The Christmas season has come to Perry! Families are gathering to enjoy the warmth of the season and to carry on traditions handed down from generation to generation.
Special Christmas plates and glassware are finding their way out of dark cabinets to dining room tables; recipe boxes are being upended as we search for our favorite recipes; and stories are being told that being with, “Do you remember the Christmas when…?”
So much of Christmas is sharing with our friends and families the memories that make the holiday season special and retelling those stories to younger generations.
Perry’s residents share their Christmas memories, traditions and celebrations with us.
Before coming to Perry Lutheran, Velma Bailey lived on her family farm north of Belton.
For Velma, Christmas Eve was spent at church with her parents and her two sisters, June and Fern. She looked forward to the sack of candy and the apple given to all the children after the Sunday school program and then to going home to discover what Santa Claus had brought for them.
“We never figured out how he could get in a locked house,” Velma says. “But he had gotten in and left the packages for Christmas.”
Velma remembers walking into the house one Christmas Eve to find that Santa had delivered a large wooden sled with a pile of presents resting on top. Velma says there were always special dolls she and her sisters wanted for Christmas, but for some reason the image of the sled and the presents stands out in her memory.
Many of her family’s Christmas traditions were handed down from her German grandparents. Velma explains that after immigrating to Iowa, her grandparents continued to enjoy the traditional foods during the holidays, including a German pastry made with raisins or prunes.
“My grandmother had a certain pan, and we made fuggens in it,” Velma says. “It’s kind of like a doughnut, but it had a special pan, and they came out round.”
Velma and her husband, Kenneth, continued many of the family’s Christmas traditions with their own children as well as started new ones. Velma says her children enjoyed making popcorn balls and decorating Christmas cookies.
Some traditions changed over the years. Velma explains how her son used to bring the big Christmas tree into the house, but when it became too much for him, she came up with an ingenious solution: Instead of one large tree, she decorated 10 little trees and put them around the house.
Each tree had its own unique color scheme and decorations — one dressed all in red and another all in white. Her granddaughter helped with the decorating.
“It was fun,” Velma says. “Of course, when you have a big farmhouse you can decorate every room in the house. Ten Christmas trees wasn’t really a lot because the house was big.”
The best part of the holidays
Cooking is the best part of the holidays for Alice Miskimins of Perry.
“In October I start scanning the magazines for new recipes to try,” she says.
Miskimins sets aside time from her work as owner of Alice’s Haus Dresin in Perry to make pies, cookies and other treats.
“I think it is creative, and it is therapeutic to cook,” she says.
She also gives a lot of what she cooks away.
“There are so many people who don’t cook,” Miskimins says.
For the past five years, one of her favorite recipes has been a cranberry apple pie. A friend from Wisconsin brings Miskimins 15 pounds of cranberries every year. She freezes the cranberries and uses them for her holiday cooking. The fresh-from-cranberry country fruit is one of the reasons she believes the pie is so good.
Making the pie crust from scratch is a must, she says. Miskimins says she makes enough pie crust for several pies and then freezes the leftover dough to use later. The dough keeps for three months.
In addition to the cranberries, she buys apples locally. As long as it is a tart apple, it doesn’t matter what kind it is, she says.
The original recipe called for walnuts, but she leaves them out because so many family members don’t like nuts in their pie. Another deviation from the original recipe is using granulated, quick-cooking tapioca instead of flour. She finishes the pie off with a lattice crust.
Miskimins also uses old-fashioned stoneware pie dishes rather than tin or glass pie plates. The stoneware pie plates heat more evenly, she says. She also places the pie plate on her pizza baking stone.
“Using the stoneware pie plates and placing the pie on a baking stone, I can be sure that the bottom crust is done properly, as well as the center of the pie,” she says.
She adds that baking the pie at a low temperature for a longer time than most fruit pie recipes call for draws out more flavor.
Cranberry Apple Pie
1/3 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons tapioca
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups cranberry
4 cups apples, quartered and sliced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter cut into small pieces.
Pastry for a double-crust pie
Combine all ingredients except butter. Let set for 15 minutes.
