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Holiday Traditions from the Heart

From trains to puppets to candy, readers share warm memories and ideas

Sherry and Wendell Ingram, Owingsville, celebrated the additions of new grandchildren by expanding a train track and village. Photo: Ingram Family
The Ingrams's grandchildren, pictured below last Christmas, include Maria, 15; Max, 13; Seth, 10; twins Quinby and Stella, 8; and Ruthie, 3. Photo: Ingram Family
Photo: Ingram Family
Amanda Ballard and her youngest daughter, Evelyn, hang a homemade ornament on the tree. Ballard made the ornament from her late father’s shirts. Photo: Tim Webb
Amanda Ballard made the ornaments, shown here, from her late father, David “Hud” Mattingly’s shirts. Photo: Tim Webb
Ballard’s daughters, Sophie, Lilly and Evelyn help hang one on the tree. Photo: Tim Webb
Photo: Tim Webb
Photo: Amanda Ballard
Sylvia Braber’s son Ryan, pictured at age 4, plays with a puppet she bought in the 1980s. The puppet inspired Braber to make her own puppets to share with others. Phots: Sylvia Braber
Members of Susie Fenwick’s family donned chef’s hats and mustaches in 2019 to start a new family tradition of cooking and cookie decorating in Water Valley. Photo: Susie Fenwick
Patricia “Pat” French and daughter Toni Howard began making candy for friends and family in 2007. Photo: Vicki Hardin
Patricia “Pat” French Pat passed away in 2019, but her daughters carry on the candy making tradition. Photo: Vicki Hardin
Patricia “Pat” French Pat passed away in 2019, but her daughters carry on the candy making tradition. Photo: Vicki Hardin

The holidays are here again, and we’re sharing some reader holiday memories to kick-start the season. Kentucky Living asked you to submit your favorite family tradition built around the holidays or your favorite gifts handmade with love for friends and relatives. 

We’ve gathered five of our favorites to share with you. Enjoy, and happy holidays! 

Hear the train a-comin’ 

Sherry and Wendell Ingram, Owingsville, consumer-members of Clark Energy, welcomed their first grandchild, Maria, in 2005. And with that addition, Sherry wanted to introduce another. 

“Come that Christmas, I told my husband, ‘I want to put a train around the tree,’” Sherry recalls. “We never had done that with our two children. It was a very simple Christmas that Christmas.” 

Throughout the last 14 years, the family—and the train tradition—have grown. Wendell retired in 2017, and the train and accompanying villages “exploded from one side of the room to the other,” Sherry says. Wendell puts at least 40 hours into creating the beautiful display, and one of the best parts about the holiday is seeing the grandchildren—Maria, now 15; Max, 13; Seth, 10; twins Quinby and Stella, 8; and Ruthie, 3—react to it all each year. 

“They’re absolutely awesome,” Sherry says. “It’s just so sweet. They simply bust through the door and can’t wait to see what Papaw’s creative touch has done that year.”

But after the grandchildren get to enjoy the display, the Ingrams invite family, friends and neighbors over in January to eat sandwiches and see what’s new each year. “He doesn’t want to brag, he just wants people to see it and enjoy it.”

Wendell doesn’t have a specific brand of train or village he looks for, but wants to keep all the new additions within the same height range to keep it all in perspective. Some of his best pieces have come from peddlers’ malls and antique stores, Sherry says. “He’s like a kid in a candy shop!”

Memory ornaments 

Last Christmas, Amanda Ballard, Lebanon, made her mother, sister and brother completely new gifts that they recognized right away—no-sew, quilted ornaments from her late father’s shirts. 

“They recognized the shirts,” Ballard says. “They were shirts that he had worn quite often.” 

Her father, David “Hud” Mattingly, died in September 2018. “He was a kind and hardworking man,” she says. “He dedicated his life to his family, and we miss him more than words can say.” 

Ballard got the shirts from her mom and made sure she knew she wouldn’t get them back—at least not in the form she was used to.

