Christmas Cheer

PRINCETON — Even in a year such as this, there are memories of holidays past on which to look back.

Tressie Hamm recalled the memory of a grandmother’s love and a family tradition.

“Growing up and going to the store, I would go over to the key chains and hope to find my name. There was no such luck. I would always find my sister’s name, Debbie, and my brother’s name, Danny, but my name was never engraved. People wouldn’t even say my name correctly the first time. I would have to say it rhymes with ‘messy’”, she said. Her name, she added, came from a maternal great-aunt who died a year before she was born. Her mother decided to keep the name in the family. Hamm recalled, “Every Christmas was a great adventure for all. We had big family dinners and visit our grandparents. The Redden side of the family had over 80-plus members not counting the in-laws and outlaws, as we called some of them.”

Her grandmother would give everyone a small present, she said. The elusive item with her name on it remained so until Hamm was in her early 20s, when she received a plastic doll with the logo “Tressie” and her trike.

“She was able to give me a gift with my name.”

Hamm said she continued a couple of family traditions by naming her children after their grandparents and continuing her grandmother’s gift bag.

For Teresa Dye, a certain citrus fruit brings back a holiday memory.

“Every time I smell a tangerine, I remember growing up. We didn’t have that much but we always had a stocking with apples, oranges and tangerines,” she said.

Janie Meadows’ childhood holiday traditions included some out-of-the-usual ones.

“My parents got married in 1950. From then to 2006, my father, after the turkey was cooked and eaten, would get the wishbone,clean it, paint it and hang it on the tree. I still follow that tradition today,” she said.

Another tradition she continues to this day involved a balsa wood miniature church.

“My father would make balsa wood airplanes as a hobby growing up. The first year he and my mom dated, he presented her with a balsa wood miniature church for Christmas. When she opened it up, there was a watch inside it,” Meadows said.

Meadows added that she and her siblings made their own stockings growing up. Those stockings would include various toys such as potato BB guns and toy animals that could climb walls with sticky feet.

Another memory, more poignant, also involved stockings.

“My father passed away on November 11, 2006. I had left my job to take care of him. I told my teenage son that Christmas would be slim that year. On Christmas morning, I woke him up at 7am told him to get his stocking and fill it with what he could find and meet me at the Christmas tree in 20 minutes,” she said.

The stocking, she added, had dirty socks,old newspapers, her toothbrush, a used toilet brush,a bar of soap, a replacement light bulb, and, at the bottom, a special gift.

“It was my elastic bracelet that my son used his money from his penny jar to buy it for $1.99 at CVS. It had green stones and the words ‘Hope, Faith, Family and Love’ on it. I wore it until the rubber bands gave way, then I restrung it several times. It’s a treasure,” she said.

Christmas parties at businesses were not uncommon in the past. Mona Mosrie, whose family owned and operated Jimmie’s Restaurant on Mercer Street for decades, recalled their version of the tradition.

“We had many customers who we considered to be like family. We decided to have a Christmas party for them. We would draw names for gifts and set how much we could spend on them,” she said.

When the annual holiday party happened, Jimmie’s would be decorated with a Christmas tree and there would be tables set up to accommodate the many food items brought in or cooked by Mona and her mother.

“Mother always fixed chicken and rice with almonds. She’d have the rice and chicken cooked and flavored just right. People always asked her to fix it,” she recalled.

Jeff Harvey is a freelance reporter and columnist for the Princeton Times. Contact him at delimartman@yahoo.com

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