At Christmastime, I like to think back to the mid-1950s when I was 10 years old. It was the beginning of my two-week Christmas vacation. I had big plans for when I got home, but our 70-acre Ohio farm was 10 miles from school. The long bus ride home seemed endless.
When the bus finally stopped at our farmhouse lane, I leapt down the steps and ran all the way to the front porch. I raced in the front door, gulping for air, and shouted, “I’m ready to help make Christmas gifts!”
Mom smiled. “Grab a cookie from the cookie jar and have a seat,” she said. “While you eat, you can watch how I stuff a sachet bag with our homemade potpourri. Then you can give it a try.”
I marveled at how Mom had turned odds and ends of floral print fabric remnants into a dozen unique drawstring bags to hold potpourri. As I munched on my chocolate-chip cookie, Mom grabbed a small tin measuring cup, scooped potpourri from a crock canister, and filled the sachet bag.
Besides being an expert seamstress, my mother also had a green thumb. Her flower beds were treasure troves of plants ideal for making potpourri for Christmas gifts. From mid-May through August, I’d helped Mom gather the various-colored petals, buds, blossoms, and seedpods from her peonies, roses, bachelor’s buttons, calendula, spirea, hydrangeas, and chrysanthemums for making holiday gifts for family, friends, and neighbors. Once the flowers were dried, we added dried orange peels and variations of whole cloves, nutmeg berries, and cinnamon sticks to enhance the fragrance of the potpourri.
“Your turn,” Mom said, as she handed me a tin measuring cup and a sachet bag. I worked very carefully—and had no spills whatsoever!
After we tied each bag with colorful ribbon, Mom suggested I make red and green paper chains for the Christmas tree that Dad would soon chop down.
“I can’t make chains, my jar of paste is empty,” I groaned. “We can make do with what we have on hand,” Mom grinned. “I’ll teach you how to make silly paste.”
Silly paste? I wondered. What’s that?
In no time, Mom mixed one part flour, two parts water, and a dash of salt together to create a homemade paste. She told me it would be ideal for paper chains for the tree and other paper Christmas crafts.
With a small bowl of the silly paste in one hand and a small Mason jar full of potpourri in the other, I headed to my bedroom. I gathered scissors, red and green construction paper, and white ribbon. Carefully, I cut out the chains, securing them with dabs of paste. Then I made my Christmas cards, decorating them with bits and pieces of potpourri and white ribbon, all attached with more of the paste. I placed them on my desk to dry overnight, leaving the bowl of leftover paste to clean the following morning.
Just before bedtime, we had hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies while Mom pulled out her Christmas book and read,
‘Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse …
I tingled with anticipation as she said the words aloud. When Mom tucked me in bed that night, I whispered, “Don’t peek. I have Christmas secrets drying on my desk.”
“I won’t,” she said, smiling, and kissed my forehead.
Suddenly, around midnight, I was awakened by a rustling noise. Moonlight filtered through my bedroom curtains, but I couldn’t see anything in the room. Frightened, I sprang from the bed and headed for my parents’ bedroom.
“Come quick!” I shouted. “There’s something in my room!”
Dad jumped out of bed. “Stay here with your mother,” he whispered.
Soon we heard Dad laughing uproariously. We all raced to my bedroom and saw Dad holding a pudgy brown mouse full of paste, paper, and potpourri. “This noisy little creature has been helping himself to quite the midnight snack,” he said, chuckling.
“He’s so stuffed with Christmas joy he couldn’t run away!”
At first, I wasn’t amused—my paper chains and Christmas cards were ruined! But when Dad freed the mouse on the back porch and we all watched it waddle away, even I couldn’t help but laugh.
The next day, Dad surprised me with a store-bought jar of paste. I was able to quickly complete my Christmas crafts.
Since then, every Christmas season when someone recites Clement Clarke Moore’s poem and gets to the line, “Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse,” I smile to myself and fondly remember a little brown mouse that indeed was stirring:
Stuffing itself with Christmas joy. ❖