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Three score and ten or more

Monday, December 25, 2006



Actually Jan won’t officially qualify as a cootess until she reaches her own three score and ten next fall, but I figure that what she went through this fall gives her an extra year so I hereby add her officially to the list. To tell the truth, this has been a crazy Christmas. We are a family who had had a rock hard list of traditions for many years. The principal days in our traditions are/have been Christmas Eve and Christmas morning.

On Christmas Eve, as early as is convenient, sons and daughters (and if possible their sons and daughters, though only two of our six children have fulfilled their obligation to marry and provide grandchildren as objects of dotage) gather together at the house. (This gathering is sometimes limited since one of our sons (the one with children) lives in Washington State, and two of them are in the military reserve or guard and have spent recent Christmases in Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but anyway, they gather as they can.

I have to admit that the father of the clan, being a procrastinator emeritus, for many years spent the early part of Christmas Eve trudging from store to store, trying in futility to find that very special present to Janet (about which he had been meditating for months) and sometimes missed the very early Christmas Eve activities. As the children got older this halted (I am not sure why).

When we got together, at least after 1967 when we were in Finland, compliments of Mr. Fulbright and the U.S. government, the process was the same with very little variation. As the family joined together, the children first sang a couple of songs in Finnish. My choice was probably less than inspired, but they were songs the children remembered. The first, Tonttu leikki involved the children with Santa hats (and, when they were too young to protest, red tights) dancing a sort of specific dance in front of the Christmas tree and singing “Tip top tip top tippi tippi tip top, Tonttu leikki. Tip top tip top tippi tippi tip top Tonttu leikki. Tip top tip top tippi tippi tip top Tonttu leikki, TIP, TIP, TOP.” You can see why they could remember the lyrics. They translate “Tip top, tip top, tippy tippy tip top, the Elves (trolls, or which every you use to identify ‘tonttu’)are playing, etc.

The second song, goes more or less like this, “Porsaita aidin oomme kaikki, oomme kaikki, oomme kaikki. Porsaita aidin oomme kaikki, oomme kaikki, kaikki. Sina ja Mina, Sina ja Mina, porsaita aidin oomme kaikki KAIKKI..

(The a’s on sina, mina, and aidin should have two dots above them, which means that they are pronounced “A” as in Dan or Ask. I have been taught twenty five times how to convince my computer to make the keystroke that creates the two dots, but I have a blank in my mind which prevents me from remembering this anytime I am at the computer)

My liberal translation is
We are mommy’s Christmas pigs, all of us, yes all of us,
We are mommy’s Christmas pigs, all of us yes all.
You and me, yes, you and me
We are Mommy’s Christmas pigs all of us yes all.

My children have discovered that with judicious repetition of certain lines, the translation works well to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down.

Following the group performance, the general comment was “Let’s Eat”, which is appropriate following We are Mommy’s Christmas Pigs . For this, we usually gathered around the fireplace-(for many years we heated our house with wood, a fireplace insert and a Fisher, stand alone stove, in which a sour dough loaf was often baked in a dutch oven and Pulla was baked wrapped in foil) Our Christmas Eve meal always amuses Finns when I tell them about it, because none of the foods we use are Christmas foods. We have always had Karjalan Piirakoita, or Karelian Pies, which are made of a kind of rice pudding on a rye crust or tortilla which is folded up on the edges. These are eaten hot, spread with butter into which chopped boiled eggs are stirred. They are Wonderful, but have nothing to do with Christmas. We also have Pulla, which is a Finnish, cardamom laced sweet bread that looks like a swiss braid. We ordinarily break it rather than cut it. For beverage we have sima, which is made with lemon juice, honey or brown sugar, yeast, and raisins. It is a drink used in Finland really only on Mayday or otherwise in the spring, and which must be made with real care to be carbonated but not alcoholic. Other foods may wend their way into the meal occasionally but these are the “always’ things.

After we eat, we join around the Christmas tree and each person can open one package. (The children, as a group, consider that this was, while they were young, a means of making sure that each had a new, clean, pair of pajamas for Christmas morning. ( This was not an unfair conclusion). We then sang some Christmas Carols and concluded with each of us demonstrating some talent. Sometimes the piano was played, sometimes a solo of one of the kid’s participation in a Christmas dance recital, sometimes a flute, clarinet, trombone or other solo, sometimes a recitation (our kids have all been actors at one time or another), sometimes puppet plays, but always ending with the old man reading the Christmas story from Luke, sometimes with elements added from Matthew. The reading is almost always from a large leather covered antique family bible (which has 1873, 75, and 80 baptisms and marriages recorded in it by a family named Wilsey, which I picked up in a junk store in upstate New York -the book, not the family.) This was always followed by a family prayer where we all knelt and linked hands, (in later years, even joined in by some who had pretty much lost faith). Then it was time to go home, to bed, or some other, appropriate, where. (We have sometimes gone to a Christmas Eve Service or Midnight mass at the Catholic Church, the Lutheran Church, or, one of my favorites, a little community Church of Christ, which was always small, and intimate and caring – and which has since become great big)

