Oma Sue's Blog
Hi – I’m Sue Reyzlik. I recently realized my life-long dream of building a writing hut in the backyard. The writing hut serves as a creative space and home office for Oma Publishing. This blog will be intermingled with family history, varied experiences and insights on being a Grandma (Oma), creating my special backyard space, as well as, my “retirement” career as a self-publisher of children’s stories. And perhaps a little bit on the 32 years I served as Executive Director for Keep Fremont Beautiful and the wonderful people who are sharing this adventure.
I wrote an entry about Thanksgiving gatherings a few weeks ago. The stories I shared were from my youth - nothing spectacular... just memories that have stuck in my mind over the years. As a youngster, the holiday traditions were consistent. Thanksgiving was with my Mom's family. Christmas was with my Mom's family too but with limitations.
Every Christmas Eve, our little family, Mom, Dad, Billy and I would have a light supper - homemade pizza and chicken noodle soup. We would open up presents as soon as the dishes were done.
Christmas morning we would go to Grandpa Joe and Grandma Lil's house. Dad would fry bacon and fix the eggs to everyone's specifications. Grandma would put in the bread for toasting but had rolls and pastry options. Coffee and a variety of juices were available and milk of course.
Grandma Lil's everyday china was the Franciscan Apple Pattern. I thought the food looked so nice nestled among the apples and leaves on the plate, while the juice or milk tasted so much better from the heavy patterned glasses. The smell of coffee and bacon was strong enough that I could smell the aromas even with my stuffed up nose. I always had a stuffed up nose at Christmas.
I wouldn't eat that much because my stomach was already full of excitement and anticipation of the gifts waiting to be opened. I didn't feel good but I was ready to tear into that wrapping paper.
When the adults had finally finished their meal and gotten a last cup of coffee, we kids were lined up in the kitchen. Sometimes in order of age or in order of height. Uncle Mel was the adult who made a big deal about opening the kitchen door and we kids (Billy, JoLynn, Me and Cindy) would rush down to the family room.
Grandpa Joe would hand out the presents and the opening frenzy began in earnest. The toys and clothes were revealed in minutes and we settled in to play while the adults began the clean-up process.
Dad would start getting antsy before the present opening phase of the morning. One of his rules for Christmas was he got to celebrate with his family. Before we ever went to Grandpa Joe's, he put the Ham into cook and the potatoes were peeled and sitting on the stove - ready to be boiled on our return.
We only lived 6 blocks from Grandpa's house, so we would pack up the car and get back to our place to finish setting the table and prepping the meal. I might help a bit but usually I just parked myself on the couch feeling ycky.
My Dad's family wasn't all that big. Many of his relatives lived out of state. His Mom and Dad had both died when I was too young to remember. Aunt Margaret (my Grandma Belle's sister) would come sometimes but mostly it was Dad's brother, Uncle Jack and his family who came for Christmas dinner.
My Dad made sure that my Mom's Aunt Rose (my great aunt) was invited to our Christmas dinner. She didn't drive and someone always went to pick her up. She lived in apartments around town, eventually settling in the Pathfinder Hotel.
One year Mom called Aunt Rose to tell her that she would be picking her up. Rose was crying - she told Mom no one had invited her. Dad wasn't one to put up with any bull shit so he went and picked her up. He emphatically told her that as long as both he and she were alive, she was invited to Christmas dinner. He also made it perfectly clear that he wouldn't tolerate that nonsense again.
Aunt Rose spent every Christmas with our family after that. Each Christmas she would sit with me and tell me about the time Dad set her straight on her Christmas invitation. Aunt Rose suffered from depression and you never knew what might make her sad... but from that Christmas forward she never pulled the invitation pity party card again.
This whole thing about being sick at Christmas was getting old after a few years. My Mom and Dad started wondering if I was allergic to pine. They would set up the tree a week before Christmas and a couple of days later, I was sick.
In the 1950's Grandpa Joe had started flocking Christmas trees and wreaths at the Greenhouse. One year we got a flocked tree and my symptoms were not as bad. Of course, Dad didn't remove the tree until right before the New Year, so I think that hurt too.