Pour into prepared crust and top with the butter. Place top crust on pie and slit for steam to escape. You can also make top crust into lattice work. Brush the crust with milk and sprinkle with course sugar.
Bake at 350 degrees.
Bake pies on the lowest rack position for one hour with a foil shield. Remove foil after an hour and continue baking for another 45 minutes until the fruit is tender and the crust is golden.
Coloma “Kip” and Nada Ruth Shannon
Coloma “Kip” Shannon moved to Perry Lutheran in May. At 105 years old, she is hard of hearing. Her sister-in-law, Nada Ruth, helps to tell Kip’s story.
Kip was born in 1908. Growing up she looked forward to finding an orange or another piece of fruit in her stocking on Christmas morning.
“We didn’t have oranges and things like they do today,” says Nada.
Kip worked for many years selling tickets at the Lake Robbins Ballroom in Woodward. The ballroom opened in 1931 and has remained a popular spot for formal Christmas dances, wedding receptions and live music. Kip attended the ballroom’s 82nd anniversary celebration in November.
Nada lived on a farm north of Woodward, while Kip and her younger brother, Fred, and older sister, Aural, lived on a farm south of Woodward. Nada and Fred attended Woodward High School together and graduated in 1941. Nada and Fred married in 1945.
Nada says when the family got together for the holidays, Christmas was usually very simple.
“We didn’t overdo it on things that way,” Nada says. “I was born and raised on a farm, and they were, too. I don’t know of anything special — just common things. We didn’t go out for jewelry or spend a lot.”
Nada remembers Christmas of 1941 after the attack on Pearl Harbor. She explains how many people were worried about what would happen to the local businesses when the men left to fight in the war. Many of the men enlisted or were drafted. Christmas that year was a somber time with families separated and everyone worrying about what the future would bring.
Vivian Smotherman was born in a farmhouse north of Perry. Her family later moved to another farm south of town.
Before video games and toys that needed an endless supply of batteries, before LED lights and inflatable decorations, Vivian Smotherman vividly remembers growing up without electricity and relying on kerosene lamps for light.
When it came to Christmas decorations, the family was limited to things that Vivian and her brother, Charles, and her sister, Irene, could make. Vivian remembers cutting paper chains, making strings of popcorn and decorating the Christmas tree with holiday cards and pictures.
Homemade wasn’t limited to the decorations. Christmas gifts were often made or handed down to other family members. Every year Vivian’s mom and grandmother would make Christmas mittens for the children, but Vivian’s favorite Christmas present was the coat and hat she received from her grandmother.
“When I was in the third grade, my grandma was real short like me,” Vivian says, a huge smile lighting up her face. “They took and cut her clothes down to fit me. That year I got a brand new coat, kind of a tan color, with a tam for your head. I took it to bed with me. I was so proud of it.”
On another Christmas when the family didn’t have much money, Vivian’s parents gave them each a new penny.
Even in the lean years, Santa Claus always came to Vivian’s house. The children would go to the basement and bang on pots and pans, making as much noise as they could. Vivian explains that was the signal to let Santa know it was safe to deliver presents. The noise from the basement always covered up any sounds that might have come from upstairs.
“We had old spoons and would just beat the heck out of an old dishpan,” Vivian says.
Christmas dinner was made from scratch with meat, potatoes and gravy and sometimes pumpkin pie for dessert. When Vivian married and had a family of her own, she took over the duties of cooking Christmas dinner. With her large family, that often meant upwards of 30 people sitting around the dinner table.
Vivian says it was a challenge cooking for such a large crowd, but she learned a few tricks along the way such as setting the table the night before and covering the table with a sheet to keep the dishes clean. The next day it was a simple matter of removing the sheet and the table would be ready.
“It sure helps save time,” Vivian says. “Of course when you cook for about 30 people, you have to have them tips.”
3 cups of brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
3/4 cup corn syrup
3 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup butter
Boil the mixture on medium low heat for exactly 22 minutes.
Cook until the mixture forms a brittle ball when dropped in cool water.
Pour over popped popcorn and stir.
Butter your hands and form balls rapidly.