work! Speaking of sharing, we would like to pass along this very special, tasty recipe. Enjoy!!

Hungarian Butterhorns
(author unknown)

Ingredients

1 lb. unsalted butter
4 cups flour
1 1/3 cups sour cream
2 egg yolks
Blend above ingredients together and divide into 6 balls.  

For Filling

1 1/2 cups chopped nuts
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon

Mix above filling ingredients together.

Roll each ball into a circle and sprinkle approximately 1/2 cup filling on it. Cut into 12 wedges using a pizza cutter. Roll up to the center of the circle so each wedge resembles a crescent.

Brush top with egg white. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. 

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