Sunday, December 23, 2012

Kerkhoff Christmas Tradition--As Told by Joanne Kerkhoff Schunder

My aunt and godmother, Joanne Kerkhoff Schunder, wrote this wonderful memory of the Joe and Ada Kerkhoff Christmas tradition.  What makes this story even more wonderful, spectacular and poignant for me is knowing that they both lost their fathers at Christmastime.  Ada Meyer was only 6 1/2 years old when her father died on December 29, 1903.  And Joe Kerkhoff was 8 1/2 when his daddy died on Christmas Day, 1905.  And even with these tragedies and heartaches, they still made sure that their children's Christmases were magical.


TIME-DEPRESSION YEARS-1931-1940 (before we moved from Covington.]

PLACE- A beutiful home on Hawthorn Avenue in Covington, Kentucky.-two blocks  from St. Augustine's Church and School.

PEOPLE-Mother Ada, Father Joe and seven little Kerkhoffs


     Our home had a small back porch off of the kitchen. On December 5, we hung our empty school stockings on the line with a note to Sana pinned on each.
     We girls put our dolls on the pantry window sill.
     The next morning--Saint Nicholas feast day--we found our stockings hanging on the line, bulging with fruit, nuts , candy and little toys and the Santa notes were GONE.
     I always received a little china doll, about 4 inches tall, in a little, fragile cardboard box containing a tiny baby bottle with a tiny rubber nipple, tiny bar of soap, wash cloth,etc.
     When we looked for our dolls, they were GONE.

Now we watched the radio listings in the newspaper for Santa programs and Christmas music on the radio.  No T.V.

Sometime between Saint Nicholas and Christ's birth we had an adventure.  Mother planned a day to see Santa.
We rode on the street car (or maybe a bus) over the Ohio River on the Roebling Bridge (the precursor to the Brooklyn Bridge), up the ramps and into the Dixie Terminal, probably the only trip to Cincinnati all year.
Mother knew exactly which stores had the best Christmas displays in the store windows, merry-go-rounds, big peppermint sticks--at least an inch in diameter and the best Santas.  It was very exciting.

By the time Christmas Eve came around the anticipation was electric.  All of the ground work leading to the BIG day didn't cost money only love and unselfish thoughtfulness.  Mother was a brilliant Stage Manager.

                                        CHRISTMAS EVE

Sheets were hung over the arch from the entry hall and over the French doors from the dining room.
We were honor bound not to peek. We knew the tree was in there, though.

My memory is vague concerning dinner.  It was a strict fast and abstinence day. I remember having Oyster stew and little crackers once.  We ate in the kitchen, so I guess the dining room was being prepared for the big day.
I remember getting a little wine--probably the only time that happened--and off to early bed time.

                                      CHRISTMAS MORNING

We always went to first Mass--6:00 a.m.  When we dressed and came down stairs into the kitchen we found new mittens, caps, etc. that could be worn and we left for Mass.  Trooping off, the whole family together, maybe it was snowing and it was DARK.

When Mass was over, Daddy left before us.  We left the church and walked the two blocks--getting more and more excited. You need to appreciate the fact that due to the Depression, we did not receive anything that wasn't a necessity.

As we turned the corner of Euclid St. and Hawthorn, we could see the tree lights on our tree shining through the shining windows and lace curtains. WOW!!!

We hurried into the house by the back door, took off our coats, went into the dining room and lined up in front of the double doors, littlest ones first.

THEN the sheet came down, the doors were opened and it was like the best department store window any where in the world-no boxes, wrapping paper or ribbon-everything on display.  And the train was going around and around.

Everyone had their own personal space under the tree.  My doll was back, all cleaned up and a whole new wardrobe in a doll trunk.  One year she was standing all by herself--Mr. Claus made a wonderful stand to hold her.

I still have my Deanna Durban (movie star) doll and the trunk full of the wonderful clothes made by Mrs. Claus. There are evening gowns, skirts, blouses, robes,a little velvet purse, etc. All of this sewing was done while we weren't around.  I never saw a thread, cloth or anything and the sewing machine was next to my bed.  It was a treadle machine--no motor, just your feet.

