Making It Through December
Award-winning author Rheta Grimsley Johnson unpacks her holiday decorations and some thoughts about what's supposed to be "the happy time of year." Big Bonus: the recipe to Lera Johnson's Oatmeal Cookies.
Find out more about Rheta's books at RhetasBooks.com. Rheta's gallery/shop, Faraway Places, is located at 102 West Front Street, Iuka, Mississippi.
Maybe we weren’t “laid off down at the factory,” as Merle wrote about, but not all years are created equal. Some simply suck.
That’s when it’s time to put one Size Nine in front of the other and carry on. If you think you’ve sensed a mood here, you have. I don’t mean to hate December/It’s meant to be the happy time of year…
Sometimes by simply going through the motions you get caught up and carried along. So I trudged through the carpet of leaves to the storage room behind the car shed. In it are the Christmas boxes shoved haphazardly into hibernation in past years. Starting the intimidating task of unloading decorations didn’t make me merry, but it did make me thankful.
I put “Blood Oranges” in my boom box and began.
There is the music box my sister made in ceramics class back when there was such a thing as ceramics class – back before double-knit. Mr and Mrs. Claus dance before a mantel with stockings to the tinny music of “I Saw Mama Kissing Santa Claus.” On the ceramic calendar hanging by the ceramic fireplace the date is December 24, which is exactly when the handmade gift arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, the year I Iived in a South Jackson rental we called The Smurf House. My former husband and I shared the big house with several single men, and the Smurf theme seemed obvious and stuck.
The two vintage plastic snowmen come tumbling from another box, top hats at jaunty angle. I remember the first Christmas Terry Martin spent across the road from me in his little red house. He gave me those retro Frosties. The warm feeling having him so close gave me was the real gift. How many people can say their closest neighbor is not just a geographical accident but someone in philosophical and political agreement about almost every fundamental thing?
Not many. We are blue dots in an ocean of red.
The red sled my niece Chelsey made from Popsicle sticks remains intact, despite my careless packing. So does the Plaster of Paris snowman with stick arms. A friend’s child sold me that treasure from his private fund-raiser.
Children are not only clever but enterprising.
By my sofa are a dozen or more of those home and garden magazines that make you want to burn down your own house and start over. I wonder where the people with thematic, color-coordinated trees and rooms stash their stick sleds and Plaster of Paris snowmen. Worse yet, how do healthy people justify not decorating at all?
Next from the bubble wrap rubble comes the chalk Santa my father won for me at a Florida county fair. I was six. He was deft at pitching nickels. The games back then evidently weren’t rigged.
And if the Santa is coming out, so must the snow globe my mother mailed at great expense when she heard my modest collection had frozen and burst. The event cured me of collecting, but Mother insisted I should have one globe at least.
I find the straw animals my friend Edwin “Whiskey” Gray has given me over a dozen years. They are the ornaments that remind me of France, not unlike the ones sold at the flower market that surprises you when you emerge from the Metro. Chelsey once told me that anything I really love reminds me of France, and I guess that is true.
Speaking of. I search for and find the three French hens painted on a red egg replete with the Eiffel Tower.
Unpacking accomplished, I’ll next bake the late Lera Johnson’s oatmeal cookies, a recipe that makes enough to share with her two grown sons. Back when folks cooked with Crisco and I was young, hungry and skinny – not to mention terrified of what the future held -- there was one thing you could count on. Whenever I stuck my hand into my mother-in-law’s cream-colored cookie jar, I never once hit bottom.
Lera Johnson’s Oatmeal Cookies
3 cups Quick Oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
1 cup Crisco
1 cup nuts
1 and a half cups flour
Cream sugar and Crisco; mix in eggs, oats, flour and pecans. Bake at 300 degrees until brown.
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