Sometimes I wish that I could go back to the Christmases of long ago. Christmases past that are lost to me except in memory.
There I'd smell the scent of the pine tree that my mother always had for our Christmas tree. It was not hard for her to find someone with pine trees on their land, and they were always willing to cut a small one for us to have as our Christmas tree, and they were free.
It seems that the Christmases that are lost to me now are best remembered by the spicy smells of my mother's cooking.
Always, she used lots of spices in her cooking, and especially at the Christmas season. Long before Christmas she would make her fruit cakes.
She used the watermelon rind preserves, the fig preserves and the pear preserves that she had canned.
Her preserves were not like the ones I make - they were much "chewier" and the pear preserves were almost tough. When she cut them up for her fruit cake they were as good as the candied fruits that I buy today – as good, I really mean they were so much better than the fruits I use today.
I miss those cakes, and I have no idea what all she put into them, so they are lost to me forever.
And then there were the hickory nuts that she used. These were also free; just pick them up off the ground.
There is nothing harder to pick out than the nut meats in a hickory nut. She used a hairpin – not a bobby pin – but a hairpin to pick them out.
There was a pungency to the taste of them that blended with the fruits and spices to make such a delicious cake – dark with raisins as well as the spices. She steamed her fruit cakes – putting a pan of water in the bottom of the oven as the cakes baked, slowly.
When they were done she wrapped them and stored them for several weeks before Christmas.
My husband said her cakes were the best that he had ever eaten (much better than he thought mine were!!!).
Lost to me are the ropes of green, gold, red and silver tensile that my mother would drape around the pine tree.
She had previously dampened the needles and sprinkled flour over that, and on top of that she poured a box of "snow" which was similar to mica and glittered in the light.
We had a few of the Christmas balls - they were large and plain, but colorful. They were carefully put away after Christmas to save for next year.
I do not have any idea how many years the same few Christmas balls were used. That tree was the main decoration that we had for Christmas.
Most of the anticipation of Christmas is lost to me now as I am old and look back to the joy that I felt in those long ago Christmases.
There was always "company." Mother never failed to have someone to eat with us. If it were not some of her relatives she would invite a widow and her child or children to join us.
Mother always kept a couple of hens in a coop, no matter where we lived. One of those hens would make such good dressing – rich dressing because the hen was a fat old hen. Lots of onions and celery, eggs and pepper, along with just a touch of sage. (I had gotten sick on sage when I was about six and she was very careful not to add much to our dressing.)
Thinking of my "Christmases Lost" I remember the Christmas cantata and all the Christmas carols that our church used, in fact used the entire month of December.
I remember as a little girl of about 12 in about 1935, watching Mrs. Pearl Hart (after Mr. Hart's death she married Dr. C. M. Baker) stand at the front of our church in front of the altar in a white dress at Christmas as she told the story of "The Other Wise Man.."
Her hair was long, dark and wavy, and was pulled back in a "bun" low on her neck, and often little "wispy" curls crept loose from the bun. With her blue eyes and dimples I thought she was beautiful and that she looked just like an angel.
She was also my Sunday School teacher and I loved her. So many years have passed since her death. This was the old church that was razed in about 1978.
Since I grew up during the Great Depression I never expected much in the way of a Christmas gift. I had learned (accidentally) at about eight that Santa bought his toys out of the Sears catalog and they came to the post office there in Cedar Grove.
When I picked up Mother's package, I turned the bulky box and was rewarded with a plaintive "ma - ma" and "ma - ma." And now not only was Santa Claus lost to me, but part of the thrill of the anticipation of Christmas morning was gone, too.
I kept that a closely-guarded secret from my mother so she would not be disappointed. I feigned surprise that Christmas as I found my baby doll under the tree.
Years have gone by. Years when my husband and I created the magic for our children, and later for my grandchildren.
Always on Christmas Eve they received a call from Santa Claus asking if they had been good all year. Of course they told them they had been extremely good. He always used the telephone at the Banks Craton home.
Of course Banks is gone, and now the children are grown and the grandchildren are not only grown but also gone.
The magic is no more. No packages to hide – no toys to assemble on Christmas Eve, and no big family gathering at the Christmas dinner here in my home.
When the children were little, I often made the Christmas gifts for the family. A house dress for my mother, pajamas for my husband and other things that I could make at little cost.
The bulk of our spending was for the children - to be able to see the joy as their eyes sparkled on Christmas morning as they walked up to the tree, and as they dumped out their Christmas stocking.
And so from time to time we view the old 8-mm. movies that I had transferred to play on a VCR.
I see the sleepy smiles on the children's faces, and I see the bedraggled mother and father who had too little sleep after assembling the toys on Christmas Eve night, but it was such a happy scene.
NO! Christmas is not lost. It is just stored away in the secret places in my heart, and I can open the door and go back in memory anytime I want to.
The joy is so well remembered and even though my Christmases are so much simpler now and quieter, there is still the spirit of Christmas in my heart and I can still say "Merry Christmas, to you, and hope you have a Happy New Year!"
Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years before her death in 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935. The Press-Herald is republishing selected articles from Mrs. Agan's Cameos column every Wednesday.