There all kinds of love in this world, and I think that what Mother and Dad gave us, year after year, was extraordinary!!!!!

Somewhere along the years, Daddy would recite a Xmas poem-where he got this I'll never know. It was recited on Charistmas Eve after dinner.

                         Twas Christmas eve in the work house,
                          The day of all the year
                          The beggers they were happy
                          Their bellies full of beer.

There is more but I have to look it up.

These are some of my memories of my wonderful Christmases.
Let me know what I left out.
Don't let me know about misspelled words, bad grammar or typos. I'm a long time out of school and typing class.

Piles of love to you all and to all a "Goodnight" 

Joanne, Mother, Grandmother, Sister, Aunt, Great Aunt and all other relatives and friends."

Sunday, December 9, 2012

You Didn't Know that St. Nick Vacations with Santa?

Let me get this out of the way right now.  St. Nicholas and Santa Claus are NOT the same guy.  They are completely separate, yet according to Mom, they're very good friends.  As a matter of fact, St. Nick vacations in the North Pole with Santa after Nick's feast day on December 6.  After all, he's exhausted from filling all those stockings/shoes with candy, nuts and fruit, and he needs a little break.  That's why we would put our Christmas lists to Santa inside our St. Nick stockings.  He'd hand them over to Santa during his vacation.

Weren't you also raised with this knowledge?  After all, it sounds completely logical, doesn't it?

I went to a public school and remember being the only student who knew about St. Nick.  And I was certainly the only one in my school who St. Nicholas visited.  I'm going to make a confession about that.  I completely loved it.  I adored that I had something that others didn't.  Somehow, it made the magic that much more magical.  It was also something wonderful to look forward to after Thanksgiving.  For a child, that month between Thanksgiving and Christmas seems like a year.  But the week and a half between Turkey Day and St. Nick Day didn't seem so bad.  And then the 19 days between getting our stockings filled and Christmas morning didn't seem like such a huge hurdle.  It was a great "mid way" point for the holidays.

I am the youngest of seven kids, and I only remember St. Nick Day with Eric and Anne.  Perhaps the older kids remember the Feast Day slightly different, but there are some things that I know stayed the same.

We would secure our tube socks (the thought was "the bigger the better" in the hopes that we'd get more candy from the saint--I don't think that ever panned out) on the chest of drawers in our dining room.  We'd jam the top of the sock in the drawer and make sure that it was secure.  My personal way of doing it was to test it to make sure that pressure wouldn't make it fall, and then I'd put my Christmas list in it.  Perhaps some of my siblings put their lists in the sock before they secured it.  Flexibility is always good.

And then I'd wake up, run out and see what I got.  I think we always had an orange at the bottom of the sock (I'm sure it was to weigh it down--Would a kid ever actually eat it?), and we always had a long candy cane.  St. Nick didn't bring those measly regular candy canes.  He brought us the serious stuff.  My brother Eric would work on it until it could actually be used as a weapon if he so chose.  We'd also get chocolate, other candies and a small gift.

But I think the best part of the entire experience was the magic sparkles left by St. Nick.  They would fall from his cape wherever he walked.  We could actually see where he walked in our house!  And if we were lucky, there would be snow outside.  Sometimes, just sometimes, Dad would find St. Nick's horse's hoof prints.

What is better than that to a kid?  Magic sparkles.  A saint's horse's hoof prints.  And candy!

St. Nick also comes to my kids.  My husband, who is of Irish ancestry, took a bit of time to come around to the St. Nicholas idea.  I think he finally realized that he had no choice; he's a smart man.

Today, letters to Santa may include website addresses (to make it easier for his elves).  But St. Nick is fine with that.  He's always up on the latest technologies and ideas.  It's part of what makes him special.

My kids' St. Nick stockings hanging over our fireplace.  Please notice the Nerds in the bottom right of the photo.  Proof positive that St. Nick knows what each child loves. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Well, How Did That Get in There?

Every Christmas Eve, after the gifts had been opened, the meal had been consumed, and while the beverages were still being enjoyed (just ask Anne about that one), Dad would inform us that the slideshow was ready.

