A Family Christmas in Old West Austin

December 17, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Christmas was a magical time for my sister, Ellen, and me. We grew up in a 3 bedroom house in Tarrytown with floor furnaces and window air conditioners. When we were small, we would dress in our new Christmas pajamas and matching house slippers (a tradition that I still continue!) and stand over the grate of the floor furnace until the grate had scarred the bottoms of our slippers, our night gowns billowing from the heat beneath. In early December, Daddy and Mother would take us out to a Christmas tree lot to get our tree.

Mother (in the middle) with Rosemary Lowry and Ann Davis

Mother hosted bridge club every December, so she wanted to decorate the house early, a real bonus for us kids! Anna, our housekeeper, strung the lights while Daddy was at work, and we couldn't wait to finish dinner and decorate the tree when he came home. We opened each tissue-wrapped ornament with excitement, aahing and oohing over each one and the memory that it represented and hung them on the towering fir that filled our plate glass window in our living room on Greenlee. Most of the simple little ornaments were gifts from friends or hand-made trinkets from years gone by, but we squealed as if each one was a treasure. When the last one was hung, we would rush out into the cold night to admire our work from the street.

Ellen and I helped decorate the mantle placing a well-loved Santa with his little sleigh and miniature toys, snow covered reindeer and little pine cone elves on a bed of cotton snow. Our grandmother, Marcie, made our stockings from felt that she cut from a pattern and decorated with sequins and beads, and we hung them to either side of the hearth. Mother hung an Advent calendar that she had bought at the church bazaar on the front door and filled it with candy canes. We marked the days until Christmas by removing one candy each day after school. Marcie had also made a ceramic handpainted Santa that carried candy canes in his sack. We took turns taking a candy from the calendar and the Santa until the big day arrived.

The days before Christmas were filled with anticipation and lots of activities. We nibbled fudge, divinity and Marcie's delicious homemade Christmas butter cookies. She let us mix the dough, cut the cookies from the chilled rolls and bake them. Her kitchen smelled heavenly as they baked, and we sipped coffee that was more milk than coffee, out of tiny China demitasse cups until the cookies were just beginning to brown around the edges and could come out of the oven. Marcie had little, but we felt she was the richest woman in the world because she shared everything she had. (I still have that big, red milk-glass mixing bowl!) Mother also wrapped cookies and slices of fruit cake that Marcie made on Christmas plates covered with plastic wrap and a sprig of holly from the bushes in our front yard to give as gifts to our teachers and the ladies in the principal's office at our school, Casis Elementary. Several weeks before Christmas, Mother would take us downtown in our Christmas dresses to talk to Santa. We didn't know that the real reason for the visit was so that Mother could find out what toy we wanted and to have our pictures made. We stood in line in Scarborough's Department Store at the corner of 6th and Congress and then went out to look at their Christmas windows. Scarborough's always had the most amazing window

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s with mechanical elves, skating penguins or some other delights. At night, Daddy used to drive us down Congress Avenue under the lighted garlands toward the Capitol. The tinsel lit with mulitcolored lights sparkled in the night.

We also caroled with the Junior Choir at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and reverently visited the live nativity scene on the lawn of the Church. The Slaughter Family brought in a live donkey, a cow, two sheep and some ducks and chickens from their ranch for the nativity. A wooden manger was erected and fenced so that the animals couldn't roam. Volunteers from the Church stood inside as Joseph and the Wise Men, and Mary sat quietly gazing at the baby Jesus, a doll from the children's Sunday School. Soft Christmas carols played softly from speakers in the trees overhead. Each Christmas, the nativity would play for 10 days before Christmas. Grampy and Daddy played Joseph or a wise man, and Mother volunteered playing Mary when we were young, then we took our turn as we grew older. We silently visited the nativity every Christmas Eve for years, then attended services at Church. Good Shepherd is so gorgeous at Christmas. Iron candelabra decorated with holly and candles mark each pew. Red poinsettas fill the nave, and the pipe organ and choir majestically celebrate the coming of our Lord.

On Christmas Eve, we drove around our neighborhood in our newly opened Christmas pajamas and looked at the lights decorating our neighbors' Christmas trees through their windows. No one had outdoor lights at that time. We danced from the hearth of the fireplace and sang our favorite songs from Dean Martin's Winter Romance Album, sipped hot chocolate with baby marshmellows from our Santa and snowman mugs, read “Twas the Night Before Christmas” and played games of Old Maid and Candy Land until it was time for bed. Ellen always hated getting the Old Maid, and we howled when it ended up with Daddy! We left our homemade cookies, decorated with colored sugars, on the arm of our favorite chair next to the fireplace. Then we piled into the twin beds in my bedroom, a special treat to sleep together. We talked and giggled, and I would crawl into Ellen's bed and show her Santa and his reidneer (a passing airplane!) in the night sky out the window.

On Christmas morning, Granny and Grampy would arrive just in time to see us open our presents and play with our toys. In our matching robes and gowns, we played for hours feeling like the luckiest kids on earth, and we were. We had love and we had family. Our favorite gifts were always ones that came from the heart. Anna sewed a wardrobe of Barbie clothes for Ellen's Barbie. (remember the gold evening dress with matching coat and the real fur collar?) One of our favorite gifts was a trampoline with black rubber bands holding the tramp to the frame. Mother almost lost it when she looked out the window to see our 90 year old great grandmother, Gran-Gran, jumping on it with Ellen!

There were years of bikes, games and dolls, but the greatest gift of all was the love of our family. Pictured here is our mother, April, our father, Bill, our grandmother, Ellen Poage and our great grandmother, Gran-Gran, Helen Conger Poage on Christmas Eve, 1959.

Merry Christmas, dear Sister! You will always be my best friend!

Originally Posted by: Laura Duggan, Christmas Eve, 2008

About Laura

Laura is a third generation native of Austin who grew up in Tarry Town in Central Austin. She is the owner and broker of West Austin Properties and has been selling real estate in the Austin area since 1979. Laura is married to the love of her life, Brad, and they have two grown daughters. Together, they love to explore all of the fun spots Austin has to offer.