Pat Wahler

Penning stories to savor.

Month: December 2017

A Special Occasion Needs…

Christmas sounds have been filling my car since early November, when radio stations started playing songs of the season. Although there are plenty of nice contemporary tunes out there, I’m partial to the old classics sung by people like Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Andy Williams, and Judy Garland. Some of them bring a smile, while others leave me misty-eyed. When a friend asked me (in more than a little exasperation) why I listen to holiday music before Thanksgiving, I blurted out my truth. “Christmas songs make me feel good.” And they do.

Me. (Makeameme.org)

Of course, I’m not completely without boundaries. I don’t set up my tree until just before December 1.  Once the branches have been dropped and de-smooshed, I pull out the ornaments. Unwrapping each one is like stepping back in time. There are whimsical snowmen and  jolly old Santas. Tiny red felt stockings with a fluff of cotton at the top. A lacy-looking angel my grandmother crocheted. Dog figurines – lots of them. Smooth painted wooden ornaments, one of which bears the teeth marks of my dog from years ago. Poor old Schatzi chewed everything she could reach – including baby Jesus, who now sleeps in the manager with a disrespectful puncture hole straight through His belly – damaged, but fittingly not destroyed.

My not-so-MarthaStewarty-tree.

Then there are the sweetest ornaments, with a child’s name scrawled across them – remembrances of the days when my children were young and proudly brought home the treasures they’d crafted at school. Images of toothless grins and wide eyes flood my mind as I hang their ornaments on a tree with no theme or coordinating colors. Yet to me, it’s beautiful, and I don’t care what Martha Stewart thinks.

Once the decorations are finished, I move on to the food. Putting a batch of Snickerdoodles in the oven (my Mom’s special recipe), scents the air with the warm and slightly spicy aroma of cinnamon. If such a thing is possible, the cookies taste even better than they smell. Warm from the oven and practically melting on my tongue, I can almost envision Mom standing next to me. Go ahead and have another one. It’s Christmas.

Why do I love this season so much? I think I’ve figured it out. In many ways, Christmas makes me feel like a kid again. I recreate each sound, touch, sight, smell, and taste of the past, which brings memories of friends and family who no longer walk this earth. At Christmas they can return for a while, much more amiable spirits than Scrooge’s, to remind me of happy times from long ago when I had no bigger worries then wondering if Santa would bring me the Barbie doll I wanted. (He did, too. What a shame I played with toys instead of keeping them as future retirement investments.)

When all grown up, will this little guy crave Snickerdoodle cookies at Christmas?

I don’t think I’m unique in my hunger for tradition. Everyone has rituals related to occasions special to them. In my mind, these are the little moments that firmly connect us to the past. And if we do our job well, they’ll also bind us to the future.

So as you celebrate your own special traditions, whatever they may be, I wish you peace, contentment, and many blessings in the new year. Thank you for being an important part of my life.

Now you must excuse me as I play one of my favorite videos, sip hot chocolate, and stare at my hodge-podge tree while Bing croons White Christmas. Ah, what bliss.

 *****

In keeping with these thoughts on tradition, you’ll find a new recipe on the Easy-Peasy tab. I can testify that whenever this little gem would appear on the school menu, I’d leave the brown bag at home and bring lunch money. It’s cranberry cake with hot butter sauce – the perfect blend of tart and sweet. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

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Music and Food and History, Oh My!

Last week, writer friend Sheree Nielsen and I traveled to Nashville, Tennessee for peeks into the past, foot-tapping music, delicious food, and a whole lot of fun. We crammed many things into only a few days, and here’s a whirlwind summary.

Our first evening took us to Parnassus Books. I’d often heard of this shop owned by acclaimed author, Ann Patchett, and had high hopes of finding out whether a future book signing could be arranged. Instead, we were barely able to squeeze through the front door. The cozy little shop was packed with admirers who’d arrived to get an autographed cookbook from the author of the Smitten Kitchen blog, thus ending our hopes of speaking to any of the workers who scurried around trying to keep up with the crowd.  Sigh. Maybe next time, Parnassus.

A trip to Fatherland Street had us searching out one of the (many) places Jesse and Zee James are believed to have lived while in Nashville (during their time the area was known as Edgefield) while hiding in plain sight from bounty hunters, detectives, and the local sheriff. Assuming the names of Dave and Josie Howard, not a soul suspected the truth about the pleasant young couple.

Quite possibly one of the many homes of Dave and Josie Howard, aka Jesse and Zee James.

A visit to Belle Meade plantation filled the next day, while tickets to the must-see Bluebird Cafe ended it. At the Bluebird, we were able to rub shoulders (literally) with some amazing songwriters who hang out with plain ordinary people like Carrie Underwood and Kelly Clarkson. But I couldn’t stop looking at a woman sitting near the performers who looked incredibly familiar. Is she, or isn’t she? As it turns out, my suspicion was correct. Alicia Witt! If you watch Hallmark movies or last season’s the Walking Dead, you’ll recognize this talented actress/songwriter/singer who is also gracious when complete strangers appear and begin gushing over her. I suppose it’s true. You never know who you’ll run into at the Bluebird Cafe.

It’s after 11:00 p.m. and far past my bedtime. Alicia Witt, however, looks fresh as a dewy morning.

Our final full day in Nashville brought a drive to Franklin, Tennessee past huge mansions unlike any I’d ever seen. We found a charming (and fascinating) whiskey distillery called Leiper’s Fork where a bearded man in bib overalls named Pops, taught us how to properly sniff and chew the brew. This brought a new and dizzying experience for me. Thank goodness I wasn’t driving.

From the distillery we headed to historic downtown Franklin which boasts a Main Street lined with quaint and charming shops that reminded me of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry. And don’t even get me started on the delectable food we had in East Nashville and Franklin. Delicious!

Remembering the Battle of Franklin.

From Main Street we traveled to a somber memorial commemorating the thousands of soldiers who fell at the Battle of Franklin on November 30, 1864. The names of soldiers were read aloud in the twilight glow of thousands of luminaries, set up to represent the men who died. A home near the battleground is riddled with bullet holes, plainly displaying the scars of a fierce battle.

Luminaries for fallen soldiers.

Only five minutes away from the battleground stands Carnton Plantation, used as a hospital during the Civil War. Carrie McGavock, wife of the plantation owner, was the inspiration for the best-selling novel, Widow of the South. A well-tended confederate cemetery is nestled near the beautifully preserved home.

Walkway to the beautiful Carnton Plantation.

There were many more things we wanted to experience in Nashville, but we ran out of time. This was my fourth visit, but at an easy five hour drive from home, you can bet I’ll be going back soon.

Do you like delicious food, music, and/or history? Then Tennessee has something special waiting just for you.

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