I’m a tradition-based holiday person–I love the familiar and the repetitious. As a child, our home-spun traditions centered on our family. We cut our own Christmas tree on our family ranch when we used to have lots of snow, so it was cold and messy but joyful and an adventure. I often had sap all over my hands.
Because we didn’t have a lot of money, presents were few and heartfelt. I wrote letters to Santa and dreamed about my gifts, looked at a Monkey Ward’s catalog and dog-earred pages so I could revisit it often.
I dressed up in my Christmas outfit, and we ate Christmas Eve dinner at my grandparent’s house across town. When we got to the car, often Dad forgot something and went back inside to retrieve it (later I realized that’s when Santa came!).
My grandparent’s house filled quickly with our family and my aunt and uncle’s family. Often our two great aunts from Tulsa, Oklahoma joined us and gave us $2 bills because one of them worked at a bank. The highlight of the evening was Granddad leading a parade of children from the front door to the back after he shouted, “I saw Santa Claus!”
We would return home after eating a savory dinner and opening our presents to see that Santa had visited our home, and I realized my dreams.
Christmas Day was low-keyed and filled with hours of playing with my new toys.
This scenario repeated itself most years, so you can see the deep family traditions I love.
As an adult, the magic of Santa changed, but Christmas continued to be a magical time for me with my new grown-up traditions. From my first husband, I added Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at an Episcopal church to my Christmas traditions, and church became a regular part of my celebration.
After my first husband and I divorced, Dad and Mom joined me in this tradition, and we drove to Trinidad, Colorado each Christmas Eve to the Lutheran church for Midnight Mass–some of our most memorable conversations happened on those late night 50-mile drives home.
As a middle school teacher for twenty-seven years, I put together a wild collection of holiday t-shirts, sweatshirts, pants and jewelry that I started wearing the Monday after Thanksgiving–I’m still adding to this collection today.
I love writing our Christmas letter that features what we’ve done for the year. This is my 30th year of writing this, and I enjoy the process of looking a back and summarizing the activity of the year.
I cherish baking Christmas candy and goodies because it reminds me of Mom and all the fun we had in the kitchen–I use a lot of her delicious recipes. And I love sending Christmas cards–I don’t receive that many anymore, but as I address each card, I’m flooded with memories of each person on my list, and it’s a celebration of my family and friends.
The last tradition I will share is one my Mom started in 1988. I was going to codependency treatment on December 22 and wouldn’t be home for Christmas. She put together ten Advent gifts–one to open each day before Christmas, starting on December 15th. I packed the remaining gifts to take with me to treatment but had the shock of my life. They went through my bags, opened each of the unopened gifts, thought a bag of potpourri was marijuana, and confiscated it. Even though I lost the opportunity to open the remaining Advent gifts, I felt Mom’s presence in a special way that Christmas in those gifts.
We continued that tradition until she died, and I joined in the gift exchange and gave her little nonsensical gifts. We added Aunt Willie and Lin–they enjoyed this tradition.
For me, the various traditions have blessed me deeply and shaped me into the person I am during the holidays. Merry Christmas to you and yours!
Are traditions important to you? Share your thoughts with me! I’d love to hear from you!
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It was in the late 1960’s. My Mom, Dad, teenage brother and I arrived in Poway, California for a special Christmas celebration. My brother-in-law had recently been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver and the future was bleak. This was only the second time we’d traversed to California for Christmas, and this trip had such a mixture of emotion.
As newlyweds, my sister and her new husband and two stepchildren came to Colorado a couple years before and we had a enjoyable time getting acquainted with my sister’s new family. Being from the city, the children delighted in a trip to our ranch to cut down our Christmas tree, and they enjoyed a truly country Christmas with snow.
My new brother-in-law immediately started picking on me, and we bonded deeply even though he forced me to try cranberries–I had never tried this dish before. With his humor and persistent influence, I grew to love cranberries!
Sunny California appeared gloomy and heavy. The festive atmosphere of Christmas felt tinged with a deep sadness and fear. My sister greeted us warmly, knitting like a crazy woman–she shared with me that all of their gifts this year were knitted.