Christmas morning had it’s own traditions, one of the most important being that the children couldn’t go into the living room until they came and woke us up. That way, the parents and the camera got into the room while it was whole. When packages were opened, one of the children would get under the tree and sequence the presents so that they were handed out in order. “Santa Claus” gifts (gifts with no donor name) were placed near each person’s identifiable stocking. At first, mother and father knew what each of these was, but over the years, unidentified additions appeared for all. Breakfast was usually leftovers from Christmas Eve, with additional glasses of milk for all, then it was dinner preparation.(some were left to rake up the paper and wrappings) The turkey was always mine, and I prepared it a variety of different ways, including one semi-disastrous episode with deep frying. For years I had a proprietary blend of dressing (stuffing) spices , then I learned that Tone’s spicy spaghetti sauce spices had everything in it that I loved, and it has been the dressing spice of choice for years. I sauté lots of chopped up celery, Vidalia onions, and occasionally granny smith apples with spices and real butter (that is crucial- diet be damned) add it to broken up bread (usually whole wheat) with fresh ground sea-salt and pepper and Tones spicy spaghetti seasoning (to taste, but usually about a couple of tablespoons ), rub the outside of the turkey with a mixture of Cajun gunpowder and Tones, then pop it into the oven for the appropriate time. I used to use a turkey bag, but the skin was never a luscious as when I heat the oven to 500 degrees, pop the turkey in for half an hour then insert the thermometer, turn it down to about 275 cover with a paper bag, and wait for the proper temp to come. (Usually about five hours). The problem with this method is that the turkey skin is so delicious that, while the turkey is resting before it is sliced, I have to stand and guard it. If I leave for any length of time I come back and the turkey is skinless. My children have stripped it immorally to the meat.

I don’t pay much attention to the rest until dinner time, but we still have pulla (We slice it sometimes at dinner, there is no fate more perfect for a slice of cooling turkey than to end up between two slices of pulla with a little butter, mayonnaise and cranberry sauce.) and we still drink sima.

Now that you have seen our traditions, it is time for the Coot and Cootess version.

We arrived home from Finland on Nov. 13, and discovered that neither Jan nor I were worth a flip physically. We briefly discussed going out for Thankgiving, but the kids resisted and volunteered to cook everything. (All four that live near us are really good cooks, if they ever decide to mate, their “mates” will get a bargain in at least one sense.) One did the sima and the pulla, another did vegetables and salads, another did desserts though I went ahead and did the turkey myself, unwilling to let go. Jan was not going to cook at all, because her hands shake so badly and she could only be up using her walker a couple of hours at a time. We hadn’t cooked since we got home from Finland. Folks from our church came by every day with a well cooked dinner and some general treats.
Of course when the day came she wandered in with her walker, propped up on a stool and helped and supervised everyone (even me, and no one has supervised my turkey cooking in a long time). We had a lovely meal and watched the appropriate football games and DVDs, and distibuted leftovers for "take home" purposes.

We had not really thought about Christmas. Since June we have had two time share lodges reserved for the week before Christmas at Lake Chelan in Manford, Washington and were were planning to spend Christmas in Washington with the Washington grandchildren where son and daughter in law would do all the work and we would "guest"
Just after Thanksgiving both our general Physician and the local cardiologist just put their collective feet down and forbid us to make that trip. “You can do that kind of thing, perhaps in March or April” said the cardiologist. The silliness of the plan hit us when our realtor called to let us know that the final meeting to change the zoning on our house would be held on January 3, and if it was approved we would have about ten days to get out and go where we need to go.
Since we had not planned to be home for Christmas anyway, our local children had decided to go have Christmas in Oxford, Mississippi where one of our sons had moved and bought a new house. (guess what he does for a living”), so, in order to get some rest, we proposed that they go ahead to Mississippi, and we would stay home and have a quiet, restful, holiday (Does that read well with Coothood?)

We roamed around a bit, did some manic Christmas shopping (to mail stuff) and made trips to the doctor. Finally, on Sunday, the week before Christmas, Jan looked at me and asked if I thought she would be messing up anyone’s plans too much if she just asked everybody to come to our house. I said I would call and ask. The comment from my daughter who lives in South Carolina was “Well, she held out longer than I thought she would”. And everyone made plans to come to our house.

Shift of traditional gears. We decided to have sea food chowder (for which Jan is famous) on Christmas eve instead of Karelian pies (which require rolling out dough,not something for weak and shaky hands,) to substitute a pre-sliced ham for a turkey with scalloped potatoes from a box for turkey and the trimmings on Christmas Day. Not knowing exactly when everyone got off work to come here, I roasted a fifteen or so pound boston butt that I had in the freezer for “in between eating”. I should mention that I love boston butt pork roasts. I rub the outside with extra virgin olive oil, Cajun gunpowder and Tones spagettu spices, put it in the oven, in the evening, at five hundred degrees for half and hour, turn the oven down to about two hundred or two hundred twenty five degrees and forget it till morning. (I do score the fat part in half inch diamond shapes in order to get better snack food (I can’t remember what “Redneck “ calls it.—Heck, I can’t really remember anything precisely).

