My name is Esther, and I am 63 years old. I was raised in southwest Louisiana, in Vermilion Parish. I still remember the wonderful Christmases spent with my family and extended family. I say “extended family” because we were never only my immediate family celebrating Christmas at my Trahan grandparents’ home. The Comeaux’s came from Esther, the Cormiers came from Leleux and the Broussards came from Cow Island. We were a very large group, including uncles and aunts and cousins, but Grandma and Grandpa’s little house somehow held us all. 

Grandma’s kitchen seemed very large in those days, because we were all in there, where the “good smells” were. If the day was hot and sunny, often the case at Christmastime, the children played outside, but when it was cold or rainy, we had to stay inside, so all the little girl cousins would sit under the kitchen table playing games. We checked all the buttons in Grandma’s button collection which she kept in a Mason jar, and someone might make a two-handed yo-yo if we discovered a large button with two holes in it. You should have heard that yo-yo hum!

We were out of the way, sitting under the table, while the women cooked the Christmas feast. In the oven would be a Canadian goose roasting with apples, raisins, celery, bell pepper and onion, and a pig’s stomach stuffed with rice and all kinds of meats and seasonings. There were sweet potatoes, too, both white and red and on top of the stove each burner held a pot. On one burner was a big pot of shrimp gumbo. Another held a pork and sausage jambalaya, and yet another held a pork roast stuffed with garlic and onions. Gravy was made from the drippings to go over the rice which already cooked and waiting in the screened window “safe” until there was a burner free so it could be heated. 

After dinner, we had some of what we called “Grandma pies.” These were made of sweet dough and shaped into “half moons” and filled with preserves. There were also all kinds of cakes with custard filling, which were iced with beaten egg white that turned hard and crusty. Only a few things were purchased at the store, such as 7-UP pop, sugar, salt, apples, raisins and wine. Everything else was raised in the gardens and fields of relatives. Some of the men caught the shrimp, and the ring-necked geese were hunted by Grandpa.

Grandma always served us kids first, and Grandma made us a drink with 7-UP and a little Mogan David wine. I was the oldest of the grandchildren, so I was moved up with the adults when I was 12 or 13. That was a really an important Christmas for me, even if I had to wait and eat later with the adults. That was also the year that I was deemed old enough to attend Midnight Mass.

We always got one gift from “Santa,” one gift from Grandpa and Grandma, and we drew names with the rest of the family. We had a “Santa” gift under the tree at my home, but we opened the other gifts after dinner (the noon day meal), that were under the Christmas tree in Grandpa and Grandma’s living room. (Christmas was the only time that room got used, except when the insurance man came to their house to collect their insurance premium.) We lived in town and had gas heat, so we did not have a fireplace to hang stockings on, until Grandpa made one with plywood and red brickwork-patterned paper. Then our stockings were filled with hard ribbon candy. It was delicious.

Christmas when I was a child was MAGICAL, and I was so blessed to be surrounded by such a large loving family.

This year, 2003, I went to the home of my Mother. This had not happened for 38 years, since I had a family of my own, complete now with children and grandchildren. My Mom is awaiting shoulder replacement surgery and asked me to come and fix Christmas dinner for my brothers and their wives, my nephews and their wives, and my great nieces and nephews. I got to see the faces of all the people I love, under one roof. I hope that in times to come, those little ones will remember this Christmas and will tell their children about their Great Aunt Esther.

Esther Howard

Friday, 16 January 2004 

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