Christmas is nearly here, so The Valley Reporter took the opportunity to chat with senior citizens in the Mad River Valley about their favorite Christmas memories at a recent lunch at Evergreen Place in Waitsfield.
Vicky Kingsbury’s favorite childhood Christmas present was a transistor radio. “I could listen to my music,” she said, “I loved music.” As a family, they would all go to her grandparents’ house for a family gathering. Now, her son and daughter-in-law, Troy and Cheryl Kingsbury, host Christmas Eve at their Waitsfield home, where they enjoy fondue, and the family gathers for brunch at Vicky’s on Christmas morning. She said she knows it’s Christmas when she sees her eldest son’s, who lives in Boston, blue eyes on Christmas Eve.
As a child, Gene VanSchaik liked to drum on just about everything, frequently using knives to drum on the table. In seventh grade, he received his first drum set for Christmas. He joined jazz band and still drums to this day. His wife, Pat remembers anxiously trying to fall asleep on Christmas Eve while her mother hollered to the kids that they’d better go to sleep because Santa was coming, which, Pat said, made it even harder to fall asleep.
Alice Evans remembers when she was 8 and her sister was 6, they woke up to find beautiful dolls under the tree. “We were just ecstatic,” she said. “We were very careful with toys because we didn’t get many.” Evans loves to cook and bake and often hosts 16 to 17 friends and family members for Christmas dinner. “I usually go all-out,” she said, serving up prime rib and Yorkshire pudding, along with an array of desserts. This year, amidst a pandemic and following the recent death of a family member, Christmas will be “a quiet family thing” at her home.
Lois Markstrom came from a big family in Wisconsin. They drew names out of a hat on Thanksgiving so they only had to give one gift. Every Christmas the whole family got together at her grandparents’ home. Dinner was a big potluck with “turkey, duck – you name it.” Her favorite gift she got as a 5-year-old was a child-sized rolltop desk and chair, which she still has today.
Mary, who preferred not to use her last name, remembered one Christmas Eve when she was 7 or 8 when her mother wouldn’t let her or her siblings go downstairs. She’d arranged for a piano to be delivered in the middle of the night, much to the surprise of Mary and her siblings on Christmas morning.
Cathy Clark, an employee at the Evergreen Place Senior Center, remembers seeing an Uncle Wiggly game under the tree with her name on it (literally). “I thought, ‘how did Santa Claus know how to spell my name?’” Her family had a tradition of assembling Moravian stars to place in their doorway. One year when Cathy was in college, her brother, who served in the Navy, gave her a Pentax camera. “It started a whole career of photography for fun,” she said.
Huguette Viens remembers the Christmas that almost wasn’t. One year, her parents had gone shopping and their car – filled with gifts and groceries – was stolen. Not to be discouraged, her parents handed out small gifts, whatever they could find. Huguette got a handkerchief.
As the seniors recounted their favorite Christmas memory, Joan Foster played Christmas tunes on the piano, creating a festive scene. Next week, the seniors will receive holiday gifts from community members.