A Wonderful Holiday Memory and a Recipe

This Holiday story is in the words of our sister, Claudia, as she recounts her memories of one of the first Christmases our family spent up north.  At that time the first 5 of 7 children had been born, the two youngest, Joanne and John had not yet been born.  Our parents left Chicago in 1951 with the first five kids in tow in order to pursue the dream of a better life up north. They purchased a property that was built by Police Commissioner of Chicago. It was a beautiful place on the lake in what seemed like the wilderness at that time. For the Commissioner, it was intended to be only a summer retreat, so while it did have a huge wood & coal burning furnace,  it needed to be constantly stoked in order to even try to keep the large house warm in winter.

The winters were harsh and in order to make ends meet and keep food on the table, Mom would travel back to Chicago and stay with her mother there, working as a waitress during the winter months.  Dad would stay up north with the kids, hunting and fishing for food and doing whatever he could for work during this time of year when catering to the tourists wasn’t an option.

In the Spring Mom would return and they would work the resort. This memory was one Christmas when Mom was able to make the trip home during the Christmas season.

Claudia: The first Christmas I remember at the Lodge was in 1954.  Mom was working in Chicago at Stouffer’s as a waitress to help support the family.  She did this for around 8 years total, where in the off-season she would stay in Chicago and then return in the spring.  This would be here first Christmas home since we moved up north from Chicago, and our first Christmas together up there.

I remember Mom coming home on the train from Chicago which arrived in Gordon, a small town located 14 miles from the Resort.  My four siblings and I were so excited that she was coming home that we cleaned the house from top to bottom.  Brothers Ron & Kenny went out find and cut a Christmas tree, then gathered pine boughs in order to make roping for our fireplace, which was 16-ft long. .     Our oldest sister, Barb, would set up the Nativity scene in the living room. I remember watching her as she staged each of the statues as if it was actually a live Nativity. She would always tell us which of the statues our Grandfather, Carmine, made by hand in Italy.

My brother Jerry and I were in charge of vacuuming and sweeping and we’d argue about which one of us had the more important job.

That night we all went to bed early because Mom would be arriving on the train very early the next morning at 4 Family 5 ChristmasAM.

Dad would wake us up by standing at the end of the hallway with his familiar, “Everybody Up!” That morning was particularly cold so I remember getting dressed under the covers; Dad didn’t want to have the furnace too stoked up if we were all going to be away.  We were all so excited about seeing Mom that we ran down the stairs like maniacs, shivering the whole time.  We all piled us all into the station wagon and Dad had placed blankets there for all of us to help keep us warm.  It was totally dark as we drove down Cty. Y toward Gordon and it was snowing, the headlights of the car making the snowflakes glisten.   We were all laughing and jostling one-another, all crammed in. Then of course Dad would have enough and say, “Knock it off or I’ll stop this car and we’ll turn around and go home!” There’d be total silence, and then our brother Kenn would let out a little giggle. It wouldn’t be long before we were all giggling again.

The first person we saw was the Porter, who was wearing a beautifully-pressed suit. He put a step down on the ground for the passengers.  Dad told us to all stay together in the car so we’d be warm.  With that he went up to the train to wait for Mom, we could tell he was excited to finally be able to see her too.

We watched as people got off the train, and then finally there she was, wearing a long wool coat and a hat.  Mom and Dad embraced and it was obvious how much love they had for one-another.   The Porter handed Dad two suitcases, one was brown and one was tan with a stripe. Both suitcases looked like they were packed so full that they’d barely stay shut. Of course we all wondered what kind of wonderful goodies Mom brought back from the big city.  The ride back to the Lodge was full of questions and laughter, Jerry especially was a chatter-box, asking lots of questions about the train.

We didn’t have much but we all had each other. We had a great Christmas together and it was great to have Mom home again. One of Mom’s favorite desserts to make for us was her homemade Toffee Bars.

Our late sister Barb hand-wrote the following recipe which we still use today:

Toffee Bars
2 cups of butter, softened
2 cups of dark brown sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 tsp. vanilla
4 cups flour
(add ¼ tsp of salt if butter is unsalted)
Milk chocolate, melted in a double boiler

Mix the butter, brown sugar, vanilla and egg yolks until smooth, add the flour, don’t over mix.   Spread the mixture into a large, rimmed baking sheet until smooth, the dough should be only about ¼ inch thick.  Bake at 375 degrees approximately 10 minutes until golden brown.  Spread chocolate over the top and cut into squares immediately.  Sprinkle chopped pecans or walnuts on top if desired.