Eleven months later, just before Thanksgiving, I had my tonsils removed. I was tired of being sick all the time. It seemed like Dr. Wengert was always coming to the house with his little black bag to give me a shot. I went to a specialist (Dr. Waring) and he removed my tonsils and adenoids - I thought my troubles would be over but I was still getting colds and sore throats.
The next Christmas Dad went out to the country and found a plum thicket. He cut down a couple of nice branches and took it to the greenhouse. Grandpa Joe trimmed one of the larger branches, attached some lights and then flocked it. The branch ended up looking like it had been caught in an overnight fog. The branch was evenly and lightly glazed with the flocking and made to look like that early morning frost.
Grandpa had placed the branch in a weighted bucket so Mom just had to drape a tree skirt around the bottom. We kids decorated the Christmas Branch - it was lovely. From then on we had flocked trees or branches and I did pretty well in not getting completely sick.
I think I remember a few early Christmas days at our little cottage on Garfield - or maybe I remember because of some pictures I've seen. I've also seen some photos at Great Grandma Katie's house by the greenhouse. Billy, Jo Lynn, Cindy and I are pretty little but we are gathered around our Great Grandma.
Most of my Christmas memories from the 1950's are centered around our family home on Military Avenue. There were colonnades dividing the living room and dining room. Mom would place the tree behind the colonnade on the right or in front of the big picture window in the living room.
One year we got a Dalmatian puppy for Christmas. We named her Dotty. Eventually Mom started calling her "Dotty the Damn Dalmatian". She chewed up a favorite shoe and left little presents for us throughout the house. One of us - I don't know if it was me or Billy... left some crayons on the living room floor. Dotty escaped from the kitchen and drew all over the carpeting in the dining room and living room. As near as we could tell - she must have put the crayon in her mouth and then dragged the crayon along the rug in semi-straight lines and circles around the table.
There was a swinging door between the dining room and kitchen. Mom had folded up a towel and wedged it in the door to keep it from swinging open. Then she spread out newspapers on the kitchen floor to catch any puppy poopy or piddle.
I wasn't used to this new system and had to push the door with my shoulder to get into the kitchen. I was kinda catapulted forward once the towel loosened it's grip on the door. Quickly entering the kitchen, without looking down, my right foot landed squarely in the middle of a fresh, warm, squishy pile of poop. I still can remember the smell and the almost therapeutic feeling of my foot being gently enveloped in the soft clay like substance.
Another Christmas Eve, Billy and I had gone to bed and after a few minutes we heard stomping on the front porch. Mom and Dad yelled for us kids to come down quick, as Santa had dropped off something for us. Santa had disappeared by the time we got downstairs, but he had left us each a bike. That was pretty exciting. The next day Billy took right off and never looked back. I on the other hand would maybe get five feet before toppling over off of the sidewalk and into the grass. I got pretty good at not falling completely off the bike but I didn't get good at riding until the next Spring.
It was discouraging as the other kids in the neighborhood excelled at riding their bicycles from house to house - even skidding to a stop without wiping out in the gravel driveways. I remember riding my bike to school in the Spring to get it licensed. The City had a police officer who visited the school and taught us kids about bike safety and the rules of the road. I'm not sure I understood anything he said but I did like it that he put the license on my bike for me. If I recall correctly it was a little piece of metal attached to the bike frame with some wire. It's funny but I wish I had a picture of that license.
Well that's it for a few of the 1950 Christmas Memories. I will post this and then go look for some pictures. Hopefully my tech guy (Troy) will get the pictures posted on Monday.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, making memories for yourself, your kids and your grandkids as well as other family members and friends. If anyone would like to share a 50's era picture of your family Christmas, please feel free to email it to firstname.lastname@example.org Make sure to include a brief description and I will include the picture in a photo gallery entitled "Friends of Oma Sue".
Happy New Year!
Each Holiday Season brings memories of past family gatherings and celebrations. As I sit here in my easy chair, I find that my mind wanders while bits and pieces of my 68 years of Thanksgiving feasts, Christmas activities and New Year's parties emerge from that memory fog. I feel compelled to share some of those scenes that play in my mind's eye... I think the stories here are mostly true... but like Grandpa Joe used to say "Don't let the truth stand in the way of a good story". There may be a bit of embellishment... I will begin with memories from Thanksgiving past.
