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I grew up in a military family, although my father’s friends always said “You’re not in the real Army.” You see, he was a doctor in the Army, a colonel by virtue of his expertise and experience. So, we had one of those great colonel’s quarters, built in the Great Depression under the WPA. The exposed I-beams in the basement read “Carnegie Steel.” And the first floor was built for the entertainment that colonels and colonels’ wives were expected to host. Which brings us to the Christmas and New Year’s season.
All around the loop and throughout the housing area (think neighborhood), commanders hosted holiday parties for their officers and wives/girlfriends. This was before the deglamorization of alcohol, so they were spirited affairs with the usual social hazards of office parties. My folks had no such obligations and could impose no obligation on anyone to show up at a party ( see “Army doctor,” “not real Army”). Yet they wanted to have their friends and neighbors over. Dad suggested a “Beethoven’s Birthday Party” loosely based on the date of the composer’s birthday and carried invitations around the loop.
Mother organized us four children into kitchen labor, producing cookies starting about a month out (that’s the lead time for German honey cakes (lebkuchen). Then there were Swedish butterballs, shortbreads, sugar cookies cut with steel Christmas cookie cutters and decorated with sprinkles, little peanut butter cookies with a Hershey’s Kiss pressed in while cooling, peppermint bark, and more.
A day before the party, a salmon ball and an ice ring for the non-alcoholic punch was made. The day of the party, it was all hands on deck prepping the quarters. Hawaiian meatballs were simmering. The large teapots were filled and the coffee was percolating. Oh, yes, my folks don’t drink and don’t have alcohol at their parties … which is key to what happened.
People showed up and met neighbors over great finger food, culminating in a Christmas carol sing around the upright piano. Then everyone went home and remembered the past evening without regrets (no alcohol, so no overindulgence or incidents). The next year, people asked when the Browns’ party was going to be. It became an annual tradition and a want-to-attend event always ending with carols, the last being “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”
Time passed and we children grew up and my folks retired near the base. They remained active in chapel, so they had retired friends, neighbors, and younger chapel members showing up. Then their children had children who grew into their own musical talents so the carol sing gained an accompanying band.
Lord willing, I’ll be there this year with my sisters, brothers-in-law, and their children (some young adults). We wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!Published in