Laughing At Old Family Christmas Photos

While I am sure that our children will someday poke great fun at photos from this year’s Christmas, I can’t help but share a couple of my favorite funny Christmas photos from my own childhood.

My grandma, with cigarette in hand, on Christmas or Christmas Eve. This photo must have been taken in the late1960s or early 1970s, at their home in Santa Fe Springs, California.

My beloved Grandma sure did love cat eye glasses…I have many photos and memories of her in this stylish eye wear. And don’t you just love the lit cigarette dangled between two fingers while she sat next to the Christmas tree opening gifts?…blowing secondhand smoke at the grandchildren surrounding her.

Christmas Sean and Ronnie
Another early 1970s Christmas at Grandma’s house. My brother Sean and cousin Ron.

And this big sister just can’t pass up the opportunity to laugh at my baby brother and cousin — even though, at that age, they had no say whatsoever in how their parents chose to dress them. At least my parents only subjected my brother Sean to footie pajamas with a big hole in the big toe. Poor Cousin Ronnie (I mean, Ron — he is a grown-up now!) is still traumatized from all the horrid 1970s baby leisure suits my aunt and uncle used to dress him in for special occasions.

Christmas Traditions: Betty Greene’s Christmas Treats

Christmas, 1974, in South Bend, Indiana.  Dad, mom, me (front left) and Gregg.
The 70’s were not a stylish time in Indiana.  And how fortunate are we today to have instant digital cameras that immediately let you know the picture is off center and you need to re-take it?

Growing up, my mom, brother and I always made iced pretzels and decorated sugar cookies to give as gifts to our friends and neighbors.  Iced pretzels were quite easy (see our recipe at our food blog The Taste Place), but the Christmas cookies were a major production.  In fact, I think my mom started doing the iced pretzels to take up space on the gift plates so we wouldn’t have to make as many cookies!

Maybe some day we’ll post the recipe we used for the sugar cookies, but you had to set aside at least one full day, if not parts of two.  We would make the dough, and then had to let it rest for at least an hour, to let it get solid and easier to handle.  Then came rolling them out on the floured table, and pressing with the cookie cutters.  We had Christmas trees, reindeer, Santa, stockings, bells, stars, and candy canes, and each batch of dough was like doing a jigsaw puzzle as we tried to make the various shapes fit in together as closely as possible to leave as little excess dough in between as we could.  Once the dough cut-outs were lifted out and put on greased cookie sheets and put in the oven, you would re-roll the excess dough (at least the excess dough that Gregg and I didn’t pop into our mouths when mom wasn’t looking) and do it again.  This part could take several hours, as we would do somewhere around a hundred altogether.

If we did this on a Saturday afternoon, then Saturday after dinner would be the decorating.  Or if we did it Saturday night, we’d decorate Sunday after church.  This was the most fun part.  We would make a simple icing with powdered sugar, milk, and food coloring, and always had white, red, green, and yellow bowls to use.  Then we also had red and green colored sugars, cinnamon red hots, and sometimes the multi-colored sprinkle balls to further decorate with.

We always started out working on every cookie like a piece of art, painstakingly icing each one, using multiple colors of icing on a single cookie, and drawing designs on them using toothpicks like a fine tipped paintbrush for accents on Santa’s clothing or the stockings, or the reindeer’s facial features.  But after the first few dozen, things tended to get sloppy as the novelty wore off and the latter cookies tended to be mono-chromatic with a random shake or two of sprinkles on it.

Mom working on the cookie decorating.
Notice the elaborate cookies on the left, versus the slapped together versions on the right…

We’d then deliver our plates of cookies and pretzels door to door to some of our closer neighbors, and I know my mom took them to her Bible Study friends as well.

I did the decorated cookies with the kids for years, but more recently with Colleen we’ve done the less labor intensive, but still very pleasing other treats to give to friends–peppermint bark, Missouri cookies, bourbon pecans, peanut brittle, and, of course, my mom’s easy iced pretzels!

The picture of mom above decorating cookies may be the worst of her ever, and if she were alive today, she’d probably kill me for posting it, but it’s the only pic I have of her doing Christmas cookies.  So I’m making it up to her here by posting this random picture of her looking hot.  ;-D

Flanagan Memories: Providing Christmas Without Letting The Kids Know They Were Poor

Uncle sitting on his “new” Christmas bike, with Grandpa .

I grew up with the best grandparents a kid could want. They spoiled us with little gifts, and they spoiled us even more with love and attention. I still miss them, especially around the holidays.

During interviews with my mom over the years, about her childhood and what she knows about her parents’ early lives, one comment stands out in my mind more than anything else. Mom says they (the kids) never knew that their family was poor, until they grew up. Grandma and Grandpa worked hard to hide their financial hardships and worries from their children. Especially at Christmas.

Going through old family Christmas photos this week, I came across one particular photo that always chokes me up. It’s a picture of my Grandfather, Michael John Flanagan, and his youngest child, my uncle. They are posed in front of the family Christmas tree, Grandpa (ignore the scowl, he always looked grumpy in photos even though he was full of laughter) is standing next to my Uncle, who is sitting on a new bike and wearing a big smile. The reason this photo always gets to me is because, as Mom explains, Uncle’s “new” bike really wasn’t new. There was no way Grandma and Grandpa could afford a new one. It was actually a girl’s used bike disguised as a boy’s new bike. Grandpa worked at a company that made tubing out of steel, so he used some steel tubing and turned it into a boys bike and repainted it for my Uncle.

