Kevin O’Keefe recently posted a wintry photo of his hometown La Crosse, WI. As noted there, it looked like a photo on a Christmas card. I thought the photo was particularly apropos given that it was over 70 degrees in most of the country on Christmas Day. (It’s snowing in Dallas this morning, wishing for the 70 degrees to come back.)

Screen Shot 2015-12-24 at 1.38.08 PMCheck out this wonderful wintry shot of downtown La Crosse during this afternoon’s snow shower.
Looks like a Christmas card!
Thanks to Bob Good for the pic. — with Vanessa Alvarado and Bob Good.

That caused me to think over Christmas Eve about how different the world I live in now is from the world I grew up in during the 50s and early 60s in Lombard, Illinois. I’m writing this right before our family heads out to the Christmas Eve service.

When I was growing up, five of us lived in a three bedroom house with one bathroom, no air conditioning (only a window fan). We weren’t poor by any stretch, but we lived more simply than I have lived since.

Maybe I am one of many whose parents, raised during the depression, and whose fathers fought in WW2 always believed their children’s lives would be better.

My mother, a chemist and later a school teacher, planned supper (that’s what we called it) each night such that every Monday might be hot dogs and baked beans, every Tuesday might be a casserole and so forth. I believe one night a week we ate breakfast items. We always knew what we would be having for dinner based on the day of the week.

We very rarely ate in a restaurant. When I was young, we ate at a nice restaurant maybe once a year. My parents must have done better as I was growing up since we started eating out for each person’s birthday. Each of the five of us got to pick the restaurant.

I remember as a teenager, we started dining at The Homestead, owned by Colonel Ricketts, a gentleman for whom my father had created all of his signage. It was really fancy. I believe I had to wear a coat and tie.

When Nancy and I announced our engagement and I headed back to Richmond, Virginia for law school, my father took Nancy to The Homestead. I think he wanted to warn her about how my mother might feel about someone marrying “her boy.”

As I was thinking about this on Christmas Eve, I did a Google search. I found this website: Remembrance of Restaurants Past: Horwath’s. In the comments, several people mentioned The Homestead. Here is one that caught my eye:

I never ate at Horwath’s, but I sure remember that sign and its mystique. Nice description and history of the place. I remember eating at the Homestead on North Avenue, but I don’t think its history went back as far. The martinis at the Homestead were big enough for a goldfish to live comfortably. Now there is housing for seniors there. I know many people lamented its demise. A senior said to me “now there is nowhere to go for a good meal.”

I’m not sure I ever drank a martini at The Homestead, because at this point I can’t remember dining there when I was over 21.

If you read my Christmas post from 2013: Have You Ever Spent Christmas Away From Family?,  you may recall that when I was a teenager, we started a family tradition.

After church on Christmas Eve, we went to a restaurant known for its baked onion soup. After a couple of years, my father started creating his own version. He took great pride in his recipe. He created it each year until he passed away on December 20, 1980, our saddest Christmas ever.

This year we bought some baked onion soup at Costco. After church, we decided it would just not be the same as my father’s made from scratch. Instead, during the day, I smoked the Costco Kirkland Seasonal Rack of Pork on the Big Green Egg. It was awesome. If Costco continues to provide it during the Christmas season, you never know…maybe it will become a new family tradition.

What are your memories of Christmas in your old home town? Are there some family traditions you continue today?