By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Meanwhile in Oz: Memories of home brighten yule spirit
Matt Johnson, Publisher - photo by Matt Johnson

My mom loved Christmas trees. When she was in her element, decorating for the family for the holidays, she might have a dozen or so of different sizes around the house.

Some would be small, with lights, decorations and presents put at corners and on stands in the house. She had a medium-sized tree especially for the Christmas train, which ran on batteries and circled the tree endlessly.

Our main Christmas tree when I was growing up, in the 1980s, was in the living room in front of the picture window. It included decorations my sister and I had made in school through the years. It included 75-year-old mirrored dangling ornaments that she treated like gold.

After I went to college in the 1990s, and our house began to host more people due to the passing of my grandmother Hazel – my mom’s mother. The tree was moved in front of the picture window in the dining room. More people could sit in that room and be around the tree.

We’d play euchre, have some adult beverages, shoot the baloney about the world — usually about 12 of us — celebrating Christmas together. It was a smaller family gathering than I had when we visited my grandparents in Lake Mills and Waterloo in the 1970s and early 1980s, but it was still our family Christmas. There were card tables, loud talk, plenty of food and much fellowship.

Uncle Ned, my bachelor-grand-uncle farmer would eat, watch the Packers and sleep. Uncle Ned never appeared to have a care in the world and I was always fascinated by a missing half-finger he had on his right hand that had been cleanly removed by a power-take-off chain while putting corn in a crib. My bachelor-uncle Tom would eat, drink egg nog and play cards. I saw him pour generous amounts of vodka into the thick, locally-made egg nog.

My brother-in-law, Dad, myself and any friends I had over would play euchre. My little nephews would be playing with their Christmas toys. My mom and sister would be fluttering about and gossiping. I’ve always loved my sister so much. She was the opposite of me, smart, beautiful and shining. Just being around her always made me feel happy and far from any of life’s squabbles.

I have been a veteran of many a family Christmas, and there are many traditions I remember tied to my prevalent Austrian-German ancestry. We had overflowing relish dishes with many types of olives, pickles and pickled vegetables. There were special pastries. Rolls and butter were a big deal. And the main Christmas meal included a turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cooked carrots, cranberries, walnut cake or cookies, and crescent-shaped fruit cookies with nuts, known as “vanillekipferl.” This was my Grandma Meitner’s tradition back in the day.

No, I couldn’t pronounce it.

I never knew how my grandmother and then mother found time to do all this baking. After my grandmother passed in 1985, mom made more comfort food. She loved making peanut-butter cookies topped with chocolate and what I came to know as “Christmas cake” or “Sachertorte.” I remember “rohlíky,” talk about giving your average crescent roll a kick!

Kids always think Christmas is a big thing due to the gifts and I loved the gifts until I was about 10. After that it became about being with my cousins. My parents always provided a wonderful Christmas on the wages of hard-working-people. We were glad with what we had. Our gift opening came after midnight candlelight service at our Lutheran church. We’d come home and presents that hadn’t been under the tree when we left, suddenly appeared.

I always wondered why my dad would warm up the car first, but seemed to be the last one in the vehicle to drive us to church?

We live in a world where people celebrate many holiday traditions. Mine are different than others. Yet, I hope we can all feel common good of being kind to our fellow man during those days surrounding the holidays. I’ve seen it already in Monroe. People hold doors longer, say, “Merry Christmas,” or “Happy Holidays,” and there’s a spirit of good cheer.

I do not have a big family and will join my sister and her family for Christmas this year -- thankfully. I will visit my son although he has a shift on Christmas as he works, so we’ll have to make special plans.

No matter the food, presents or entertainment, Christmas is about spending time with friends and family. For many people, their circle of friends is their family. I understand and make no judgements. I do wish all of our readers Happy Holidays and a very Merry Christmas.

Thank you for reading the Times and understanding the importance of having a community newspaper. We wish you a wonderful New Year.

— Matt Johnson is publisher of the Monroe Times. His column is published Wednesdays.