Every year, we'd sit around and watch Dad show us the same slides.  I, however, would rarely spot myself in any of them.  By the time I was growing up, Dad had transitioned to actual photos.  But I'm not bitter at the memory of sitting around, year after year, and being forced to look at these slides.  No, not bitter at all. :)

And every year, Waco slides were included.  Every.  Single.  Year.  And Dad would say the same thing, "Well, I wonder how that got in there?!"  He fell in love with Wacos at an early age.  When he was 8 or 9, he saved his pennies, nickels and dimes so he could go for a plane ride.  Grandpa Joe and Grandma Ada took him to Lunken, he poured the $3 in change into the pilot's hands, and climbed into the Waco.


If you know my dad, ask him about this the next time you see him.  Because the way he tells the story is magical.  I can't do it justice.

The particular Waco he flew in was where the passenger was in front of the pilot.  And the window and door folded out.  So, my dad was in this plane, the pilot was behind him, and this little 8 year old boy was LEANING OUT of the plane!  The only thing that held him in was his seatbelt.  He told me later that he didn't think his mother knew about that part of the deal (but Grandpa Joe did).  And Dad loved how the pilot landed the plane.  He remembered "slipping" into Lunken over the Ohio River.

Airplane Slipping

Of course Dad couldn't stop talking about his incredible adventure, and his 2 older brothers decided that they had to try it, too.  The next year, all 3 brothers went to Lunken and climbed into Wacos.  I love it that the little brother is the one who influenced his 2 older brothers.

Dad and 2 of his sisters at Lunken when he took his second ride in a Waco

Dad (in the center), his 2 older brothers, and 2 younger sisters at Alms Park.  This was the same day that all the boys took rides in Waco airplanes (Alms Park overlooks Lunken).

Dad tried to pass along his love of Wacos to his kids.  I don't think any of us bonded with them, however.  Sure, we'd go to the Waco Fly-Ins (as if we had a choice), we'd listen to his stories, but we never "felt the love" for the Waco like Dad did.  The poor man tried, though.

Yes, they have Waco Clubs

Waco Museum

And that included the Christmas Eve slide show.  We knew it was coming.  And he never disappointed.

Well, how did that get in there?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Christmas Sheet

This was one of the things that Sean had to accept and get used to when we got married and had kids.  Well, this and the fact that St. Nick is the one who fills the stockings and not Santa.

Santa's elves do not wrap our Christmas presents.  Not a single one.  The kids of the family pick out their "spot" on the couch or chair where they want the big guy to leave their presents.  A sheet is put up between the hallway and living/family room so that the kids can't peek and cheat.  And don't ask me why, but we never did.  I think Mom must have implied that lightening would strike us dead or something, but it was a line we never crossed.

The sheet was nailed up on Christmas Eve, and it was always very exciting.  You knew that the time was close (this was before you could track Santa's progress on the internet).  On Christmas morning, we would line up in our hallway on Cherokee Dr. from the youngest to oldest.  Obviously, I always scored on this front since I was the baby of the family.

I have heard the arguments (from Sean) concerning wrapping vs. not wrapping.  But none of those ever held water for me.  I can't articulate how magical it is to pull back that sheet and see your loot in one vision.  Santa was a master at maximizing the visual effect of this.  Your spot on the couch or chair was covered with gifts.  We saw everything in one glance and were overwhelmed with our luck.

Well, except for that one magical year when Santa confused my spot with Anne's, and disappointment was the first emotion we both felt as we thought we didn't a damn thing we had asked for.

One year, I asked (written on the note I left in my St. Nick's stocking which St. Nicholas personally delivered to Santa--that's another blog post) for both a Jaimie Sommers Bionic Woman doll AND a Cher doll.  Mom came to me a day or two later and told me that Santa's elves had informed her that I had to make a choice.  Which doll did I want more?  Because I couldn't have both.  I remember literally telling her that I'd have to think about it and would get back to her.  I think I even asked her if there was a time period I had to work within.

Now, imagine my face when I pulled back that sheet and saw my choice--the Jaimie Sommers Bionic Woman doll.  And it was placed next to the Cher doll!!!!!  I got both of them!  In one vision, I saw both of my prized gifts (yes, I realize I was a loser).  That magic couldn't and wouldn't have happened if I had to slowly unwrap the gifts.

