Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson is a 7th-generation Texan and a 3rd-generation wordsmith who writes in mystery, romance, and horror. Learn more about her and her books at her websites: www.JanisSusanMayAuthor.com and www.JanisPattersonMysteries.com.
Christmas! Just the mention of the word evokes images of snow and family togetherness and a decorated tree and presents... Some people don't like Christmas for reasons of their own, but I love Christmas because of all the happy memories involved.
When I was a child the entire family - aunts, uncles, cousins of several generations - would gather for Christmas day at my grandparents' house in a small town in North Texas. The house was built in the 1880s and was very cold, but we didn't care. Each family had had their 'tree' as we called presents and Santa in their own home, either on Christmas Eve or early Christmas morning, then all would trek up to the family home. My grandmother didn't decorate beyond a tree - usually a small one set on a table in the corner of the seldom-used parlor. One year it was made of blue net, which was very strange.
We had presents, but not very many and not very grand. Usually the children under 10 or so got presents from everyone, but the rest drew names. We weren't a wealthy family, at least not in money. What I remember most fondly, though, is not the presents - I cherish the memories of love and fun and togetherness... and the food. Especially the food.
Every family brought a dish and the old round table from the 1840s in the kitchen (which is now my breakfast table) couldn't hold it all, so the dishes spread out over the counters and stove. My mother made superb pies and always took six or eight - and none of them ever came home. Our cuisine was ample, but basically simple. Ambrosia salad. Green bean casserole. Several kinds of stuffing. Corn, either plain or in casserole, sometimes both. Turkey. Ham. Occasionally a roast. Sweet potatoes - yes, with pineapple and marshmallows. Green peas and pearl onions. Irish potatoes cooked in several ways. Sometimes fried okra, freshly cooked just before we started to eat. And of course, iced tea to drink. There was no alcohol of any kind at any gathering at my grandparents' house.
We had the tree first, all of us oohing and aahing over everyone's gifts no matter what they were, and then we migrated to the kitchen. Dinner usually lasted most of the day. After the first heaping plateful we would all sit around, talking primarily - ours was a 'talking' family - while our dinner 'settled,' then we would mosey back to the kitchen for a little snack. Sometimes several times.
So many children today miss the wonderful experience of an extended family. We did not. My grandparents' siblings came to dinner, and sometimes some of their children if they were in town. Some members brought friends who would have no place else to go. Boyfriends and girlfriends were welcome. My grandmother's sister had died in the Spanish influenza epidemic right after World War I, but her widower - and his second wife! - came to our Christmas regularly, and were very welcome. I was nearly grown before I figured out that neither of them was a blood relation!
There were games, too. We children spent hours playing cards or Chinese checkers on an ancient board that had been my grandfather's as a boy. Sometimes the men played gin rummy. The women talked. If the weather was nice, we children would run off our energy playing games outside, either in the yard or in the old barn on the back of the property.
When it finally got into late afternoon, the women would go into the kitchen; some would clean up while others divided the leftovers (usually enough for two meals for a family - I said there was a lot!) so each group would have some to take home. No leftovers since have ever tasted so good.
Lois asked for a photograph germane to my post, but there isn't one. Few of us had cameras, and if there were pictures made, I don't know of any that have survived. It's a pity, but the images in my heart can never fade. So - I must ask you to use your imagination to picture the scene; a Norman Rockwell-type image would do nicely, because it was just that lovely.
My grandparents' generation is gone now, as is my parents'. I am now the oldest on both sides of my family - a fact that never ceases to astonish me. The old house was sold long ago, and the younger generations have scattered across the world. Which is the way of things, and is perhaps good, because there is no way we could ever recapture that feeling of wonder, of family, of hope, of love.
By the way, my Christmas release this year is a tasty little novella of murder and mayhem called Killing Harvey, where on Christmas morning the most unpleasant family member was discovered stabbed. And garrotted. And possibly poisoned. It's sort of a funny story. However - please rest assured that my family was nothing like that one!
It was a killer Christmas…
By all accounts it should have been a perfect holiday. A beautiful, elegant house. Rebecca’s future relatives all together, talking happily about her upcoming Christmas afternoon wedding to Peter. A gorgeous tree surrounded by presents. A Christmas-card perfect snowfall.
But the snowfall turned into a freak blizzard, trapping Rebecca and Peter in with his family. Then, once the house was completely isolated and no one could enter or leave, the most obnoxious member of the family is found stabbed. And garroted. And perhaps poisoned. Who really killed Harvey… and how?
Can Rebecca solve this murder? More importantly, does she really want to?