The man we saw on arrival was a shadow of the man we met a few short years ago. The disease had ravaged his body, and he had lost so much weight, his clothes hung loose and limp on his frame.
But his spirit of love and laughter prevailed. Mom tried her hand at making homemade pie crusts, forgetting the affect of being at sea level on a recipe usually done at 6100 feet above sea level. She clamored about the gooey mess she kept trying to roll out, and my brother-in-law teased unmercifully. As he ducked out of the kitchen with his latest quip, she slung the ball of dough at him, hitting him in the eye–a magnificent bull’s eye. Our laughter filled the kitchen with joy in the ridiculous.
Christmas Eve morning came, and my brother-in-law slipped into our bedroom and whispered his plan for the day to Mom and me, “I’m going to go sell some wood so I can buy my loving wife some Christmas presents. Don’t let her know where I’ve gone. Can you help me wrap the presents when I get home?”
Mom and I both choked back tears, nodding our heads.
The impact of my brother-in-law’s health had destroyed their finances. He hadn’t worked regularly in months; my sister had a good job, but she was so busy and overwhelmed being a caregiver, too. Living in the wooded area of Poway, he did cut wood whenever he could and sell it to make some extra money and to keep active–this was not his nature.
Christmas Eve day went by uneventful except for my sister’s repeated refrain, “Where is my husband? What is he doing?” Her distress weighed on me during the day, but I couldn’t ruin his surprise. She continued to knit on the last project she was trying to finish.
Daylight slowly faded into darkness. Mom and I exchanged worried glances all day–Dad, my sister and brother kept wondering about the where-about’s of my brother-in-law.
Mom and I went to the bedroom to talk about what we should do–it was dark. He had been gone for hours. What if something went wrong? Quietly he opened the door of our bedroom with a couple bags of gifts in hand. He looked exhausted but pleased with himself.
We wrapped the small collection of gifts–all kitchen utensils for my sister. We placed the gifts under the tree, and my sister was contrite in her reaction to her husband’s day-long absence.
I knew deep in my heart that this was the most precious exhibition of love and gifting I’d ever seen. His generosity and spirit graced the rest of that holiday.
Forty-some years ago, and it still bring a smile to my heart as I remember his mission of love and the true spirit of Christmas.
Have you had a Christmas like this–sweet and bittersweet at the same time? I’d love to hear your experiences!
MERRY CHRISTMAS FROM ME TO YOU! I have posted something from my 3 books. Download a free Christmas story or poem from my web site: https://www.laradasbooks.com
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In my country childhood, we had many Christmas traditions: the fun and adventure of cutting down a tree from our ranch, hilarious Christmas programs at the church and school, and fun-filled Christmas caroling around our small town. Our family dominated this holiday’s focus.
My dad’s parents lived in the same town, so most Christmas Eve’s were spent at their house with family. See what a traditional Christmas Eve looked like at the Horner’s house!
Christmas at the Horner’s
It was a big affair, especially when Granddad got all sixteen grandchildren together. That meant a holiday house full.
Each year, my Christmas outfit was always special. One year a white dress with a gathered skirt, trimmed in red, made by Mom.
Grandma, decked out in her festive apron, worried over the meal. She made the best mashed potatoes, smothered in butter. Granddad’s job came after dinner.
The table was set on the porch so we could all fit, a long line of smiles and laughter.
For those of us who knew the tradition, anticipation set in. We tried to hurry the process, with no success.
Finally after a leisurely cup of coffee and a cigarette, Granddad would disappear to the front door.
His shout rang through the whole house! It had begun.
“I just saw Santa Claus fly over. Come quick.”
We’d race to the front door, and he would race to the back door.
“No, no he’s out here now. Come this way.”
We’d race to the back door. This would go on for what seemed like eternity, and I never did see Santa, a reindeer, or his sleigh. I was always a second too late! But this also meant that it was time to open our gifts that had mysteriously spilled out from under the Christmas tree.