My earliest memories of family originate most predominantly, from my mother's side of the family. Mom (Alyce Mae) was the second of three daughters born to Joe Green and his wife Lily (Olson) Green in August of 1928.
My Grandpa Joe was known as Carnation Joe Green, as he wore a red carnation everyday - he was a florist. Grandpa Joe owned Greens Greenhouse in Fremont - a business that his father, Charles H. Green bought in 1896.
My mother's grandparents - my great grandparents, Charles Green and Katherine (Rogers) Green were married in 1897. They lived in a house that came with the Greenhouse property. My Grandpa Joe was born in that house on Thanksgiving Day in 1900. He always joked that he was born on a bench in the greenhouse and he was born to be a florist.
When my Grandpa Joe and Grandma Lily married in the mid-1920's, they purchased several lots south of the greenhouse and built a modest craftsman home. My earliest memories of Thanksgiving dinners in the 1950's center around the home at Linden and Pebble streets.
Thanksgiving was a time to celebrate Grandpa's birthday. We always celebrated his birthday on Thanksgiving - that was a tradition! I didn't know what his birth date really was - it was just Thanksgiving of every year no matter what.
Grandma Lil did all the cooking and each of us cousins eagerly anticipated seeing the largest bird ever on Grandpa's birthday. The turkey was always cooked to perfection, the potatoes and gravy were my favorite, the corn wasn't in a casserole and the beans were plain as well, the yams were fresh and sweetened with brown sugar and marshmallows. There were pumpkin pies and mince pies, although I have to admit I never tried the mince.
In Grandma's kitchen there was a tiny breakfast nook. That is where the kids sat. My brother Billy, me, cousins Jo Lynn and Cindy would fill our plates and huddle in this tiny space. We would giggle about silly things and plot our activities for the rest of the day.
Years earlier my Mom had painted a small wooden tray with three fish. The fish had bubbles rising from their mouths to the top of the water... The small tray occupied a place of honor on top of a cupboard that was built into the wall of the breakfast nook.
Each Thanksgiving Billy would stand on the seat and turn the tray upside down so the bubbles were heading the wrong way and the fish were dead... we giggled ourselves silly - laughing so hard we would cry. The adults would wonder what we were going on about but we never broke ranks - we thought it was hilarious.
One Thanksgiving, the fish were still upside down from the year before... that was even more hilarious. Grandma's house was always dust free! We surmised that the cleaning lady must have decided to be a part of the joke or Grandma herself hadn't noticed our devilish misdeed! We four thought we were so clever - the fish never righted themselves as they continued to play dead year after year.
Grandma and Grandpa added on a huge family room in the mid 50's. There was plenty of room to spread out. We kids could play games and the adults could watch Grandpa's new "color" television. Back in those days you could adjust the color and Grandpa kept it on the greenish side - that was the way he liked it.
This big old family room had a fireplace tucked in the corner and had a wall of windows to the north. When you sat in the family room, you could look at the television, fireplace. or gaze out into the yard. The yard was framed with bushes and trees, Grandpa's old shed (that he called his doghouse) was in the center and an old handmade stone grill sat to the left of the shed. It was a pleasant and picturesque scene.
One memory that comes to mind is the time Cindy and I were playing in the picturesque scene and attempting to climb the tree nearest the windows and on the right. Grandpa Joe sat in his chair, watching our struggles at climbing the tree while my Dad (Bill) and Cindy's Dad (Mel) napped in their spots on the couch.
I think Grandpa was getting frustrated that we couldn't figure out which foot to put where so he started giving us directions through the double pane windows. He pointed to my left foot and then pointed to a certain branch - ok - got it. Then he pointed to my right foot and pointed to a remainder of a branch... I hadn't thought of stepping there and I hesitated but he shook his head yes so there I stepped. This went on for a few more minutes until I was near the roof and he directed me to go on up. I smiled and stepped onto the roof.
