Christmas— Military-Family Style

Christmas— Military-Family Style

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

Christmas— Military-Family Style

We are not what we know but what we are willing to learn.

Mary Catherine Bateson

I was a child of the Great Depression and all its deprivation. World War II soon followed, which brought rationing.

Food was rationed, especially sweets and sugars, fats and oils. Red meat was nonexistent, although fish and fowl were occasionally available. Shoes were rationed (two pairs per year), as was gasoline. Many “luxury” items were scarce. Car manufacturing had ceased.

In 1944, my husband was stationed at Peterson Field, Colorado, as a four-engine plane instructor. Each day, he walked through the commissary and PX, looking for Chux (the first disposable diapers), baby furniture or anything that we might use for our crawling ten-month-old. On one of these forays, just before Christmas, he bought a twenty-three-pound frozen turkey and a white enamel combinet (diaper pail) with a lid, to be used later when the baby outgrew the disposables.

Just as my husband hunted for bargains, I economized with food, and everything else, by following the admonition of the ladies’ society at church: Use it up, wear it out; make it do, or do without. I knew that everyone was experiencing similar circumstances, but that didn’t calm my panic. My mother-in-law was coming for Christmas dinner, and to see her first and only grandchild. I had only seen my husband’s immediate family three times since our wedding. Now, twenty months and seven moves into our marriage, his mother, father and younger brother were coming for Christmas—and would be sampling my cooking!

The only winterized summer cabin at Green Mountain Falls served as our living quarters. From our front picture window, we could see the twin-engine mail plane flying against the incredibly beautiful winter snow and icescape each morning and night. But I had to forget the beauty for the moment and focus on Christmas dinner!

Our cabin had a coal furnace in the basement, a huge six-burner coal stove in the kitchen and a two-burner kerosene burner, which is what I used to heat water and for the small amount of cooking I did. There were several small saucepans and a teakettle—no large pots or kettles. No roasting pan. No dishes.

My husband found several things at the post stores. He bought sturdy paper plates and cups. We had eight place settings of sterling flatware, plus a few serving spoons. There were a few pieces of my early American crystal still intact after all the moves that could possibly be used for service vehicles—a punch bowl, a smaller bowl, a few salad plates.

The family arrived on Christmas Eve. We drove down to the Antlers Hotel and ate lunch there. We went sightseeing at the Garden of the Gods. We visited the new Broadmoor Hotel ice-skating arena, and treated our guests to an evening meal there.

Back at the cabin, I went to sleep still nervous and wondering how on earth I would feed them the next day. I would learn quickly.

The next morning, while I was still bathing and dressing the baby, my mother-in-law spied the as-yet-unused combinet and latched on to it, hauling it off to the kitchen, where she ordered Dad to fire up the monstrous coal range. Mom scalded the pail and its lid at least six times. She disjointed the turkey and managed to fit it all in, along with salt, pepper, onion, basil, sage, poultry seasoning and goodness knows what else—anything she could find. Soon our cabin had the most delightful aroma of Christmas dinner. She made use of the cabin’s percolator by adding cinnamon and other spices to mull some apple cider. Grinning, Dad kept reminding us frequently to “Keep close check on that slop jar; that slop smells good and I would hate for it to scorch.” We sat down to what seemed like the most delicious of feasts.

What a great lesson in improvising and making do I learned from my mother-in-law, not only on Christmas day but throughout that wonderful weeklong visit. Dad taught me the value of pleasantness and humor throughout a testy situation. That will always be my most memorable Christmas, when far from home, we turned war and rationing into a holiday of food, fun and family unity.

Marjorie H. Lewis

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