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








Sister, Playmate, Best Friend

with-4-young-girlsLet’s begin with the sisters:

Judy is the oldest. I followed her 18 months later.  Then there was a four-year gap before Kaye was born, and another four-year gap before Jean was born. Two years later (I think), our foster-sister Cheryl joined us.  She was one year old, so one year younger than Jean.  Years later, her brother, Rod, joined us as well.  He was one year older than Jean.  The family became Judy and me – the older girls, Kaye in the middle, and the younger kids.

But, I want to go back to my earliest memories.  Although I loved Mom and Dad, the person most important to me throughout our childhoods was my sister Judy.  We were constant companions, playmates, best friends.  All of my childhood memories include Judy.  Our favorite TV shows were “Ramar of the Jungle” and “Sky King.”  We pretended we were on those shows.  We made forts under Kaye’s crib and played with our dolls.  When the weather was nice, we played outside.  We played alone and we played with neighborhood friends – Jeanne, Kathy, Karen and others.  We trick-or-treated hand in hand and sledded down neighborhood hills.  I remember sitting on the floor, shoulder-to-shoulder with Judy, watching Howdy Doody for the first time.

without-dad-at-christmas-2The fields that surrounded our subdivision were our playground.  We gathered hickory nuts in the pasture behind our house.  We rolled flat crop-circles in the wheat field and made them our play houses.  We made bologna sandwiches, swiped matches from the kitchen, and hiked through a field to a pond.  At the edge of that pond, we started a campfire, took the bologna off our sandwiches and “cooked” it on sticks.


Our dynamic changed as we moved to the lake, went to high school, got married, had children, and moved away.  (She had the family’s first grandchild, a son; and 10 months later I had the first granddaughter.)  But, Judy will always be my big sister and in my heart.


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


The Beginning

I have had several conversations with my husband recently, and eventually conversations with two of my sisters.  These conversations were about family memories… and what happens to those memories as people move away or pass away.  I was born and raised in Illinois but married young and moved to South Carolina when I was 21.  I now live in North Carolina amongst my husband’s family.  We often see his nieces and nephews, and “greats,” and even “great-greats.”  (Because my husband’s brothers were much older, his nieces and nephews are our age.)  And I am very grateful for the loving acceptance of my Rierson family!

“You ain’t from around here, are you?”
“No, I’m not; but I got here as soon as I could!”

Every time we get together becomes a time of story-telling.  I love hearing so much about my husband’s life before I knew him, stories about raising hogs and tobacco, cutting up with his nephews and brothers, extended family camping trips and lots of water skiing… family events and family dynamics that made him the man I fell in love with.  With several recent losses in the family, those stories have become especially poignant and meaningful.

The telling and retelling of those stories keeps the collective memory alive and well.  After a recent dinner with several of his family members, I mentioned to my husband that I miss those conversations with and about my family.  I moved quite a distance away from my family at a relatively young age.  Trips back were infrequent; and it was even more infrequent that my other sisters were home as well. Without the retelling of family stories, I fear I am losing them; and I know I don’t share them with my daughter nearly enough.  I want her to know her family history.


And so, I will tell my girl some stories.  My memory may be faulty, and my perspective may not be the same as my sisters’, but the stories need to be told.  Like many families, our relationships are not perfect, perhaps there is healing in sharing our stories.

With the power of social media, I am hoping for input from sisters, nieces and nephews, cousins and more! If you are reading this and have memories you would like me to share, feel free to comment on this blog or send me an email at mar-rie@triad.rr.com.

The first official story to follow soon!

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