This is an archived post from “The Aroma of Bread,” and was first published 22 Jan 2013.
As we mark the year anniversary of my mother-in-law’s death on the 15th, and as we pack the rest of the Christmas decorations away for another year, our thoughts turn to ham.
That’s right, ham. Ham that was put in the oven to slow roast around 4:00 p.m. Christmas Eve, and to be eaten on Marie’s freshly made buns following Midnight Mass. Midnight Mass that really was held at midnight. The aroma of the ham filled the air, and created such a sense of anticipation for ten year old Gary, that he was as excited about eating the ham sandwiches as he was about attending his first Midnight Mass.
The year that Gary was in 5th grade he announced that he intended to go to Midnight Mass with his dad and his brother’s Dick and Dennis. He remembers his mother’s disappointment that he would not be attending morning Mass with her and five year old Dan, but he was determined to go. His big brother Dennis had been going for years, as he was only in first grade the first time that he attended Midnight Mass as the carrier of the baby Jesus.
Christmas Eve in the Fassbender household was not the big event in those days as it was in later years. There was just too much to do. The tree was up and decorated, but there was still last minute cleaning and preparation that needed to be taken care of as Butch and Marie planned for all the guests (sometimes as many as 100), that would stop by on Christmas day. Presents also needed to be retrieved from their hiding places and placed around the tree. Midnight Mass and those much anticipated sandwiches were still hours in the future.
So shortly before midnight, the Fassbender men headed to Mass where the St. Francis Men’s Choir made the evening magical. Nothing said Christmas more than waiting in anticipation, a little chilly in the darkened church, for those first notes to come floating out of the choir loft. Arriving home around 1:00 a.m., Marie was waiting for them with the kitchen table set for the much anticipated snack. The family sat down to their ham sandwiches, a few pieces of homemade candy, and then it was off to bed.
Christmas morning started early, as people would begin arriving as early as 10:00 a.m. The neighborhood kids and their dads, most likely booted out of the house so the women could prepare dinner, would start floating in to see what the family had received for Christmas. Marie would be busy getting Christmas dinner ready, which in those days was turkey, dressing, and all the rest of the side dishes, but Butch would be ready to greet their friends and neighbors and share a little cheer. As people floated in and out of the house, Marie with the help of her parents, Walter and Belle Campbell, would work to hold the dinner until there was a break in the ringing doorbell. It was not uncommon for dinner, once planned on being eaten at 12:30, to not be eaten until 3:00 p.m. or later.
Christmas more than any other time of the year exemplified Marie’s desire to welcome, serve, and enjoy the company of her family and friends. Ham sandwich anyone?