Ballard says she’s not a crafty person, but found the idea for the ornaments on Pinterest. “It’s around a Styrofoam ball. You cut squares out of fabric and pin the square over to make it look like it’s quilted … If I can do it, anybody can make them.”

She says she practiced first with some Christmas fabric, but overall it was an easy way to make memorable ornaments.

Ballard says she believes making gifts by hand provides a special touch. “Store-bought can be meaningful, but I think people appreciate (handmade)—it makes it more personal.” 

Puppets of creativity and cheer 

In the 1980s, Sylvia Braber, Burkesville, a Tri-County Electric consumer-member, took her young sons to a craft fair, where she bought a couple of presents and charged her own creativity all at once. 

“I came upon these little pop-up clowns,” Braber says. “They had Styrofoam ball heads, and the simple clown popped up out of a sewing thread cone … simple, creative and a range of motion.” 

Braber supported the artist and bought a puppet for each of her boys. When she got home, she realized she could make some more using the originals as inspiration. “The idea opened my creative thoughts, and I made my boys some more—sort of a take off of characters Bert and Ernie.

“Over the years, I made other characters and gave many away as presents, donated them to libraries, classrooms and charity fundraisers, and toy drives,” she says. “The pop-up puppets’ origin is a wonderful local lady, who I wished I had known. I just adapted it with my own spin of ideas. 

“Every Christmas the pop-ups come out and have for 40-plus years.”

Christmas in “the Valley” 

“You really don’t know your family until you offer them a chef hat and a mustache,” says Susie Fenwick, Water Valley, a West Kentucky RECC consumer-member. Last year, Fenwick ordered enough chef hats and mustaches to share with the 20 family members who visit during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. 

Most everyone took her up on the offer and all ages from 2 to 88 donned the garb to build a pizza, grill a burger and ice a Christmas cookie.

“What kid doesn’t want to decorate cookies?” Fenwick says. “I don’t mind a mess.”

The menu appealed to everyone from the meat lovers to the vegetarians, she says. Even though it was an inaugural activity, “we absolutely will do it again,” she says. Some members of the family even said it was their “favorite Christmas event ever,” Fenwick recalls.

The Fenwicks live in a country house built around 1919. “It’s a working farm,” she says. “Our entertainment is our family.”

The Fenwicks live in Water Valley, which Susie shortens to “the Valley”—one of three gathering places for this part of the family, her husband’s family, each year. 

Making candy with Mom 

Patricia “Pat” French had a giving heart—and even though she passed away in January 2019, her spirit lives on through her family, especially daughters Toni Howard and Vicki Hardin. 

Beginning in 2007, Pat and Toni made it a yearly mission—that lasted the entire week before Thanksgiving— to show love to friends and family by making homemade candy, says Hardin, of Mt. Washington, a consumer-member of Salt River Electric. Pat and Toni would make candy for an entire week—from Monday morning through supper time, and then start again on Tuesday, Hardin says.

“If (Mom) wanted to thank somebody or there was somebody who just needed some support, was sick or having a hard time, she went to the kitchen,” Hardin says. “Back when they first got started, Mother wanted to make candy gifts for her friends, as she put it: the sick and the dying, people that just really needed a lift.” 

Patricia “Pat” French passed away in 2019, but her daughters carry on the candy making tradition. Photo: Vicki Hardin

Pat’s prized and favorite candy: Modjeskas, the caramel-covered marshmallow treats created in the 1880s in Louisville. 

“When they would go to make them, Mom would always be praying about it the night before: ‘Please let them set up,’” Hardin says. 

Last year and again in 2020, Hardin joined Toni to carry on the tradition and their mother’s memory. “I said, ‘I’m going to candy-make with you because I just have to do this for Mom,’” Hardin says. “I never truly appreciated the time and effort—it’s an exhausting process.”

Hardin says her mother was always proud of the candy and enjoyed watching recipients open their tins. “You’ve got to open the tin,” Hardin says. “(Mom) liked to hear the pleasure.”

The tradition has grown every year since 2007, and last year, the sisters delivered 80 tins full of candy, love and memories. “We want to expand more and look harder for those who need a lift.”

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