Some holiday traditions remain

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railroad tracks

Thanksgiving feasting might be over, but the reminder of indulgence stays around for awhile.

On its heels comes lots of Christmas cheer rolled in butter and sugar.

I was born into good cooking. Some of my very favorite dishes weren’t considered fancy, but in a big family, the rotating staples were sometimes the very best treat.

Chicken, pot roast, steaks, pork chops, and burger in many forms all were delicious, hearty and very much enjoyed.

Potatoes

Like nearly every cook in her generation, Mom bought potatoes in 20-pound bags. My sisters and I learned to help peel potatoes standing on a chair at the kitchen sink, an apron tied just under our arms.

The only thing better than Mom’s mashed potatoes were fried potato cakes for lunch the next day — if we were lucky enough to have any leftovers.

Boiled and buttered, or sliced and fried, the potato bowl rarely had even a spoonful left before long.

Potato salad for family get-togethers required a big peeling session, but I couldn’t be counted on for the chopping or dicing. I took far too long trying to get each one just so.

Family

I learned pretty early just which relative made the very best dish and paid close attention to whether or not there might be the opportunity to go back for seconds.

Family gatherings at my maternal grandparents’ home meant great main dishes, but even better desserts.

My Aunt Dee could make an enormous chocolate cake like no one else. Pies, pudding creations, cookies and even creative, colorful Jell-O dishes all kept us coming back for more.

We were packed in that house like sardines when we all got together, but it was fun and so memorable.

The great thing about their home was its setting, offering a perfect outdoor adventure for a big bunch of young cousins.

A small farm with an orchard, a nice barn, and an old Myers pump between the house and barn to draw water for a cold drink gave us plenty to explore.

If we asked permission, we could hike across the road and walk back to the horseshoe pit and play in the Quonset huts Grandpa had purchased.

A brick, one-room schoolhouse bordered the property and sometimes we held our parties there as the family grew.

Railroad

Within walking distance, but far enough from the house to feel like we were setting off on our own, was the railroad tracks just west of Grandpa and Grandma’s.

When we were all together over the holidays, no matter how cold the weather, we felt compelled to walk to the tracks, as if to make sure it was still there.

Looking north and south on those tracks made just about any trip seem possible.

Our cousin Steve sparked all kinds of ideas, telling us if we hitched a ride north on a train, we could become big shots on Broadway.

If we decided to take a chance with a southbound train, there was no doubt we would either become circus performers or hobos for life.

Hobos

I had heard my grandmother tell stories about hobos coming to her door, pleading for jobs to do in exchange for a little bit of food.

Grandma nearly always found a fellow enough to do so they wouldn’t feel awkward accepting a sandwich and an apple.

I didn’t know much, but I was absolutely certain I didn’t want to be a hobo, unsure of my next meal.

Just the very thought seemed to drive us all back to the house for more dessert.

The world was certainly different then, but some things never change.

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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, in college.

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