Outdoor Decorations

This is post #5 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

The outdoor Christmas lights that we had growing up, if we had them, were usually pretty understated. In fact, more often that not, it was usually a lighted wreath hung inside a window rather than lights on the eaves and shrubs outside. Back when my dad was alive, he did decorate the shrubs outside our first house with the huge, opaque glass bulbs that used to constitute outdoor Xmas lights. I know my mom loved to look at such strings of lights, when you could find them. They’ve since been fast replaced by the smaller plastic Lite-Brite variety we see today.

Some of my fondest memories are of driving around with my family in the evenings around the holidays to see how others had decorated their homes. Nobody wanted to be “that guy” who went all out, draining the local electrical grid, but you know you wanted to drive by and stare at whoever did. I remember a couple of doozies like that out in Albuquerque, N.M. That is also where someone (not sure if it was the city or a private citizen), would put a huge lighted star up in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains that could be seen from miles around.

Christmas Cards

This is post #4 in the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Today’s Advent Calendar prompt asks: “Did your family send cards? Did your family display the ones they received? Do you still send Christmas cards? Do you have any cards from your ancestors?”

I don’t really remember my mom sending out a bunch of Christmas cards every single year. I started doing this myself after college — I found it was a nice way to stay in touch with folks after moving away from my home state.

I went through some childhood mementos to see if I could find any Christmas cards that I received as a child. Instead, I found the gem below, which my mom helpfully labeled “Melissa’s Christmas Card to Santa 1980″ (I was 4).

Xmas Card to Santa 1980

I remember those stickers vividly — actually they were stamps and had to be licked to make them adhere to the paper. Mom used to stick them on gift tags she attached to Christmas presents. I distinctly remember licking those stamps while sitting at a tiny white table I had in my playroom in the basement of the house we lived in at that time. Perhaps I’m remembering making this exact card? I can only assume that the letters at the top were my attempt to sign my name…

From a genealogical perspective, this card has more than sentimental value. You may be able to tell from the scan that there’s also a drawing (actually, a watercolor painting, also by moi) on the reverse side. Turns out, the picture on the back and this card were made using a piece of my dad’s medical office stationary* and his office address is printed on the reverse.

After many years of buying Christmas cards that only required me to include a quick note and to sign my name, I’m making my own cards again this year. I’d like to think my technique has improved a bit — I’m still using plenty of stickers though! See below for some examples. The materials came from this year’s featured project by Creative Memories.

Handmade Xmas Cards 2009

*My parents embraced recycling early — in addition to stray pieces of stationary, my dad would bring home reams and reams of discarded EKG printouts from the medical offices where he worked. Many a drawing was done on the back of these printouts — my sister and I were still using them for scratch paper years after he retired.

Treasure Chest Thursday: Christmas Tree Ornaments

This is Post #3 for the Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

Being of German ancestry and having lived in Germany not once, but twice, my mom was partial to German glass Christmas ornaments to decorate our tree. I still have many that I remember hanging on our tree when I was little. They are so delicate, it’s hard to imagine how they’ve lasted this long. Below is a more recent acquisition.

Glass Nutcracker Ornament

Though not a glass ornament, I’m partial to this little guy myself:

Angry Nutcracker Man

The Christmas Tree

Post #1 for the GeneaBloggers Advent Calendar of Christmas Memories.

My first Christmas was only a month after I was born. We were living in an apartment and my parents kept it small. Our tree was plastic, less than two feet tall and pre-decorated with plastic fruits, birds and other ornaments. It has made an appearance at almost every Christmas over the years, even if it wasn’t THE tree. I still have it and it will probably be my tree this year too. I love it.

My First Xmas Tree, Dec. '76

After spending Christmas morning at home, we’d usually trek to Alexandria, Va., for more presents, food and family at my grandma’s. She always had a fabulous tree.

Grandma Grace's Xmas Tree

After we moved into our first house, in the Woodmoor section of Silver Spring, Md., our own Christmas trees were of the live variety.

Christmas at Woodmoor

Our dog, Shadow, loved to lie on the Christmas tree skirt, until presents crowded her off of it. She always knew Christmas meant something special (usually in the form of more treats!).

Shadow Under the Tree (1988)

Over the years, my family switched from live trees to fake trees and back again. Several years featured multiple trees — a large one in the living room, a smaller one in the family room and then the tiny plastic tree would always show up somewhere.

My All-Time Fave Holiday Family Recipe

This post/recipe is my contribution to the GeneaBloggers 2009 Holiday Recipe Cookbook.

My all-time favorite holiday family recipe has earned me quite a rep among those I’ve met at the parties to which I’ve brought these tasty appetizers (actually, I’m now required to bring these to most tailgates, showers and other gatherings). Good thing they couldn’t be simpler.

Some of my earliest memories of family gatherings feature these Sausage-Cheese Balls (alternatively dubbed Cheesy Poufs, Snausage Balls and Cheesy Sausage Nums Nums, by those who have had them).

Below is my mom’s hand-written recipe card containing the recipe, which has an (almost) embarassingly small amount of ingredients and work involved. They can be incredibly messy to mix together, but the end result is well worth going through all that.

I have made these with turkey sausage for those who don’t favor pork and they have come out splendidly. They are practically impossible to mess up. Too much Bisquick and you just end up with cheesy, sausagy biscuits instead of balls. No problem! Play it off like that’s what you meant to make all along.

I believe that one of my aunts came across this recipe when she lived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Our family has enjoyed them ever since.

Wordy Wednesday: Remembrance Day/Veterans Day Memories of My Dad

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My Dad

My father passed away when I was young. He served in both WWII and the Korean War as a doctor in the Army Reserves. I didn’t get to hear many stories from him personally, and I continue to be amazed by what I find through my research.

