Sunday, December 25, 2011

Childhood Christmas Memories

What memory from your childhood do you miss the most?

Mine actually happened before Christmas in preparation for our Christmas Eve Swedish dinner with my dad's side of the family. Sometime in the week before Christmas my dad and I would make a trip to a little Swedish delicatessen in what was once a Swedish neighborhood on the Southwest side of Chicago. Mom would bundle me up in two pair of red corduroy pants, red rubber boots, my grey coat with black velvet collar and cuffs and white mohair knitted mittens and matching ear warmer hat tied under my chin (it itched fiercely). Dad wore his grey overcoat, black rubbers over his shoes and the obligatory hat that all men wore in the 50s. We'd trundle off in our green '55 Chevy into the city from the outskirts (not a suburb, but still considered "the sticks" by most of the family).

We'd arrive at this small shop situated on a corner and have to search for a parking spot somewhere down the street as folks waited in a line outside the door until they could enter into it to purchase the goodies inside. We shuffled and chatted with our fellow customers puffing out clouds of condensation into the frigid December air. Well, dad chatted. The conversation was mostly in Swedish which dad answered in English. I clung to his hand in amazed awe at his understanding what was being said. Dad was tall, just under six feet, but he always grew at least a foot in my estimation at his ability to understand Swedish. That was the beginning of the magic that surrounded him and the delicatessen. When we finally entered the shop, with the little bell over the door announcing our presence,  the sights and smells of wonderful goodies folded me into its magical embrace. 

The women behind the tall, glass covered counters filled with a variety of fish, sausages, meats, and salads seemed like fairy godmothers dressed in large wrap-around white aprons. Their faces, pink-cheeked and glistening, smiled, laughed and called to each other and their customers in Swedish. Dad would point me to the shelves on the other side of the shop and I had to search out jars of lingonberries (oh, the delight of those deep red sweeties!) and large round-wheeled packages of kneckabrod (hardtack to most folks). He would order potates corv (potato sausage) and a fairy godmother would hold up a circle of links and ask (in Swedish, of course) how many he required. Then he'd proceed to order the silta (pickled herring), head cheese, bruna beenar (brown beens) and bundost (a wonderful cheese with caraway seeds). Then the piece de resistance was ordered - Lutefisk! (And if you haven't heard of Lutefisk, look it up. A very unprepossessing delicacy that is not to everyone's taste, but considered the absolute necessity at these celebrations.) Another fairy godmother would come out from behind the counters and approach a line of small wooden barrels against the shelves. She'd crack open a lid, reach down with a pudgy bare hand into salt brine and raise for my father's consideration a long, dripping plank of the white fish. After a couple more of her dips into the barrel dad would settle on what he estimated the right size for our group of 20 or more family members.

All of this would be wrapped in white butcher paper or tucked into white take-out boxes and lovingly place in brown paper bags for us to cart home. I hated to leave that little shop, but other customers were still shivering outside the door so we'd both leave with smiles on our faces and bundles in our arms for the ride home in the Chevy. I felt I had been allowed to share in a magical way a peek into my father's own childhood. Today I'd call it a time warp or a step out of the Doctor's Tardis. Back then it was just plain magic!

***Excuse the phonetical spellings of the Swedish. I never learned it and always wish I had.

Happy New Year blessings to you all!


Monica Devine said...

Oh, such lovely memories! Mine coincide with the snow-draped trees and cold winter days of my Michigan youth. Time spins and whirls! Peace to you in 2012.

Betty Lindholm Navta said...

Monica ~

Thanks for reading! Yes, time does spin and whirl. I can hardly believe I'm here in 2012. It's such a different world than that of my youth and, yet, very much the same at the same time.

Blessings to you in this New Year!