The tradition continues with my children, and I hope they continue it with their kids.  It is exceptionally magical.  And honestly, Santa's elves save themselves A LOT of work with the wrapping.  It actually gives them time to have another beer.

Edited to add the story of one Christmas morning when Eric's childhood was destroyed.  From what I heard, Eric was the youngest and waiting anxiously to go through the sheet.  Dad and Mom went out first to make sure that everything was in order.  That particular year, Dad walked back through the sheet, looked at darling little Eric (who would've only been a few years old at the time) and said, "OK, Eric.  Are you ready?  The Easter Bunny came!"  Apparently, he burst into tears.  Yes, my family can be cruel.  But we're cute.

Eric and Anne in front the Sheet and running toward their stash!

Please notice the placement of the gifts on the chairs (and my Planet of the Apes board game)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

I Cling to My Few Memories of Her

When I started researching my family's history, I was surprised at the realization that I was only 4 years old when Grandma Ada died.  I thought I was a few years older than that because I had and have very specific memories of her.

Unfortunately, I don't know the Grandma Ada my sisters and brothers did.

"My" Grandma Ada lived in an apartment, and the toys were kept in a closet somewhere off the living room.  I remember rummaging around the closet and finding some fabulous toy.  She loved Oreos and Pepsi, and apple pie and whatever type of ice cream she had in the freezer.

I have 2 very clear memories of her.  The first is that she would always bring homemade baked bread with her when she visited us.  And on those visits, she would choose one of the grandkids to get a "special" small loaf of bread.  Once, I remember being the "chosen one," and it was if I was given gold.  The best part?  We didn't have to share it with any of our siblings.

I also remember standing behind her when she was making me a blanket.  It was a pink floral flannel material with pink ribbon on 2 sides and either green or yellow ribbon on the other 2 sides.  I distinctly remember watching her work at her sewing machine, trying to watch her over her shoulder and being so excited that this was mine.  It was soft, and it smelled good.  I had it for a very long time, and then I grew up and forgot about it.  I have no idea what happened to it but realized too late that it was priceless to me.  She was and is priceless to me.

Grandma Ada and me, 06 Aug 1969

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Let's Get This Party Started

Grandma Elsie used to rotate where she would spend her holidays (which of her kids wanted her).  We were always excited when our number came up.  She lived in Covington, and we saw her all the time, but she'd stay with us for a few days (if it was our turn) on holidays.  I remember getting everything I needed to have mended ready for her.  I'm actually not sure why or how this started.  She wasn't known for her domestic skills, but she seemed happy to fix those socks or underwear for you.

One year (I don't remember which holiday it was) it was our turn to have her.  And I was given the responsibility and honor of getting her drink for her.  I remember giving it to her once she got settled in, she took a sip, looked at me and said, "Kid, let me show you how to make a drink."

She then took me into the kitchen to instruct me in this very important matter.  I tried to hand her the shot glass, but she waved it away.  "We don't use those."  She then poured herself a whiskey and water, took a sip, looked at me and said words which I now live by, "Kid, it's better to have one really good one than a bunch of bad ones."

She was a character in the best sense of the word.  And I miss her every day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A little beginning.....

I love telling the tales of our family's stories.  Whether the other person wants me to keep talking or not.  I've been told that I'm good at telling stories.  But I don't think that's it.  I think it's that I've just got great material to work with.

So, after some consideration, I've decided to create a "new" blog.  One that is only for family stories.  I've tried to write this crap down.  I've tried to keep a journal.  And I s..k (ok, stink) at it.

But I "blog" well.  I used to be a secretary, and I'm very comfortable at a "typewriter" keyboard.  I'm not so comfortable at actual writing.

I'm going to give my family members a task:  Please write down our family stories.  I don't care what they are (well, I'll care if I have to edit them--if you know what I mean).  The future generations need to know what Grandma Elsie and Ada were like.  What made Grandpa Joe laugh.  What Grandpa Ed was like.  Are you getting the idea?

You can either e-mail me with your stories or message me through Facebook.  And then we'll include your memories/stories here--A blog that I hope our great, great grandchildren will find and discover someday.   And they'll have to face the kooks they come from.