I yelled down for Cindy to follow the path and come on up. She said nope. I went over and looked at the chimney - it was way cool. The Dads must have heard me tromping on the roof as Cindy yelled the warning for me to come down. Unfortunately going up with Grandpa's help was easier than trying to climb down on my own.
Pretty soon everyone was in the picturesque backyard looking up at the roof. Grandpa Joe was standing there laughing with a cigarette hanging from his mouth - he had left his teeth inside so that was kinda funny. Grandma Lil was yelling at Grandpa wanting to know if he had played any part in this shenanigan - he denied any knowledge of why I would do such a thing and I quickly threw him under the bus and said he showed me how to get up here.
Dad yelled for me to get down. I said NO. I couldn't do it. Grandma was still yelling at Grandpa and he was still laughing. Cindy had backed off, trying to be invisible. Not wanting to get involved in all the yelling.
This was not going to end well. Eventually Cindy couldn't help herself and agreed with Grandpa "I don't know why she did it". To which I yelled down at the assembled family members, and Cindy specifically, "Grandpa made me do it".
The Dads were busy strategizing - trying to figure out how to get me down, the Moms had lost interest and returned to cleaning up the kitchen, Grandpa told everyone to relax and told me not to worry. His instructions are simple "Move over to the tree, stop whining, grab that branch, stop shaking, turn around, put your left foot on that branch, stop shaking, put your right foot on this branch... slowly he led me back the way I came. Nearing the ground, I jumped off the tree. Dad told me not to do that again - Grandpa chuckled and gave me a wink.
Another memory from Thanksgiving past, features Grandpa making Cindy and I a telephone out of a couple of tin cans and some string. After dinner, we walked the block to the greenhouse where Grandpa found the tools needed for the project. He found an awl and punched a hole in the bottom of two cans. He unraveled a long piece of string from his stash and then threaded the string through each can. He tied a knot in each end of the string, to hold it securely in place. He then took an old candle and rubbed the wax along the string, making sure that it was evenly coated.
Cindy and I weren't terribly sophisticated. We were amazed that you could stand quite a distance from each other, one of us could speak into the can, the other could put the can on their ear and hear the words perfectly. It was magic. Grandpa went on home and we two stayed in the greenhouse, trying out our phone in the various houses of the main facility.
Cindy and I had been missing from the Thanksgiving festivities for quite some time and Uncle Mel finally came looking for us. As I recall, he wasn't amused. We got in trouble for playing in the greenhouse all by ourselves. It was useless blaming Grandpa Joe, although I think most of the adults figured he had a hand in our extended absence.
One last memory and then I'll stop for a bit. Grandpa Joe always said a prayer before Thanksgiving dinner. He had a little ceremony he would perform. He would light the first candle, explaining that he was lighting the candle for those gathered today to enjoy the Thanksgiving meal. Then he would light the second candle explaining that he was lighting that candle for those family members who were unable to join us this Thanksgiving. Finally he would light the third candle in memory of those family members and friends who had passed on before us. It was a solemn occasion and we kids always behaved accordingly.
This particular Thanksgiving, we four older grandkids were all sitting in the dining room with the adults. I think J and Stacy were in the breakfast nook. Grandpa had started the candle ceremony but was having trouble with his lighter. He struggled with lighting the first candle and after a few attempts the candle was lit. We kids smiled. Grandpa struggled with the second candle - he had finished his usual talking points but the lighter continued to misfire. We kids looked at each other and rolled our eyes, smiling bigger as he huffed and puffed and finally lit the second candle. Grandpa started on the third candle, saying his piece and finishing off with a hardy "God Damn It" when he couldn't light the candle.
I couldn't look up because I knew I would lose it - I jiggled all over from keeping the laughing inside - Mom hit me with her elbow but she was having a hard time not laughing herself. Grandpa and Mel murmured between themselves... someone got a match, I don't know who. Grandpa lit the last candle and then thanked God for the food we were about to receive.
Everyone, except the greenhouse night fireman, let out a big sigh and a giggle. The fireman turned his gaze to his boss, talked over the giggles and told Grandpa he did a mighty fine job on that prayer. For the next couple of decades, we kids matured... but we still held our breath and prepared for the worst when it was time for Grandpa to light the candles...
Next up - Christmas Memories...