The holidays are all about traditions, and one annual tradition in Mister Boomer’s family was to visit family friends in the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Mister B saw his grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on a practically weekly basis, and it goes without saying that Mister B’s family would be with relatives on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day; the rest of the week, however, was reserved for friends. Mister Boomer’s father, like most boomer fathers, spent decades at his job. That afforded him the opportunity to make many long-term friendships. Most of the visits Mister B would make with his parents were to the houses of these friends.
Often these people had boomer kids of their own, and Mister B and his siblings met some of them at his father’s annual company picnics. Nonetheless, many were either not interested in talking with the Boomer family kids or were old enough to be out the night the family visited. That meant Mister B and his siblings could spend their time watching TV, admiring the Christmas tree and decorations, and most importantly for Mister B, taste any and all goodies that were displayed for the visit.
Mister B looked forward to visiting a few of them, all for different reasons. One couple, whose children were grown and on their own, were beer-drinking, loud-talking, heavy smokers. What Mister B liked about them was they were extremely kind to the kids, and had a plethora of cookies and candies available. On one memorable visit, the woman asked Mister B and his siblings if they wanted her son’s comic books. He had moved out of the house, and she insisted that he did not want them any more. The Boomer kids went home with over 100 comics, ranging from Superman and Batman to Donald Duck; Richie Rich and Casper to Archie. They especially became treasures of Mister B, until a few years later when a flood deposited four feet of water in the Boomer family’s basement and the comics were ruined.
Many of his parents’ friends, like his parents, were either immigrants themselves or first-generation Americans, their parents having come over from the old country just before the War. One such couple lived a block away from the comic-gifting couple. Mister B always enjoyed a visit to their house. It was an old craftsman-style home and their Christmas tree was always decorated in old ornaments that had the look of family heirlooms. You would not see an aluminum tree or mini-lights in their house; traditional large, tear-drop bulbs and a tasteful amount of tinsel was the order of the day. Circling around the base of their tree was a train. In short, it was a classic Christmas scene. The family was Polish, and their treats were sublime.
Two other family friends that Mister B looked forward to visiting were a German family and a Japanese family. Mister B did not get the full story about their backgrounds, but did learn years later that the German man and woman were brought to this country by their parents to escape the Nazis just before World War II. Their kids were older by the time Mister B and his siblings went on visits. The Japanese couple, on the other hand, were very Americanized and most likely were born here. The best memories Mister B has of each has to do with food.
The German woman was an expert cake baker. Mister B recalls two of her memorable cakes: German chocolate and carrot cake. As a youngster, he had not previously tasted either, and they were a revelation. The carrot cake in particular was so delectable that Mister B has been chasing the flavor ever since. No one has been able to measure up to her cake, with its toasted walnuts and delicious cream cheese frosting. Mister B had no idea that neither cake was particularly German. In fact, a recipe for German chocolate cake was circulated — and became popular — by Baker’s Chocolate in the late 1950s, which was the time Mister B ate his first slice.
As with the German family, the Japanese family’s kids were not around when Mister B’s family arrived. A visit to their home really was a visit to another culture. It was here that Mister B tasted his first seaweed cookie. It possessed a crumbly texture that was familiar as a cookie, but laced through the dough was savory and slightly salty seaweed that made the cookie a unique experience. Mister B recalls both he and his sister really enjoyed the taste. This couple was always happy to see the Boomer kids, and extremely pleased that the kids enjoyed the seaweed cookies. When Sister Boomer asked the woman a little more about her culture, she told them a couple of stories and gave them a book that a first grader would use to learn Japanese. Mister B recalls seeing it around the house for many years, but does not know what ultimately happened to the book. He hopes his sister still has it in her possession, as it would be fun to translate the Japanese version of Dick and Jane with the help of the internet.
Did your family pay holiday visits to friends, boomers? Did it broaden your culinary tastes?