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Plain Talk About Food | Precious Christmas Memories

I lived with my aunt and uncle during my early years, who, to this day, I am not sure they believed in the existence of the Almighty.

However, every Saturday night I had a bath, whether I thought I needed it or not, and every Sunday morning my hair was tightly braided for the week. For the first hour or so after this braiding, my scalp was pulled toward the back of my head and my eyes stayed slanted, until nature took its course, and the tension slowly released.

Aunt would send me up the street to the Priestley’s house, where I would climb into the back seat of their old Packard car that had “Jesus Saves” written on its trunk and was taken to Sunday School at the Baptist church downtown. The church service was much longer than Sunday school and I could take the church bus home with the other kids.

I had a nickel in my pocket for the collection plate; however, early on I found that if I walked home over the railroad trestle, my journey would be cut in half, and after all, just before the railroad trestle, was the hotdog stand and my nickel would buy an ice cream cone that I could eat during my walk home. I don’t remember my aunt ever finding out that the nickel given never reached the collection plate.

Fortunately for me, my aunt and uncle were big on Christmas. Oh, not monetarily, as we had finally put the “Big Depression” behind us, and we were still involved in World War II, and there was no money for frivolities; and yet, they somehow managed to keep the spirit of Christmas alive and well.

During the year, my aunt had canned and “put away” special food for the Christmas holiday and had spent her spare time at her sewing machine, sewing my Christmas dress and a blouse for her and a shirt for uncle. Most important to me, there was just enough money saved for one “store bought” present per person. I remember aunt spending hours on her grocery list, chewing on the end of her pencil while making sure she had enough money for the food she needed to buy.

There were no credit cards. There was, however, the savings account that uncle cautiously opened, as after all, there had been the Big Bank Run in 1929 and so many lost their savings. However, in January of 1934 banks became federally insured in the amount of $2,500 per account. That savings, uncle said, was for their old age never to be touched.

Household money spent came from a cookie jar in the kitchen, and serious money was kept in a small gray steel box in their clothes closet. Whenever serious money had to be spent, uncle and aunt would close their bedroom door and discuss the matter … after all, “little pitchers have big ears” was the proverb at the time.

Two weeks before Christmas, aunt and uncle would pack the car with her cast iron pot filled with her belly-filling southern jambalaya and cornbread, enough for the entire family, and off we would go to Grandma’s small farm 18 miles away, where we would meet my other aunts and uncles for a morning of Christmas tree cutting in the backwoods.

Once home, uncle would nail two boards crosswise on the bottom of the tree for a stand and aunt would bring out the box of decorations that had been added to year after year. But the most important were the aluminum 20-inch icicles, carefully wrapped in tissue paper, that during the war years, were not manufactured due to the metal components needed for the war effort. Only aunt would place these on the tree, and after Christmas she would carefully remove them one by one, wrapping them carefully for the following year.

When uncle would come from work at the shingle mill, he would remove his leather apron, wash his hands and face, and sit down with aunt reading the Christmas cards that had arrived that day. My job was to arrange them on the buffet next to our dining table. I remember the top of that buffet was filled with cards by Christmas day, a poignant sign of how many friends they had during their lifetime.

Uncle lived for 10 years after aunt passed. It was Christmastime in 1970 when a letter arrived from an attorney in Aberdeen, Wash. Uncle had passed several weeks prior, and the letter said that uncle had left his small savings account to be equally divided between their four nieces and nephews. Uncle’s savings account that he so carefully guarded did just that; it took care of them throughout and beyond uncle’s 97 years.

Rest in peace, dear Aunt and Uncle.

Aunt’s Southern Jambalaya with Steamed Rice

(Serves 6)

12oz. Andouille sausages

4 skinless chicken thighs

1 Tbsp. olive oil

Cut sausages and thighs into 1-inch pieces.

Lightly brown in a Dutch oven over medium high heat, 3-4 min. 

Then add:

1 large onion, diced.

1 large bell pepper, diced.

3 large stalks of celery, diced.

1/4 cup scallions, diced.

3 cloves of garlic, minced, 

Saute until vegetables are translucent.

Then add:

3 tsp. (or to taste) Creole seasoning.

3-4 tsp. ground thyme

1/2 tsp. ground oregano

2 bay leaves

Saute all together for 1 min.

Then stir in:

3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour. 

Then add:

6 cups chicken stock.

1 can (14.5oz) diced tomatoes.

Bring to a high simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Then add:

12oz. peeled and deveined large raw Shrimp.

Cover with lid and simmer for 5 minutes only.

Serve over steamed rice along with cornbread.


Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

Colly Gruczelak
Colly Gruczelak
Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at [email protected].

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