Grandma and Grandpa lived for loving their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It must have torn them up not to be able to provide brand new bikes at Christmas. So, instead, these two Depression-era children learned how to improvise and still lavish their own children with gifts and attention. My mom, as well as my aunts and my uncle, all seem to have such fond memories of their childhood Christmases.

A Christmas Memory From Mom 

After coming across that photo of my Grandpa and Uncle again, I emailed my mom yesterday asking her what sorts of other things Grandma and Grandpa did for them to make it special for the kids when they had little or no extra money to spend on Christmas.

Mom always made clothes for each of us and clothes for our dolls every year. Every year we got new pajamas. All of our gifts were inexpensive things like games (new sets of jacks, jump ropes, crayons and coloring books, paper dolls and a few board games). Back then, other than the year all of us girls got bikes there was never a big gift for any of us, and we never as little children made a Christmas list. The year we all got bikes I think they were used bikes that Dad repainted and cleaned up. What made Christmas special was that Mom & Dad spent the entire day playing with us. We never had a big dinner that required them to spend the day cooking instead they would cook a ham and we would eat ham sandwiches on Christmas.

Anniversaries: Benjamin Robledo Died 21 Years Ago Today

Benjamin Robledo (1919-1990)

Twenty-one years ago today, on December 22, 1990, my grandfather Benjamin Robledo passed away.

Despite being my grandfather, I don’t know very much about Benjamin.  He led a hard life and just wasn’t in the lives of his children or grandchildren on any sort of consistent basis.  My last real memory of him was at my junior high graduation, and I am guessing he also attended my high school graduation.  But, although I did not know him well while he was alive, I do hope to fit together the pieces of his troubled life.

Biographical Snapshot

Benjamin “Ben” Robledo was born on May 29, 1919, in California (we think it might have been Long Beach) to Maria Nieto Robledo and Joe Robledo. I do not have a copy of his birth certificate yet — no excuse, I’ve just been too lazy to jump through all the hoops required to obtain birth records from restrictive Los Angeles County.  He spent most of his life in the Long Beach and Norwalk areas of California. I attended the funeral.

Grandpa Ben also served in the US Navy during World War II, but I’ll save that for a future post…

Benjamin Robledo & Siblings
Benjamin Robledo (far right), with two of his siblings.
Benjamin Robledo & Siblings
Benjamin Robledo (middle), with two of his siblings.

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Christmas Traditions: Maria Nieto Robledo’s Tamales

Maria Nieto Robledo (1887-1974).

Homemade tamales are a Christmas tradition in many Mexican families, and my family is no exception. I can’t remember a single childhood Christmas, and very few adulthood Christmases, without my dad making the wonderful savory tamales (with the world’s most perfect masa) that he learned how to make as a child from his Mexican-born grandmother, Maria “Nana” (Nieto) Robledo — who in turn, learned how to make them from her own mother, Maria Aurelia (Compean) Nieto.

About seven or eight years ago, my father decided to start hosting a massive extended Christmas tamale-making party for our extended Nieto and Robledo family, to carry on the memories and traditions passed down by my great-grandmother Maria Nieto.  We haven’t been able to host it the last couple years, due to recent family hardships, but this event has come to be our family’s favorite Christmas activity — and I think my entire extended family of Nieto and Robledo cousins would agree.  We laugh, cry, eat, drink and share stories about Nana and her children.  We make sure Nana won’t ever be forgotten.

If you’d like to enjoy some of our family dishes passed down or inspired by my Nana, you should try Dad’s Red Chili Sauce or our Holiday Pork Posole.

Dad makes sure the tamales get just the right amount of masa and fillings…just like Nana taught him.
We get a house full of four generations of Nietos for tamale day.

Biographical Snapshot of Maria (Nieto) Robledo

My great-grandmother, Maria Nieto, was born October 28, 1887, in the municipality of Armadillo de los Infante, located in the state of San Luis Potosi, Mexico. The village in which she was born is referenced as Tomascal in my records, but is also spelled Temascal and Temazcal in other sources. She immigrated to the United States circa 1915-1916, settled in Los Angels County, California (Long Beach, Glendale, then Norwalk), and died in 1974 (when I was a child) in Norwalk, California.

View Robledo-Greene Family History in a larger map

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Migrating My Public Family History Site Off Of TNG

Large Blog ImageAfter about 5 years of self-hosting my own TNG family history site, I have pulled the site down.  TNG is still the best family history website software I’ve ever used, but I seem to spend more time tweaking code and customizing and maintaining the site than I do on actual research.

I still have the bulk of my research on Ancestry, and share those records with select relations, but I really hate that Ancestry forces others to create a (free) Ancestry account just to be able to view my public research.  So, while I am keeping my research up on Ancestry, I am also very slowly setting up our family tree on more publicly collaborative family tree programs too.  Right now, I am testing Geni and the newly redesigned WikiTree, both of which at least allow anyone to view public profiles without creating an account.

I am setting up this blog just as a place for me to compile and share stories, research and leads that I can make public.  Since I don’t get a whole lot of time to spend on my genealogy work, don’t expect to see this blog updated very often once we get through all the visits with family over the holidays.