I’m told when I was an infant and maybe till I was 2 or 3, our family would leave Wichita on December 24th to spend Christmas at 1007 Nelson Street in Ruston, Louisiana.
By the time my memories started sticking, we didn’t leave Wichita until December 26th. Our seven cousins and seven Aunts and Uncles impatiently waited on the Kardatzke’s to arrive for Grandmama’s famous chicken n dumplings dinner every 26th of December. Grandmama wouldn’t allow anyone to eat until we were there! As soon as we showed up, hugs were properly given while everyone kept joking about starving in honor of the Kardatzke’s and we would quickly sit down for chicken n dumplings, cornbread, purple hull peas, turnip greens, and pound cake! Grandmama made everything from scratch and her dinners were the best I’ve EVER had.
Grandmama and Grandaddy would give us presents such as a turtle foot-cushion, a crocheted blanket, or a handmade Humpty Dumpty. All 10 grandchildren slept in the attic. Every morning we would wake to the smell of frying bacon and would make our way downstairs into the kitchen for Granddaddy’s amazing breakfast…bacon, scrambled eggs, grits, and toast with jam. He would have already taken his 5am walk and always started coffee and breakfast when he returned home.
Later in the day, we grandchildren would sometimes walk to the local Handee Mart and get icees and candy. Sometimes we all would go shopping in downtown Ruston which consisted of a handful of gift shops and one nice department store called Lewis’s.
When we were very young, we would hold our own Christmas pageant for our parents’ enjoyment. One year, I was chosen to portray Mary across from my cousin Paul’s Joseph. I took the part very seriously with great reverence, though Annie O didn’t seem to respect her role as baby Jesus and cried during the portrayal.
We spent four days a year together and shared some of the most wonderful, happy times of our lives. 21 people in a small home can either be a nightmare or a dream depending upon the people themselves. For us, it was an experience of love bursting at the seams of the house and of our hearts.
After one of Grandmama’s fabulous dinners, we would often gather around the piano singing as Granddaddy played hymns and carols.
As we all prepared to return to our home states of Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky or Florida, and Massachusetts, Grandmama would say, “Glad to see you come, glad to see you go!” Annie O would valiantly hold back tears until she couldn’t, and I took for granted that those four days would always come, no matter how many years passed.
Unfortunately, nothing lasts forever and after Granddaddy and Grandmama both “went on to glory” the house at 1007 Nelson burned and had to be bulldozed. Each of us have one of its old crystal doorknobs because Aunt Marie and Uncle Dave salvaged them and sent them to us. They are but a small physical reminder of the house that held our hearts, our laughter, and the best meals we’ve ever eaten for a few days every Christmas season.