So many memories crowded in around me as I visited Baltimore recently. We had taken our grandson to the Maryland Zoo, and I knew it was close to where my grandmother lived when I was a kid. I remembered the name of her street which was only a block long. Using dueling GPS’s, the two guys in the car found the location. It was sad to see the block so run-down, and truthfully, I can’t be sure which house was hers.
But that doesn’t dampen the memories of driving there from our house in DC to see grandma. Especially memorable were her Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. She didn’t actually do the cooking. There was always a maid in the kitchen deep into holiday food preparation. We’d have all the usual treats: turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, and stuffing. As a kid, I never understood why one bowl of stuffing was always so wet. Now that I’m the cook, I know it’s because it was actually in the turkey. On the table there was always a bowl of celery sticks with the leaves still on. I suppose that was a sop to healthy eating.
From an early age, I liked the dark meat best. They’d take some of the meat off a turkey leg and give me the rest to chomp on—sometimes while running around the house. And while the adults were still relaxing at the table, we kids would climb underneath and crawl around on the crosspieces of the table legs. Then we’d come up for air to have cookies and pie.
In CHRISTMAS SPIRIT, my holiday romantic suspense, I’ve tried to recreate the holiday atmosphere from those long-ago dinners. Only because I’m writing fiction, I can make it even better. Well, not at the beginning, where my heroine Chelsea Caldwell sees a ghost on the road when she’s out picking up Christmas decorations for her aunt.
Ghosts and murder take up a fair amount of the book. But when my hero and heroine aren’t sparring about the reality of the supernatural, they’re enjoying the holiday spirit at Aunt Sophie’s B&B, the House of the Seven Gables. I had so much fun designing the Christmas decorations—garlands adorned with Eastern Shore ducks and a stunning tree that my hero and heroine decorate together. I put lots of glitter on it—and lights. That was always a sore point for me as a kid. Because my mother had heard about Christmas tree fires burning down people’s houses, we couldn’t have anything electric on ours. You’d better believe that when I grew up, the first tree I decorated had lots of lights.
I’m sure you have a ton of holiday memories, and if you’re a writer, you put them in your books. What are some of your favorite traditions that you still enjoy?