A traditional Christmas with the Horner’s meant cousins, aunts and uncles, sometimes great aunts from Tulsa, Oklahoma, good food, lots of laughter, and traditions that filled my heart with joy and family connection!
Grief is a topic that many people turn their backs on–I challenge you to answer the question because I will!
My Aunt Willie Urbanoski died on Friday, October 12, 2018, and because of family circumstances, we didn’t have her memorial service until yesterday, November 10. We did have a private family burial on Thursday, October 18, 2018.
Yesterday, the service was full of stories, pictures, laughter and tears–a real celebration of a woman who lived to be 98 years old–almost 99 because her birthday was Wednesday, November 7.
A second cousin stationed in England couldn’t attend to service, so her sisters did a live feed to her, so she and her husband could attend virtually–a 21st century way to handle loss.
How do YOU mourn the dead? For family? For friends? We all do it differently. My Mom’s sage advice: do it your way. I have a strong need to attend the memorial, view the body and get closure to the relationship. My best friend, Candy, died in 2012, and I was sick and couldn’t attend her service, and I have regretted it for years–no closure for me.
I wrote my aunt a poem for Christmas, 2012, and a week after my Mom died in March, 2013, Aunt Willie asked me if I would read that poem at her funeral. I said I would, but I’d cry all the way through it. She said she didn’t care because she wouldn’t be there!
So yesterday, I mustered my strength and read it–I got almost to the end before the tears came. Here’s the poem–I hope you enjoy it!
My Aunt Wee Wee
By: Larada Horner-Miller
December 25, 2012
Revised: November 9, 2018
You will always be Aunt Wee Wee!
As a child, Bub couldn’t pronounce “Aunt Willie,” so it came out
“Aunt Wee Wee,” and it stuck.
As I look back through my life,
You have always been there,
Aunt Wee Wee!
When I became an Aunt,
I followed your lead!
I wanted to touch my
nieces and nephews’ lives
the way you touched mine!
I have valued all the wonderful times
we spent together over the years.
You grace so many
of my memories!
As a toddler
I can remember
when I looked into your eyes, I saw a playful sparkle
I love you!”
In my childhood,
at Branson dances,
I remember watching
you and Uncle Hughie dance,
and the fun you had.
I remember 4th of July picnics and fireworks
Bub and I couldn’t wait until you arrived with Black Cats!
You came all the way from Albuquerque!
As a family, we went to Albuquerque.
You shared your beautifully decorated cakes.
We went on shopping sprees to the mall.
Delicious Thanksgiving dinners shared!
Our fishing trips
Our time together at Springer lake
You sat religiously by the lake, pole in hand.
While Uncle Hughie and I set up our poles
My week stay with you in Albuquerque-
A visit to Old Town
The Tram and dinner on the top! I felt like a princess!
As a young adult
You attended all of my major life events:
My 8th grade graduation
Princess at the TSJC tournament
My high school graduation
My TSJC graduation
We’ve continued that
precious relationship into my adulthood.
You attended my first 2 weddings.
No one attended the third.
Lin and I knew you were with us in spirit at ours.
As our second anniversary approached, Aunt Willie repeated often,
WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?
Yes, Lin and I celebrated our second anniversary
with you in Pueblo— pictures, cake, laughter and love abounded.
I had several special visits while you
were in Logan, UT and now in Pueblo.
Some people I’ve known for a short time
and they only know me one dimensionally.
You have known me forever, and you know the many
sides of me.
You smile, and
you make me smile.
You know all about me,
and you make me feel good
about being me.
You love to laugh and enjoy life.
Often you catch me by surprise
with your witty humor, and we share a belly laugh.
In that laughter
I am no longer 59; You are no longer 93.
We are young again, frolicking on the floor.
My Aunt Wee Wee!
That’s the power you have always had–to make me smile
Can you imagine living to be 98–a few short weeks of being 99? Think about all the changes you’d see in nine decades.
