By IAN TULLY Contributing Writer, and Press-Republican Staff
---- — PLATTSBURGH — At a young age, Rachael Osborne had an affinity for office supplies.
Her Christmas lists to Santa included such items as paper clips, index cards, markers and paper of all varieties. In a memorable home video, she shrieks with joy when she finds that Santa has brought her construction paper.
Aside from that, the most memorable gift Osborne found under the tree was a three-story Barbie Dreamhouse, complete with an elevator and tiny toy furniture, to be shared with her younger sister, Diana.
Really, what made the holidays most special was being able to spend it with family, said Osborne, who is features editor at the Press-Republican. Because the AuSable Forks native grew up sharing a house with her grandparents, family gatherings were centered there for the holidays — and with 14 cousins alone, many of whom were about the same age, Christmas Eve was full of fun and food.
Christmas brunches always featured eggs, home fries, homemade toast and ham cooked in real maple syrup. Most memorable, though, was the giant tray of fruit that her grandfather, Paul Maicus, built each year.
“My sister and I would run down the stairs each Christmas to find a huge platter stacked at least a foot high with whole grapefruit, bananas, limes, apples, grapes — any fruit you could think of,” Osborne said. “It’s a tradition that started with my great-great-grandparents and one that I will continue someday.”
Christmas morning lasted year ‘round when Robin Caudell was a child, growing up in Preston, Md.
Her mom, Edna Butler, would hide gifts as she bought them so her daughter wouldn’t see them before the big day. And sometimes, Caudell said, Edna forgot where she had put them.
”I invariably found them in June, July, August ...,” she said, laughing.
Caudell, a staff writer at the Press-Republican, got a bicycle one year, a blue Western Flyer that she rode into the ground. Years later, she found out that her father, who lived elsewhere, had sent her the bike.
The food was the center of the Butler family’s Christmas. Caudell’s grandmother, Lula Butler, was a cook whose baking abilities were known throughout the community, and it was no challenge for her to cook for eight. Caudell’s uncles hunted, and they would bring goose and venison to the feast, as well as muskrat, which made a young Caudell wrinkle her nose.
In her first memories of the holiday, Caudell remembers her grandmother cooking with iron skillets on a wood-fire stove. She was her grandmother’s little assistant in the kitchen, helping to make the cakes and pies her family would enjoy.
”That was the only time the lace tablecloth was on the dining-room table,” she said.
When Business Reporter Dan Heath was growing up in Rouses Point, Christmas morning began with a big breakfast of pancakes, sausage, eggs, bacon and toast. Then, it was on to the gifts.
As a child in the ‘60s, all Heath wanted to do was ski. Back then, he said, wintertime always meant snow on the ground and good skiing at Moon Valley and Pale Face. He remembers unwrapping a set of Yamaha Junior Icers as a 10-year-old, a present he put to good use.
Education Reporter Ashleigh Livingston said the sticky buns her mother, Susan, bakes are the breakfast she thinks of when it comes to the holidays. The best gift she received as a young girl was Go Go The Walking Pup, complete with a remote control leash. The year after, Yo Yo The Walking Cat would follow — she played with both toys for hours.
NEVER TOO MANY DOLLS
For News Editor Suzanne Moore, Christmas morning meant a new doll when she was small.
A considerate child, she made sure to run back into her bedroom to tell her other dolls she would love them just as much, despite the newcomer.
Moore and her three siblings, Steffie, Steve and Cricket, were allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve, but the rest were saved for the morning.
”Santa was always very good to us,” Moore said.
Before attacking the mountain of brightly wrapped parcels under the tree, they would pose in order of height on the stairway to have their picture taken.
Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Chazy on Christmas morning was followed by a tantalizing stop at Moore’s grandparents’ house across the street, where Boodie, as the kids called their grandmother Bernardine Brown, had preparations well under way for the dinner they would all share later.
“I can still smell it now, the turkey roasting,” Moore said.
And no one in the world, she said, can make doughnut balls (commonly called doughnut holes) the way her grandmother did.
Her grandfather, Big Maynard, chose the tree every year, spraying it with artificial snow.
Over the decades, Moore said, the tree looked exactly the same every year, as if it had been set in the garage for the ensuing months then brought in again for the holiday.
She treasures the small elf decoration that had perched in the branches, the only ornament the tree held.
Lois Clermont, editor of the Press-Republican, is one of five children, and so Christmas at the Clermont residence could get a little chaotic.
”Our mornings were very busy with a crowd like that,” she said.
Hoping to catch Santa at work, she and her siblings used to practice sneaking down the stairs without making them creak, starting weeks before Christmas.
Her father, Don, enjoyed photography as a hobby and would plan an annual Christmas portrait of the kids. Her mother, Janice, had the job of trying to keep all five kids attentive and peaceful during the photo sessions.
The children had matching stockings with embroidered names, which, though faded, are still treasured.
Clermont loved horses as a child, so her gifts often included a Breyer Horse statue. Two of her most memorable Christmas presents were a small Cinderella carriage pulled by four white horses and a castle with little knights and a working drawbridge.
One of her strong Christmas memories as a child was of a year in the ‘60s when there had been no snow. As the family headed into church for midnight Mass, the ground was covered only in grass. But when Clermont and her family left an hour later, a fresh blanket of snow covered the ground and big snowflakes were still falling.
”It was like a little Christmas miracle,” she said.