Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Kathleen’s “Christmas Past”

Your Christmas vignettes, continued ~

In mid-November* I invited you to send your Christmas vignettes and promised I’d select one to publish here the week before Christmas.

In the end, I decided to publish four vignettes, not one. I trust you enjoyed the first one last Saturday, Samantha White’s story.* I sure did!

Today, you’ll enjoy the second one, Kathy Pooler’s Christmas Past:

Christmas Past

The smell of spicy tomato sauce mixed with the hearty laughter greet me and my family as we climb the circular staircase to my Nana’s home after traveling six hours. When we open the door at the top of the stairs, aunts, uncles and cousins surround us with warm hugs and loving smiles. I am five years old and can hardly contain my excitement as I throw off my coat and return the hugs.

We are celebrating Christmas Eve in traditional Italian fashion with a Feast of the Seven Fishes. Christmas Eve in the ancient Catholic Church was a sacred fast day, on which no meat could be consumed.

The table extends the length of the dining room and is adorned with Nan’s finest off white crocheted table cover and gold-rimmed china plates surrounded by sparkling silverware and shiny goblets. Pretty soon, I know the center of the table will be crowded with steaming bowls of pasta, sauce and baccala (salted cod fish), silvery smelts, crab cakes, baked Mackerel, boiled shrimp, trout and calamari (squid).

My five-year-old taste buds rebel against the fish but I love my Nana’s spicy, warm tomato sauce and homemade pasta. My mouth waters before I even put a forkful of sauce-drenched pasta into my mouth.
I run into the kitchen to see my Nana stirring the sauce. She wipes her hands on her red gingham apron and bends down to wrap her arms around me as we both squeal with delight.
“Oh, I’m so happy to see you, Katarina (my name in Italian)” she smiles as offers me a spoonful of sauce after blowing over it a few times.
The smooth, tomatoey sauce slides down my throat and warms my insides.
“Nana, this is so good, like always,” I say as I close my eyes and take in the sweet taste of home.
“Well, it’s ready.” Nana says.
With that Mom and Aunt Rose begin draining the pasta over the sink, laughing together as the steam clouds their glasses. I join the parade of relatives delivering the heaping bowls to the center of the table.

Uncle Fred pours the homemade red wine from the gallon jugs. Grandpa and Uncle Vincent have made a new batch from the winemaking machine in the basement. I think about how they both came over on the boat from Naples when they were sixteen and eighteen and wonder how they could ever leave their family behind. I love when we all get together. There is always laughter.
As Nana places the tomato sauce in the center of the table, Grandpa says grace then holds up his wineglass,
“A Saluda!”
Even the children get a small glass of wine. “It’s good for your blood” is the mantra.
I’m sitting between Uncle Michael and my six-month-old brother Tom who is in a high chair. I pass on the yucky calamari, even though the adults are getting seconds of it.

Uncle Fred is placing his closed fingers to his lips then spreading his hand out in compliments to Nana.

Everyone loves the fish. I love watching them around the table, while avoiding the fish.

Uncle Pete is telling another joke about the time Aunt Annie scolded at a little kid who returned twice while trick or treating, “You’ve been here before, little ducky.”

Aunt Annie flicks her wrist, tapping his arm as the crowd howls.

Before I know it, the bowls are nearly empty and we’re all sitting around with our hands on our bellies. It seems like it all happened so fast. The table is cleared and Mom and Aunt Rose place trays of pears, apples, tangerines and all kinds of nuts, walnuts, almonds and pecans in the shell for dessert.

All the women gather in the kitchen to wash dishes while the men sit around the table and start playing cards.

Aunt Rose looks out the front bay window and motions the four little cousins to come into the living room. “There goes Santa around the corner!”

With noses pressed against the windowpane, we see the fluffy, white snow falling against the street light, disappointed that we missed him. We believe with all our hearts though that he was there.

Kathy, you’ve written a story full of rich details and images, laughter and love. Your Aunt Rose’s sense of fun tickled me. I chose the above Christmas image for her—entitled Christmas Roses, by Lizzie Lawson. It’s from an antique book of the same name, now in the public domain, which she co-authored with Robert Ellise Mack.

Have a blessed Christmas season, Kathy. We all know what will be on your menu.

Be sure to visit Kathy’s blog, Memoir Writer’s Journey,* where she shares hope, one story at a time. She says her memoir is about “the extraordinary events that have occurred in my ordinary life through my faith in God.… Along with sharing my writing journey with you, I want to reach out and share how hope works in my life, to hear how it works in your life. We are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.”

Saturday, ya’ll come back for our next Christmas story—either Nancy’s or Diana’s—I’m keeping it a secret until then.

*Links and resources:

Send me your Christmas vignettes,

Samantha’s Christmas story

Kathy’s blog,


  1. Aww, Kathy, I loved that story!! I could picture every bit of it. How I wish I could've experienced some of those traditions and gatherings, but will have to live them through your words. Great job!!!!

  2. Linda,
    I feel so honored that you selected my story! it was fun to get all the memories that we have rehashed over the years down on paper. I appreciate the opportunity you have provided here as well as all your generous comments and links. Thank you! Christmas blessings to you and your family! Kathy

  3. Paula,
    Thank you so much for your comments. I appreciate your kind words about my story. I'm glad you felt like you were able to experience our special tradition. I'm very grateful for the gift of these cherished family memories and happy to be able to share them.Merry Christmas to you!

  4. Kath.
    I could just picture the scene as your vivid description brought the scene to life. I love hearing your tales of your Italian grandma; it evokes so many loving memories of my own grandmothers.

  5. Pat, I am so happy to share my Nana with you and have you connect with your own grandmothers through the story.These loving memories are so soul-nurturing!

  6. Kathy, thanks for letting me share your sweet story with so many people! It's delightful.

    A couple of evenings ago our PBS channel ran a show on ways people around the world celebrate Christmas, specifically the food they eat at Christmas, and the first segment was the Feast of the Seven Fishes among an Italian community (in NY, I think) and because of your story, it meant so much more to me! What a delightful follow-up it was to your story!

    Thanks again, Kathy. :)


  7. It was truly my pleasure Linda! I would have loved to have seen that PBS special. I'm so glad you connected with the "Seven Fishes" through my story!

    Thank you again for this opportunity. Blessings to you and yours in the New Year,