On October 12, 2018, my dear Aunt Willie Urbanoski passed away at 4:20 am at 98 years old. She wanted to make 100 but her God had different ideas. Over the last few years, we referred to her as “The Ever Ready Bunny” because she had been on the brink of death several times and came back to us full of vim and vigor, but when I got the text this time from my cousin, something inside of me shuttered–it didn’t feel the same.
As a child, my brother, Harold couldn’t pronounce Aunt Willie, so he called her “Aunt Wee Wee,” and it stuck. That was her name my whole childhood.
At twelve, I spent a week with her and Uncle Hughie fishing and then on to Albuquerque. She toured me around town to all the sights. I’m sure my love for Albuquerque began on this visit.
The Urbanoski’s attended very major event in my life and my brother’s–graduations, marriages and more. When I was princess representing Branson High School at the Trinidad State Junior College Tournament, they came and supported me–always they were there for us.
Aunt Willie’s delicious humor kept us laughing right up to our last visit on Sunday, October 7, 2018. I had the habit of talking to Mom every Sunday night on my drive to a meeting, so when Mom died, I asked Aunt Willie if I could call her; she agreed with a twinkle in her eyes.
We anticipated our weekly phone date. We’d catch up on our lives and seasonally, we talked about the success or failure of the Denver Bronco’s. Aunt Willie loved Peyton Manning and wanted the offensive line to protect him more. Other times we’d talk about the dancers on Dancing with the Stars and moan and groan if our couple got kicked off. She loved to hear about Lin and my travels and dancing adventures. She also loved to talk about her three granddaughters and two great grandsons.
She was my Mom’s older sister by nine years. She had no trouble telling my Mom that she had it made in their family until Mom arrived–Aunt Willie was the only grandchild until then. All my life, they had a close relationship, but I loved to watch these two sisters together, especially later in life after they were widowed–they lived about 20 miles apart for several years and spent as much time together as possible. I marveled at their mutual support during this part of their lives.
Aunt Willie had a special love affair with my husband, Lin. It started the moment they met with lots of flirting and carrying on and lasted even until our last phone call with lighthearted bantering going back and forth between them.
Her life was full and rich–she grew up in northeastern New Mexico in a small community, Des Moines, which she loved. For many years, she organized a yearly reunion for classmates.
She married the love of her life, Hugh Urbanoski and they raised the joy of their lives, Janet, in Albuquerque, NM. Aunt Willie worked and retired from payroll office at Sandia Base. As soon as they could after retirement, Uncle Hughie and Aunt Willie moved to Folsom, NM to be close to their daughter and her family.
For the last few years, I visited Aunt Willie monthly in Pueblo, CO and asked lots of questions because I enjoyed hearing her retell her stories–how she met Uncle Hughie, how she played basketball in school and was accused of drinking alcohol once, how much she enjoyed being a waitress in Raton, NM and so much more.
Losing her has been really hard. As I viewed her body this last Wednesday, I was reminded again that our bodies are temporary homes for our spirits. She looked peaceful, but that lifeless form wasn’t my Aunt Willie–vibrant and giggly and so affirming of me. I will miss her terribly–Sunday nights won’t be the same.
Death is a part of our lives. How do you handle it? I would love to hear your comments!
For the last twelve years, our family tradition today is to be in Cuchara, CO, but because of the Spring Fire, all roads in Cuchara are closed, and firefighters are working hard to protect that delightful mountain village. My holiday has a dark shadow of sadness today.
So Plan B for the Horner family is a trip to Red River, NM for WestFest, a celebration of country life by Michael Martin Murphey.
As children, our aunt and uncle came up from Albuquerque, NM for the holiday and brought my brother and me Black Kat firecrackers. We swam at the Folsom Falls then returned to Branson for the fireworks display the local town fathers had organized. We started the evening’s fun with Sparklers then marveled at the colors and explosions.
All of my life my family has celebrated this day with fireworks, good food, and lots of laughter with family and friends. I will do the same today with an ache in my heart for Cuchara and the surrounding area where they are fighting for the survival of their homes and way of life.
Today I want to reflect on how blessed I am to live in this wonderful country–the land of the free and the Home of the brave. I cherish the rights I have to live as I choose, to believe in my God as I understand Him, and to have my political views. We each have those same rights; I encourage you to think about those rights today and be thankful and stand up for what you believe.
