Kelly's Comments

Christmas memories: Sugary treats and all things Barbie

Christmas memories: Sugary treats and all things Barbie

January 01, 2009|By KELLY MORENO

Another Christmas has come and gone. I don't know if it's a natural progression of aging or just my own sad commentary, but Christmas just isn't what it used to be. Do other people feel this way? How I wish I could recapture the childhood excitement and anticipation of Christmas, counting the days until I could experience the joy of running downstairs on Christmas morning to see what Santa Claus brought. Just taking in the vision of the Christmas tree decorated with colorful lights and delicate glass ornaments, with mounds of gaily wrapped presents underneath, was an indescribable thrill.

We all know Christmas is about more than just gifts and goodies, but let's face it, when you're a kid, that's pretty much it. Particularly if Christmas is about the only time of year when gifts and goodies are in order. Sure, there were birthdays, which meant a few presents, and cake and ice cream, but Christmas, well, that was the best time of the year.


We could look forward to Grandmother's homemade "broken glass" candy, which was pure sugar, cooked with more sugar and flavored with sugar. Actually, there were many exotic flavors, and there were different colors to coordinate with the flavors. But you had to be careful, because sometimes brown would mean butter rum (yum) but other times you might get clove flavor (yuck).

Then there was grandmother's fudge, and something called fondant (whipped sugar) and something called divinity (more whipped sugar, with nuts, I think). Then, best of all, freshly baked cookies. Cookies shaped like Santa, Christmas trees, bells, angels, etc., decorated with colorful sprinkles and those tiny silver balls that Grandmother assured us were OK to eat.

I'd ask "Are you sure? Aren't they made of metal?" No, guess what - they were made of ... sugar.

Christmas just isn't the same now that grandmother is gone. Now everything is mass-produced and disposable. She made things from "scratch," and conserved wherever she could. She didn't often use gift boxes or wrapping paper, preferring to just wrap our Christmas gifts in white tissue paper, tied with yarn instead of ribbons and bows.

If grandmother did use wrapping paper, it was saved and reused from one year to the next. Actually, this made Christmas even more special. How many families got their presents in vintage gift wrap? Not many, I'd bet.

Handmade items from grandmother were a given. Every Christmas we could expect a hat and mittens she had knitted for us. I never had a pair of store-bought gloves until I was an adult.

When grandmother got older and stopped putting up a Christmas tree, she gave me many of the beautiful ornaments that had been in the family since the 1930s.

She also gave me the cardboard houses and little cars and animals that she used to put under the tree, since she knew how much I loved them.

My other favorite memories of Christmas would have to include Barbie dolls. Grandmother was also instrumental there, since she made all of Barbie's clothes.

Every year there'd be a shoebox full of intricately sewn Barbie clothes, lovingly made by grandmother.

Though I always wished for the Mattel outfits I'd see in the catalogs, I knew I was a lucky girl to have a grandmother who could create such gorgeous couture.

She spent many hours making satin gowns, velvet suits, brocade dresses and even flannel pajamas for Barbie. She thought of every detail, down to the tiniest button, painstakingly sewing on minuscule sequins, beads and lace. No manufactured outfit could mean as much as that.

My love of all things Barbie started when I was 4. One day I wandered down the street (back when a child could do this safely) to observe the "big girls" in the neighborhood playing with dolls.

Wanting to join in, I trudged back home and returned with my motley collection of baby dolls. The girls said "No, we're playing Barbies. You have to have a Barbie."

I guess they told me! They weren't mean about it; it was just a fact. So I went home and told my parents my sad story. I must have begged pretty effectively, because on Christmas morning, it happened!

To this day, I can think of nothing that compares to the thrill of getting that brand-new Barbie doll on Christmas morning.

Every year thereafter, I knew I could count on getting at least one Barbie doll (or one of her "friends"). I could tell by the shape of the box what it was, and I couldn't wait to open it. (Now I wish I'd saved those boxes. Some people - those with more money than sense, I'd say - will pay hundreds of dollars just for the box Barbie came in!)

Thus began my lifelong obsession with Barbie. As an adult, I've continued to collect Barbie items, but most of all, I cherish the Barbie clothes made by grandmother, and the original dolls from my childhood.

The fact that I still have them is remarkable, considering that my brothers had a tendency to destroy everything in their path.

Amazingly, they never touched the Barbies. A few years ago I commented on this fact, and my youngest brother (admittedly, the worst offender) explained simply that "we knew you'd kill us if we did."

My brothers also sensed that I was grandmother's favorite. All right, so grandmother and Barbie have always been special in my world. At least some things never change.

Kelly Moreno is an editorial assistant with The Herald-Mail. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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