Sometimes it only takes a few bars of an old carol or the scent of ginger or caramel popcorn or something savory. It may be that musty old manger scene with its crumbling cardboard stand-up figures. Or maybe a lighted menorah and the sip of a favorite tea.
These things take us back to our places of origin. My memories are mostly warm ones. Others find old traumas among the memories of tinsel.
Last month I had the unusual experience of watching the house of my Kansas childhood leave home. The two story frame farmhouse built by my grandfather and home of my parents for 65 of their married years moved on the back of a truck out of the farm lane. It turned south, passing the row of gravestones in the church cemetery, marking the memory of all those Bitikofers born inside this house.
My Grandpa Bitikofer built the original portion of the house in 1911 or 1912. The roof was raised in the late 1920s to make it a two-story. My Dad was second-to-the-youngest of seven Bitikofer boys and two girls raised there. My parents moved into the upstairs of the house when I was a baby. The whole house became ours when my grandparents moved to town in 1956.
It was in this house where I watched intently as Grandma baked bread – she’d give me a bit of the yeasty dough.
It was here I watched her cut up chickens and we’d discuss which piece was the favorite of whom.
It was in this house my mother’s generous Sunday dinners were served to guests around the big dining room table. Always around that table we bowed our heads in gratitude and anticipation. And nearly always, my Mom’s legendary apple, cherry, apricot, lemon or pumpkin pies were served for dessert.
For my first St. Louis Christmas, I headed home to Kansas on Christmas Eve. After dark in Eastern Kansas, I picked up a couple who were hitchhiking to Mexico. I convinced them my parents would be happy to have them stay at our house for Christmas. Mom even found gifts for them on Christmas morning. And they in turn found gifts in their pack for each of us.
That house of hospitality will now be renovated and home to a new family about five miles away from its origins.
The farm with its classic barn is still where it has always been. My brother still tills the land. He and his wife live in their newer house across the yard from where the old house stood, surrounded by its picket fence, a strand of multi-colored Christmas lights glowing from its front porch.
I remember when I bake the tiny peppernut cookies that became a part of Christmas traditions in that old house. Newer traditions continue to evolve, accommodating the lives of my now adult children and their spouses.
We wish you new and old traditions this season. Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas. These days bring us home.