Happy 4th of July to you and yours! A special kiss and hug to my husband, Lin, who wasn’t able to join us today!
I continue to veer off of the Ireland/England trip–Father’s Day is a good detour. Next week, I will return, and there are only two more days left in our England/Ireland trip.
This week I want to pay tribute to Harold Horner, my Dad. He was a ole cowboy and loved the family ranch, wife and his family. He was a unique person–he loved people and could talk your leg off (a family description of him), but he preferred cattle and horses. Dad was the most comfortable on the family ranch, working side-by-side with his Dad until Granddad passed away. Then Mom became his side kick, doing the daily chores of a ranch together.
Dad smelled of leather, sweat and nicotine.
He was a two pack a day Camels smoker for most of his life which stained his cigarette fingers a nasty yellow. He did quit smoking later in life but the damage had already been done. The leather smell emanated from his chaps and cowboy boots, dusty and dirty from work on the ranch. The sweat came from his weathered cowboy hat and his body. He was old school and believed you only needed to shower once a week and that was on Saturday night to go to the dance.
I loved the mixture of these smells–the aroma of my Dad.
Besides the ranch and his family, Dad loved to dance–his smooth moves on the dance floor with Mom captured my heart. He was Fred Astaire to me–my favorite dancer partner. He created a special step that only he did–said he got drunk one night, stumbled, and liked how it felt. Of course, Mom could do it. He taught it to me, so Mom and I could do with him, but after he passed we couldn’t figure it out–we needed his lead.
I’m a lot like my Dad, so we clashed on many issues, but at the end of the day, it didn’t matter because I was his baby daughter.
Dad died in 1996–twenty-two years ago. He suffered from asthma and emphysema. I miss him as much today as ever before.
I hope your Memorial Day weekend was great. My Memorial Day vacation has been full of family, especially two lovely, elderly aunts.
On Sunday we celebrated my Aunt Joan’s 90th birthday with a theme party. She loves the Kentucky Derby, so it was derby day at her house. We donned hats, her great-grandchildren had stick pony races, and I listened to wonderful family stories. Her five children were there, and many of her grandchildren too.
Aunt Joan is an amazing woman. She had seven children–one died at birth and her second oldest son died from heart problems about ten years ago. She was a hard-working rancher’s wife, contributing to the school activities and local community.
She is my Dad’s youngest sister, and she loved to ride horses. My Dad’s favorite story about her was she could rope a calf better than most men. In fact, when she was the rodeo queen, she did a roping demonstration.
My brother and I sat next to her to eat at her party. She told us she’d like to go sky diving–how about that!
On Monday we went to visit my 98 year old aunt in a nursing home in Pueblo, CO. We had a delightful day with her enjoying holiday barbecue fare–hot dogs and hamburgers. We visited, laughed and did a FaceTime phone conference with my husband who wasn’t able to come.
“I’m mad at you,” was her greeting to him. He wasn’t able to come on this trip but reassured her he’d join me on my June visit.
Aunt Willie worked in Albuquerque, NM at Sandia Labs for her career, raising one daughter. She loved decorating cakes as a hobby, and we all loved her humorous, gorgeous cakes.
Aunt Willie was nine years older than my Mom, her sister. My favorite memory of those two was at my Mom’s house at Christmas a few years ago. They were standing nose-to-nose, fists quenched, reigniting an annual disagreed–all in good fun.
One said, “You add milk.”
The other said, “No, Mama taught us to add water to make the turkey gravy.” This good-hearted disagreement went on at any holiday they served turkey.
My Mom passed away five years ago, and recently I asked Aunt Willie, “Are you the water or milk person in the turkey gravy dispute?”
She giggled and said, “I don’t remember!”
My life has been richer with these two. Long lives, happy dispositions–these two women embody what I hope my future holds. I hope you enjoyed my small portrait of two strong women that have influenced me. Who are the women in your life? Let me know–I would love to hear your stories.