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Day by Day: Everything changes ... even Christmas

I don’t think you get to be 63 without having to face the facts -- everything changes and probably should. But Christmas? That too.

There are the good changes although to the younger eye they may not appear so. I’m perfectly OK with not going up and down the step ladder to line the gutters with icicle lights, only to have a chunk right in the middle go dark for no obvious reason. Kevin has always been ever helpful, pointing out that I might have invited the trouble by plugging about 10 strings into one plug. No one likes a know-it-all, especially one who lets his wife do all the work.

No, I have scaled way back. I realized a couple of years back that the tree inside pretty much lights up the front window, artificial wreaths look pretty real from the road and it is better to brightly light the walk with luminaries as simply making it to the door upright can be a challenge for me these days. That’s what passes for holiday cheer nowadays.

Inside the decorating hasn’t changed much except I have cut back a little, actually leaving some room for food and drink on the dining room table and a place to put your feet up on the coffee table. I have always loved candles and being the kind of housekeeper I am, my house always looks better in that light. They stay. I don’t care what Kevin says they do to our air quality.

It may not seem like it but I’ve cut back on seasonal food as well. I am determined that I will not be caught with unbaked cookie dough in the back of the refrigerator in February. I cleaned out the freezer a couple of days ago and found not just an ancient package of sugar cookie dough but also a freezer bag of cookies that never got eaten made into crumbs. I was sure they would make a great crust back in 2004. My mother would be proud.

There are things the Heatons cannot do without at Christmas however. Those items would include my cheese ball, old fashioned Lipton onion soup dip and potato chips and those little weenies in hot and sour sauce. I have ventured out from there in the past -- all the way to baked brie ( something I have decided is only good within the first 5 minutes after you pull it from the over, then it just sits there looking ugly), stuffed jalapenos so hot that everyone was in tears and asking for milk, and a whole list of fiascos involving cream cheese and ingredients that should just never be mixed.

But no matter what else we do without, there will never be a Christmas Eve without oyster stew. With the exception of the year I had lasagna at my in-laws, that’s what the night is all about.

Growing up on the farm meant that we had fresh, full fat milk simmering slowly in Mom’s 2 blackened Wearever kettles. The recipe in her head called for about a pound of butter and a quart or more of oysters in each pot. Three ingredients plus pepper and salt -- that’s all it took to actually lure us away from ogling the presents under the tree to the table. There was always a scramble to find enough bowls for everyone (that might have something to do with the stash of them under my brother’s bed sticky from ice cream) and the crackers had to be those little ones -- the one time bigger wasn’t better.

The menu never wavered until one by one we grew up and married. As universally loved as the stew was by all of us, our partners, almost to the man or woman, thought we were crazy. But mom accommodated with jello and a casserole. Anyone would have thought we were Lutherans.

As for the grandchildren, they are pretty much evenly split, but it does seem the boys are more stew eaters than the girls.

We always had Christmas Eve on the farm until Mom and Dad moved to town. It switched to our house back in the early ‘90s and we all adjusted as long as Mom made the stew. When that was no longer possible I did my best under Dad’s watchful eye and we made it work. He always bought the oysters. They cost dearly but that was his gift to us.

Our families kind of outgrew our house and everyone has lots of commitments so the numbers have gotten smaller over the years. But this year will be the smallest ever, mainly because Dad won’t be there.

He died peacefully this summer, just a month shy of his 99th birthday. It is hard to be sad about that, but we will be nonetheless. The upside -- let’s hope he is with Mom and she’s back at the stove making her magic. And as for us, we will have to do without him, but not the oysters. I think that’s the way he would want it.

Meg Heaton

Meg Heaton has been a reporter with the Hudson Star Observer since 1990. She has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology and Native American Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

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