Nothing Ado About Nothing – December 29, 2021
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By CARMEN ENSINGER
What is a man, but the sum of his memories? That quote stuck in my head and I tried looking it up on the internet to give credit where credit is due, but apparently, the infamous line came from the character Clay Kaczmarek in the video game Assassin’s Creed. Not really sure how to give credit to an animation, but that isn’t the point of this column anyway.
The point is memories and the holidays, especially Christmas. There is something about Thanksgiving and Christmas that brings about a feeling of dread to me. Perhaps it is because I have such fond memories of those times when I was a little kid.
Have you ever noticed that you can remember things from when you were a kid but you can’t remember what you had for breakfast yesterday?
I can close my eyes and remember those holidays as if they just took place yesterday. My two brothers and sisters were like 20 years older than me so they had families of their own and their kids were right around my age. One brother lived in Arkansas and my sister lived in Texas, but each year either on Thanksgiving or Christmas, most of the time they both managed to make it down to our house for the holidays.
Our quiet three-bedroom home of just me and mom was instantly turned into a madhouse with the addition of four more adults and five kids. Add in my other brother in town and his two kids and that made a total of 13.
Mom did all the cooking herself. She never let either of the daughter-in-law’s help out at all. We were strictly turkey people – no ham in that house – so mom would get the biggest turkey she could afford – thankfully my rich brother would give her money for the holiday feast.
Christmas Eve she would spend the entire day cooking – mostly baking. The house always smelled amazing during this time of year. My nephew liked cherry pie so she would always bake him a cherry pie. I like banana crème pie so she baked me a banana crème. Of course, the tradition was her famous German chocolate cake, which, made from scratch costs a fortune to make, but is so worth it. If I close my eyes, I can almost taste it right now.
Another tradition was strawberry shortcake. But not your traditional strawberry shortcake – something I would learn when I was about 30 years old. Mom made strawberry shortcake by making pie crust from scratch and then crumbling it up in crushed strawberries that we had picked from a patch that year and put up in the freezer. Let it set overnight and it is amazing.
I never will forget when I ordered strawberry shortcake off a menu somewhere and I got this piece of cake with strawberries on top. What the heck is this? This isn’t strawberry shortcake! Who knows how she got started making it that way – perhaps she just had some left over crust and threw it in some strawberries and created a new dish. However, it came about, it is totally awesome and you really should try it.
Anyway, about 1 a.m. she would finally put the turkey in to cook and I would be laying in bed having to smell it all night. It was murder. She would not go to bed that night and continue with prepping the rest of the meal.
The next morning, the guys would get up and turn on the television (all three channels back then) to find the football game, which I absolutely detested back then, and us kids would open our presents.
Mom would take a break long enough to enjoy everyone opening their gifts. We didn’t have much, but she always made sure I had a good Christmas. I don’t know how she did it, but I was never disappointed on Christmas morning.
I remember one Christmas morning when I was about eight years old I woke up to this really cool new race track that was all set up under the tree. I couldn’t wait to get there to start playing with it. I loved race tracks, trains, you name it, back then. I played with that thing for hours and hours and hours.
In fact, I cried when we had to go over to my brother’s house to give them their Christmas gifts because I didn’t want to stop playing with my race track.
Sadly, when I was living in the old hotel, I decided to do a “purge” of my past and I sold one of my race tracks. Not sure if it was that one or not, but I always regretted that decision. So, about seven years ago, I was at an auction and I saw a race track like the one I had sold, still in the box, and bought it. Never have put it together – but, by-golly, I got one again.
On the other hand, I have always been the worst gift giver – especially for poor mom. She always went above and beyond for me, but I never could seem to find anything she really wanted and she never would tell me what she would like.
There were two occasions that stick out in my mind. One time I must have been around 10. We were at this little store, kind of like a really small Farm and Home, and I had a little money – like $5 on me. I “lost” mom long enough to go buy her a gift and hide it under the seat in the car.
Do you know what that gift was? It was a pizza pan. A freakin’ pizza pan! How lame is that – even for a 10-year-old that is lame. But at the time I thought it was a really cool gift.
The other time I must have been about 14. I had right around $20 to spend and I remember walking up and down the mall in Carbondale about three times looking in all the stores trying to find something to get her.
For some reason, it never crossed my mind to get her several things with the $20 – to me I had to get one BIG thing. So, I did.
I got her this big candle that must have been about a foot long and about six inches deep that was shaped like a lake. What on earth possessed me to buy that God-awful thing is beyond me other than the blue in the lake was really pretty, LOL.
That thing sat around collecting dust for the next 25 years. She, of course, pretended to love it. We never burned candles and she didn’t collect them – hence the reason it was a really stupid thing to get her.
And the tree. Oh, how I loved decorating our Christmas tree. It was always a pain to get it out, but once it was up it was a sight to see. We had some really old ornaments and each year I would carefully put those ornaments away so they would not be broken. We also had tinsel that I know had to have come from the 1950s that I would put on each year and carefully take off.
The funny thing about those memories is that they can make you feel so good when you are reliving them in your mind and then make you feel so sad when you realize that they are just that – memories.
So, as I sit here Christmas morning, alone except for my furbabies, typing these memories, that is all I have. There is no mom in the kitchen taking the turkey out of the oven for Christmas dinner, there is no house full of family, there is no brightly colored tree with even a single present under it – there is nothing but the memories. At the moment, I truly am “the sum of my memories.”
■ Carmen Ensinger is a pet-lover and a reporter for River County News – Better Newspapers.