There are eighteen grandchildren with a memory of Santa coming by every Christmas Eve.
They would sit on his knee and and tell him what they wanted for Christmas and be rewarded with a bag containing an orange and a box of Cracker Jacks. Simple things. Building blocks of love. As the grandchildren grew older, they would learn which was Santa's bad knee and avoid it.
My father-in-law had some tough times. He grew up in St. Paul during its infamous gangster era and had a vivid recollection of Van Meter - part of the "Second Dillinger Gang" being shot to death in his neighborhood. The press snapped photos of children looking down on the body until neighbors finally brought out blanket and covered the man.
At about age 10, work was scarce. He lost his father at a young age and his mother was scraping by. Word came to her that there was work to be had in St. Paul for one of the older children. So she told my father-in-law to hop a train (yes, hop a train - no ticket) and go to Bemidji (up north about five hours) to bring home his brother who was working at a lumber camp. He did so.
With all of those tough times, he was an optimist. He worked two jobs, put dinner on the table for a family of 11 and never complained. If my husband would make a remark about a challenge in his job he would always reply, "Isn't it great? You're working!"
I am grateful that both my mother-in-law and father-in-law were such great storytellers. I have precious glimmers into the world they grew up in. He always called his children (and children-in-laws) on their birthdays and sang "Happy Birthday" to them. We have the recording on our answering machine from this past August. But the Santa legacy is one for the ages. And if Santa is your legacy, you carved out a beautiful life for yourself.
He called his wife "Duchess" and she called him "Alphonse." He promised her he would wait until after she passed and join her soon after. And he was as good as his word. Nine weeks after Duchess left us, Alphonse soon followed. It was one week before what would have been their 63rd wedding anniversary. I don't think he wanted to celebrate it without her. And the date of Alphonse's birthday? Christmas Eve of course.
"Alphonse" loved brats, bacon and beef. And he ate his fill well into his nineties. This one's for you, Alphonse!
Steak with Mustard Butter (from David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen which I highly recommend you put on a "wish list.")
2 8-ounce ribeye steaks (or your favorite steak - I've done this with sirloin NY strips)
1/2 teaspoon hickory-smoked salt, sea salt or kosher salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
1 teaspoon cilantro or flat-leaf parsely
Vegetable oil or clarified butterFreshly-ground pepper
2 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1 generous Dijon mustard
Butter + steak? Overkill? No! Very, very French! And deliciously simple.
1. Pat the steaks dry and rub them with the salt, chipotle powder and cilantro. Refrigerate uncovered for 1-8 hours.
2. In a small bowl mash the butter with the dry butter and Dijon mustard. Shape into two small balls and chill on a plastic-lined plate.
3. Heat a little oil or clarified butter in a grill pan or cast-iron skillet and cook the steaks over high heat (searing on each side) until done to your liking. (Rare: 5-7 minutes each side for a guide.)
4. Put steaks on plates. Top with the knob of mustard-butter and freshly-ground peppers.
5. Watch the butter ooze into and around the steaks.
Missing both of them and thankful they have been a large part of my life. Very thankful. Happy Thanksgiving.