We had more than one Christmas dinner in our family while I was growing up in the 1950's and 60's. I think a lot of families did back then. Mama had dinner at our house for her family, usually on the Sunday after Christmas. Christmas Eve was reserved for the Oeser family.
On Christmas Eve, Daddy and his nine siblings would all gather at their parent's home. Mama and Papa Oeser lived at 1022 Pennock Ave., for most of their married years. We lived across and down the alley, and we always walked to their house. Daddy was named Ernest for his father. Daddy had six brothers, Robert, Herbert "Corky", Paul "Peanut", Jimmy, Orville and Ronnie and three sisters, Ruth "Sis", Margaret and Dot. Our last family Christmas before Mama Oeser died, was in 1963. I believe 24 of what would eventually be 31 grandchildren, had been born by that time. My sister Ann, was the only grandchild who had married at that time, and she had two children. There would have been about 49 immediate family members and probably a few family friends. Ruth Allen, who had been a next door neighbor, in years past, sometimes came with her son Don. Cousin Evelyn Sharer and her husband Vernon were likely to drop by. The house was a small Queen Anne Victorian, with a wrap-around front porch. The house had two entry doors from the porch, at the front and around to the side. There were five rooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom and it was here that the ten children had grown up. The living room was L shaped, with a mantel and fireplace. On Christmas Eve every room was filled with aunts, uncles and cousins. My grandmother, my mother, and aunts prepared a feast. Turkey and dressing with every accompaniment imaginable. On the side board there was Spice Round, and Mama Oeser's special potato salad, green beans, fried corn and what seemed like endless bowls of this and that. There were plenty of desserts, including Mama Oeser's fabulous jam cake and a beautiful coconut cake. There was always homemade fruit cake. And of course boiled custard, served from the crystal punch bowl.
When I was young, we exchanged gifts among all the cousins but as the grandchildren multiplied we started a tradition of drawing names, a few weeks before the big night. The ceilings in the old house were high and Mama Oeser always had a tall tree, and under the tree was a winter village. My uncle Robert made lighted houses and a church for the village. There were miniature cars on the road in front. The tree skirt was covered with cotton and looked like snow. In the middle of the village was a frozen pond made from a mirror with ice skaters. It was a magical wonder to a little girl. It was a wonderful time from which many cherished memories are stored.
The younger cousins, may not remember Christmas at Mama Oeser's. After she died in 1965, our aunt, Margaret Oeser Allen took upon herself the tradition of Christmas Eve dinner for the Oeser family. Many wonderful and cherished memories from Christmas at Margaret's home. We are all getting older and we have our own growing families, with children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. We no longer gather as a large family on Christmas Eve. But sometime tonight, I am sure that memories of Christmas with the Oeser's, will cross the minds of many.