Earlier this year, while searching for my surname online, I discovered the book The World of Surgery 1945-1985 — Memoirs of One Participant by James D. Hardy had several mentions of my dad’s name in it. I was even more surprised to learn that the book was in the stacks of the University of Maryland, College Park, main library (I work on this campus).

dadwxraysA portion of the book covers the author’s time with the Army during World War II and that’s where my dad’s name appears — my dad was the author’s unit commander at Camp Lee Regional Hospital (p. 85). I was delighted to find passages mentioning my dad, such as:

“7 Apr 45. Miraculously, we were ready today to recieve flocks of patients. Headquarters  (Lt. Hurand), registrar (Lt. Elliott), and Maj. Corley have done a bang-up job…” (p. 98).

And this amazing excerpt:

“11 Jul 45. Lt. Col. Banks, CO, was wounded seriously… by a bullet accidentally discharged by a Luger being cleaned some distance away. Struck and dazed while sitting on his bunk, he staggered out of his tent calling for Major Corley. The bullet itself had passed through the tent wall and lodged in Corley’s bedroll.” (p. 110).

My father was on the medical team that helped to treat surviving concentration camp prisoners from Dachau and surrounding locations after the Germans surrendered in the spring of 1945. I have a copy of “The History of the 81st Field Hospital,” which spares no detail in describing some of the horrors witnessed there.

Dad also served in a M*A*S*H unit in Korea. I have fond memories of watching the TV show of the same name while sitting on his lap when I was about five years old. He absolutely loved that show.

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Dad in his high school R.O.T.C. days.

After Dad retired from the Army (rank: Lieutenant Colonel), he went on to become chief of radiology at Kimbrough Army Hospital at Fort Meade, Md.

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James D. Hardy, The World of Surgery 1945-1985 — Memoirs of One Participant, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1986.

Touchdown Tales

Football has been a part of my life as far back as I can remember. Some of my earliest memories are of me in my John “Riggo” Riggins jersey nightgown. Yes, even in this miserable season for D.C. football, I can admit that I’m a born-and-raised ‘Skins fan. (Incidentally, it was several years before I learned that not every team had transvestite fans who wear pig snouts to every game. We’re special — that’s just for us.)

I must admit too that I didn’t quite *get* football at first. Touchdowns were irrelevant to me. The players on the field simply weren’t doing their job if there wasn’t a huge pile of players on top of each other when the whistle blew. That’s when I cheered. The bigger the pile-up, the better. Hence, I was usually rooting for fumbles/recoveries, no matter which team had dropped or recovered the ball.

I was 5 years old when I learned the true meaning of football. We were visiting my grandmother, who lived in a sixth-floor condo in Alexandria, Va. It was a gorgeous day and my cousin Lee (also 5) and I were not content to enjoy it from her balcony, so my uncle Rick agreed to take us to a grassy area on the grounds of the complex for a game of football.

The teams we fielded were small: two-man… no, actually one team had one and a half men (Rick and Lee) and the other team was me and Rick’s Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Jackson.

I don’t remember how the defining play began, but somehow I had the ball (Jackson passed it to me?) and I was careening towards the edge of the patch of grass that had been indicated as an end zone. Lee was only 7 months younger than me, but he was also seven inches shorter for quite awhile. He was firmly clamped around my waist (Jackson was probably sniffing something really interesting).

And so, my cousin dragging along beside me and my uncle hooting at the site of it all, I scored my first touchdown.

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Big props to Denise Levenick at The Family Curator for her Genealogy and Family History Bloggers Alamanac, which proposed “Touchdown Tales” as today’s writing prompt.

Balloon Boy, Meet Raft Girl

Me @ Age 5ish

Me @ Age 5ish

This week’s story about the supposed runaway balloon with a little boy in tow (who ended up being safe on the ground the whole time), reminded me of a somewhat similar incident, starring me, when I was five.

My entire family (Mom, Dad, little sis, Grandma, aunts, an uncle and cousins) all were on a trip to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We weren’t in the hugest of rental homes, and so one of the closets had all manner of beach and other toys stuffed into it when not in use. I remember venturing into the closet in search of my Little People and, being a little person myself, was quite content to remain in the closet to play with them.

After a while, I heard my Dad calling me. I don’t remember exactly what my motivation for doing so was (I probably had been told to leave the toys alone), but I decided I didn’t want to be found. So I stayed tucked inside the closet, hiding under a fully inflated rubber raft that had been wedged inside, and continued to play with my toys.

At first, I was having a grand ol’ time. I heard various relatives calling my name and I listened to the conversations between my parents and extended fam, as a search of the house was performed. My dad even opened the closet door to peer in, but didn’t see me. I grinned and congratulated myself for not being discovered.

After some time though, I could hear my mom becoming more frantic, my aunts trying to guess where I’d wandered off to. A couple of folks started down to the beach to look for me there. A call to the police was suggested.

If at first I didn’t want to be discovered playing with the off-limits toys, now I knew I was really in hot water. No way I was coming out. But I was a squirmy little five-year-old and said squirming set off a shifting of the tower of toys in the closet, betraying my location as my dad was walking by.

The door flew open and he hauled me out — he was most definitely *not* amused. The search party headed for the beach was recalled. My mom, who was close to tears, gave me a stern talking to. My embarassed little butt just wanted to go run and hide again, but I had to park myself in the living room where everyone could keep a better eye on me.

I didn’t make national headlines with my little hide-and-seek game, but the Balloon Boy story brought back this memory for me. I remember that feeling of dread as I realized the situation on the other side of that closet door was spiraling out of control. I certainly can’t blame the kid for hiding, hoax or not.