without-dad-at-christmas-2My youngest sister, Jean, and I were talking recently about our memories.  Although there is 8 years difference in our ages, neither of us has many Christmas memories. And there aren’t many pictures of our Christmases.    So here are a few random Christmas memories:

One Christmas when Judy and I were young, our dolls got baths and new clothes for Christmas!  We were thrilled – they seemed like new dolls to us.  Several years later, I asked for a “Ginny” doll for Christmas – a precursor to Barbie.  One of the cereal companies was offering her as a box-top special.  I ate the cereal, Mom collected the box tops, and Ginny arrived in time for Christmas.  By my sophomore year in high school, Judy and I were making most of our clothes.  My senior year everyone was wearing matching pastel skirt and sweater sets.  It had to have been quite a stretch for Mom’s budget, but I received a light mint green skirt and sweater that year.

I am sure Mom loved all of the Christmas gifts Mom received over the years.  Judy and I would save our money and go to the dime store and buy her Evening in Paris cologne; or we would buy more loops for our looms and make her pot holders.  If Mom got pot holders, Dad got handkerchiefs!

One year, Mom was getting ready for company to join us for Christmas dinner – probably Aunt Marge and Uncle Bob. Anyway, Mom had the vacuum and was cleaning up in the living room.  She lifted the wand to turn around and sucked the tinsel off the tree!

A couple more Mom memories.  One year she drove us into Grayslake and while there decided to get the Christmas tree.  It was close to Christmas and the tree was definitely a “Charlie Brown” tree.  Dad teased her about the pitiful tree she selected.   Another year, Mom dropped the turkey as she took it out of the oven.  I was walking into the kitchen at the time. She picked it up and put it back in the pan and suggested we not tell anyone!

Sometime after we moved to the lake, Tinkerbell became a regular visitor. Somewhere Mom got a small Tinkerbell knick-knack.  She told all of us that Tinkerbell reported our behavior to Santa.  All year long, she would move Tinkerbell around the house to keep an eye on us!  She was way ahead of the Elf on the Shelf!

The highlight of the day was Christmas Dinner.  It was not always the same thing,  usually turkey, ham, or roast beef.  Judy became the family baker and at an early age was making a variety of Christmas cookies.

In the fall, Judy and I would go into the pasture behind the house in Indian Hills and pick up hickory nuts… bags and bags of nuts.  In the evenings, we would shell the nuts.  Mom always made white nut bread with a powdered sugar glaze and a row of maraschino cherries down the top as our gifts to take to our teachers.  Here is her recipe.

White Nut Bread

¾ cup sugar
2 Tlbsp soft shortening
1 egg
1 ½ cups milk
3 cups sifted flour
3 ½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
¾ cup chopped nuts

Mix together thoroughly sugar, shortening and egg.  Stir in the milk.
Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into the milk mixture.
Stir in the nuts.
Pour into a well-greased 9×5 loaf pan.
Let stand 20 minutes before baking.
Bake at 350 for 60 – 70 minutes or until pick comes out clean.













Chips and Brats

For most of Dad’s career he was a meat-cutter/sausage maker.  He began working for his father in the family meat market.  One day Grandpa told Dad that he had taught Dad all he could.  He encouraged Dad to find a new mentor.

Until he retired, the only break Dad took from meat-cutting was when he and Mom moved with Judy and me to Indian Hills.  For several years, he drove a Blue Star potato chip delivery truck. He delivered potato chips, pretzels, and other snacks to taverns and small grocery stores.  Occasionally we got a treat from the truck – my favorites were the big pretzel sticks and the sardines!  (Mom remembered and many years later when I went off to Northern Illinois University, my first care package was big pretzel sticks!)

During the summer, Dad would take Judy or me along for a day.  I loved riding in the truck with Dad.  There was a hole in the floor.  I remember being both fascinated and a little scared seeing the road go by beneath us.  What I didn’t like was the way taverns smelled!

Dad eventually returned to cutting meat, making sausage and flirting over the counter.  He was a natural at all three, but sausage-making was his favorite.  He tweaked his recipes, adjusted spices until he felt that he had perfected Polish sausage, Italian sausage, and Bratwurst! (Dad loved creating and one of his other passions was wood-burning, but that is a story for another day!)

After we moved to the lake, family picnics became a regular summer occurrence with “brats” headlining the menu!  I don’t know Dad’s recipe for making bratwurst, but I have included his recipe for cooking “brats” below.   As he grew older and spent time reminiscing, he would often remind us, “Now this is how you cook brats…”

Dad’s Brats

Place fresh brats in a pan and cover with water.  Bring water to a boil.  Turn off the heat and let brats sit in water until the grill is ready.

In a separate pan heat beer and add butter and sliced onion. Heat until the butter melts and then keep warm.

Brown the brats evenly on the grill. Remove and place in the beer mixture until you are ready to serve.  When he reminisced, Dad would always say, “brown them until they are pretty all over.”


You don’t choose your family.
They are God’s gift to you, as you are to them.”
– Desmond Tutu








It Takes Two

Grandpa LeClercq was not out on the farm by himself.  Grandma kept their home and provided farm-house meals.  Many of my memories from the farm include tables full of food… including a variety of homemade pies.  In the mid-fifties the farm-house did not have indoor plumbing other than a small hand pump in the kitchen… think chamber pots by night and out-house by day!

I have random memories of Grandma LeClercq and the farm…

  • Grandma pulling the chamber pot out from under the bed so that my sister and I could get to it at night.
  • A bowl of old fashioned Christmas candy set out where little hands could reach it.
  • Grandma and Mom with Judy and I in the kitchen with some kind of “curling iron” they heated up on the stove, fussing with our hair.
  • The central room of the house – the room in which Grandpa’s chair sat in the corner – with a long dining table down the center.  Most visiting took place around that table.
    Ok, it was at that table that one of my not-so-fond, but now very funny memories occurred!  I hated green peas, still do!  Back in the day of “you will eat some of everything,” I went to great lengths to figure out what to do about the peas!  One holiday meal at the farm, I left an inch or two of milk in my glass and spit all the peas into that milk.  “Mary, finish your milk!” Busted!  No pie for me!

Grandma was a good cook and great baker. It is interesting that Mom was a more ambivalent cook – she cooked out of necessity but never seemed to really enjoy it.  As soon as Judy was old enough she did much of the cooking and baking.

I will tell you about Grandma and Grandpa Bessler soon.  In contrast, they lived in the city of Chicago.  I loved visiting the farm – I was, and still am, more comfortable out in the country; and, despite the food-rules, it was a fun place to visit.

Here is Grandma’s recipe for Crumb Cake; Mom would make it as well.  We all loved it!

2 cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
3/4 cup shortening (Grandma always used lard, Crisco works)
Mix into crumbs. Reserve a small cup of crumbs for the top.
To the remainder of the crumbs, add and cream together:
2 eggs
¾ cup milk
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
Bake in a “slow” oven.