For Friday evening I got out the roast, pulled some of the pork (southerners understand) and stuck it in a beanpot with two cans of red beans, a large can of pinto beans, and a can of Trappy’s pinto beans with Jalapeno peppers (If you haven’t tried them you should). I added a cup of drippings from the roast and another tablespoon of Cajun gunpowder. I then put the whole mess in the oven at 225 degrees for a few hours. No work at all. I pulled the pork from about half of the remainder of the roast, heated it in the oven under foil then dowsed it with “Vandy’s” southern barbeque sauce. (For you poor souls whose experience with barbeque sauce is limited to the stuff produced north of the Mason Dixon line I can’t explain, I can only sympathize, though there IS some marginal stuff available in Kansas City. Northern barbeque sauces have things like tomatoes and ketchuppy stuff in them, sigh.) Every body sat down to eat, and even with store-bought bread, it went fast and furious.

For Christmas Eve, the fish chowder was exxed because of the amount of labor involved and we had a large Stauffer’s frozen lasagna, with toasted sourdough bread from a local bakery and some whole wheat submarine rolls sliced and covered with garlic butter (with a little hand squeezed garlic to make it real.) No one complained about lack of pulla, Karelian pies, or even sima (well, I griped a bit about sima). Our usual family talent show was limited to the reading of Luke, a family prayer, and the conclusion that enough folks had brought things for stockings that one of the younger folks would dig out some of our traditional Stockings and everyone would put something in. I forgot to mention that instead of getting out the Christmas tree and all the decorations, I went to Wally World and bought a 32 inch tree with optical fiber that glows in multiple colors on the ends of the leaves. When Chistmas is over, so is it. None of Jan’s hundred plus nativity sets from all around the world appeared, no balls, no tinsel no clean up.

In the morning I arose and put on my semi-traditional T-shirt, one that I bought in Yellowstoned Park about fifteen years ago, that says on the front " IF A MAN SPEAKS IN THE FOREST WHERE NO WOMAN CAN HEAR, IS HE STILL WRONG??", we had breakfast (I voted for oatmeal, but we had fried eggs.) opened presents said thankyou to each other, laughed at the number of things I had brought home from Finland that Jan was totally unaware of, then watched some new DVD’s that we had given each other. ( I have not jumped in enthusiasm yet at Bubba Ho-tep, Elvis’s adventures with the mummy, but we will see.) Our Christmas dinner is the pre-sliced ham (I was not sure what to do with it, but it came out all right) scalloped potatoes, some blue cheese cake (provided by daughter, and really pretty good) and salad. We DID have sima. When one is a coot and drops traditions, who knows, maybe new ones will form.

We did do one thing that will not become a tradition, but was fun. Jan had collected a few Fitz and Floyd Santa Claus cookie jars over the years, that had fallen under our "we are going to cut back and simplify mode". WE decided to give one, filled with cookies, to each of the children who were here. Of course we had three cookie jars and four kids but my daughter has been lusting after a fifty year old Finnish Lieki cooking pot (Look it up) for a while so it became an ex-officio cookie jar. I was supposed to bake raisin oatmeal cookies for this purpose, but I just didn't get it done. Instead we used cookies that had been donated by some of the members of the church. This will not become a tradition because no family can afford a new generation of Fitz and Floyd anythings every year.


At 8:32 AM, Blogger Mahndisa S. Rigmaiden said...

12 27 06

hehehehehehehheheh Boy oh Boy Richard! You had me laughing at every moment. I am happy you all had a great Christmas. Here's to wishing you a wonderful New Year!!!

BTW the Finnish Christmas songs sound interesting. How enriching that your children and you were able to experience life in another country. I am intrigued by Finnish culture and food, but know very little about it. I always appreciate what you share:)

Warmest Regards!!!

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Norma said...

A great remembrance. I'm glad you included the Finnish songs--they mean more now that I've been there.

I'm glad Jan is feeling better and wish you both the best in the New Year.

At 9:49 AM, Blogger Kathleen said...

Christmas is one of those times of year that are filled with traditions and strong feelings attached to memories of those traditions. I think once you have reached coothood, one of the jobs left to you is to pass on the record you have kept for all those years. It would be interesting to take a look in a hundred years or so to see what became of those traditions. Or ... maybe not.

Wishing you and Jan a very Happy New Year.

At 10:25 PM, Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

I missed this in the Christmas rush. I call the rind on a roasted pork butt crackling. BTW I only just found out that, if you want to align your pics with the text, click in the COMPOSE button when you have loaded the pics and move the text around to suit your design.


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