Monday, December 19, 2016

The Girl Who Loved Chestnuts

Now that Christmas is almost upon us memories come streaming back of my mother, Ottilia Theresa Ohnmacht and her love of roasted chestnuts. She really loved the holidays and introduced her family to many traditions from her past and new ones that she started for her own family. The picture to the left is of my mother when she was a child growing up in  New York City.

At age 15 she moved to Lindenhurst where she met my father Joseph Henry Koferl. Their first date was a double date with some friends and they went to the 1939 World's Fair. Her girlfriend coached my mother on what to say and do when the subject of paying for entrance fees came up. They were married on September 1, 1940 in the rectory of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Lindenhurst, NY. On December 7, 1941 they moved into a Summer bungalow and made that there permanent home. This is where they celebrated all but one of their Christmas together. My mother would recount the story of how they had very little money and she managed to buy a pair of slippers for my father only to have the mailman announce to my father that he was getting a pair of slippers.

Later on when we were old enough to write Santa we would get the big Montgomery Wards catalog out and write Santa telling him what we wanted from the catalog. Of course Santa's gifts would arrive by mail and would be stored in my parents bedroom closet. It seems that Christmas shopping are returning to past practices for I am spending a lot of my time buying online these days instead of going to the stores.

My mother grew up in a bakery but learned most of her baking and cooking skills when she was an adult. Her mother died when she was seven and her father when she was 20 years old. She would often ask our family friend Kenneth the Baker how to make a specific recipe. That is how she got her recipes for fruitcake and pfeffernusse cookies. Today my brother Steve still bakes the fruitcake at Christmas time.I have memories of our helping out with the baking and bringing platters of cookies to the neighbors and relatives. One time Mom left my older brother Joe and myself at home charged with the responsibility of baking some Snickerdoodle cookies. We started baking the cookies off but found out that we were enjoying eating them as much as baking them. Other cookies that my mother made for the holidays were the Candy cane, Rainbow, butter and cream cheese cookies. My mother would start preparing for Christmas in November when she would prepare her fruit cake and soak the cake with Peach Brandy. Then they were stored in the cooler on the porch were they would age for a month before they were given out at Christmas. The coolers were located in the game closet and often we would play hide and seek on a rainy day and I would hide in the closet. The fantastic aroma of the fruitcake with its Peach Brandy would come wafting up while I waited to be found.

On Christmas eve we would wait for Santa to come and each member of the household would take their turn opening up gifts after Santa had delivered them. It took hours to open up our presents because of this process but we learned to appreciate the gifts and the gift giving more because of this. Our stocking gifts were either saved till Christmas day or Little Christmas and we looked forward to receiving these gifts with just as much anticipation as we would have for our big gifts. One of my favorite gifts was chocolate Holland shoes which tasted wonderful. One year I left my box of chocolate under the tree forgetting about the dogs we had who roamed the house at their own discretion. When we came back from visiting relatives I found the dog under the tree with the empty candy box.

Another tradition that we had at Christmas time was decorating the house . We children were responsible for decorating the basement. That meant that we had to clean it and then put up a small Christmas tree and decorate the wooden fireplace with red brick crepe paper. Sometimes we would make paper chains to hang on the tree or from the ceiling. One year Steve and I got to take home the live tree from our classroom and we carried it home from school. One year we didn't spend our lunch money for food at school and used the money to buy a snow village for our basement tree. This brings back memories of my father who would take Steve and I out shopping to buy ornaments for our tree. He would also buy small gifts for us which he had hand selected.

While we were waiting for the Christ child to come, my Mother would celebrate Advent with an Advent calendar. The calendars were from Germany and each day one of us would take a chance reading the rhyme then guessing what would be behind the window. It was a nice way to get in the spirit of the holiday.

These are my memories of my Mother especially at Christmas time.

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