Snippets of Bay Village History: An original Cahoon Christmas story featuring Lydia Cahoon
Our house sits on a bluff above Lake Erie next to a little creek. The horse and cow barns are on a small rise south of the house. The well and smoke house sit between the house and the barn. Grandfather, Joseph Cahoon, and our Pa, Joel, built our house in 1818 using timber cut in our saw mill on the creek.
Grandfather Cahoon was a miller. He built a grist mill and mill pond behind our house near the creek. Our Pa farms the land and part of the land is planted as a grape vineyard. The year is 1853. My name is Lydia Cahoon and I, along with my Mom, Pa, brothers and sisters live here on the farm. Christmas is coming and we are all excited for the socializing and good will that will soon take place. Today is a special day because Mom is baking Christmas cookies.
And so the day begins: Lydia jumps out of the feather bed she shares with her two sisters. Her feet hit the cold floor boards. She lifts her dress off the peg hanging on the wall and quickly dresses. Pouring water into a crockery wash bowl, she wipes her face. She combs her hair. Looking out the window she can see Pa and Thomas already coming back from the barn after feeding the livestock. They have milked the cows and are carrying the morning milk in a bucket.
Without waking her sleeping sisters, Lydia tiptoes down the staircase next to the fireplaces that warm the house. The house is quiet now, but she knows very soon everyone will be up and a busy day will begin. It is always a happy time preparing special foods, making gifts, and having visits from aunts, uncles and cousins at Christmas time.
As Lydia enters the country kitchen, she sees Mother already busy at the big black iron stove. The stove makes the room warm and cozy. “Today we are going to make cookies,” Mother exclaims. “Let’s make cutout cookies,” Lydia offers.
After the morning meal has been eaten and the table cleared and scrubbed, Mother turns to her cupboard and removes a box of metal objects. When she sorts them out on the scrubbed tabletop, they become a row of metal shapes formed into birds, horses' heads, moons, stars and hearts. Lydia hurries into the pantry and brings out maple sugar, which has been boiled until it crystallized. Before anything else can be done, the maple sugar has to be broken into pieces and pounded into a loose powder that can be mixed with the flour, fresh butter and cream of tarter according to the recipe.
In the pantry, Mother finds the spice box. In it is clove, cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger spice, each in its own compartment. A crock of apple molasses for dark tang, color and sweetness is set on the table. The molasses and spice will become the flavoring for the cookies. When the portions of dough have been rolled, Lydia and her sisters take turns with the cookie cutters and setting the cookies on the metal trays for the oven.
When all the cookies have been prepared, Mother takes the leftover dough and rolls out a big rectangle and says to Lydia, “Put your hand down on the dough and spread out your fingers.” Using a blunt bread and butter knife, Mother traces around Lydia’s hand until a hand has been cut into the dough. Next she cuts out a small heart from the middle of the hand print. She lifts the hand up and onto a metal tray. Then Mother lifts the heart shape and lays it next to the hand, and says, “This is hand and heart. It stands for friendship.” Each of the girls take turns making her hand and placing her cookie on the metal tray. When the last cookies are placed into the oven, darkness has fallen and the candles and oil lamps lit. It is time for supper.
Bedtime has arrived. Lydia hangs up her dress on a peg and pulls her nightgown over her head. Soon the holidays will be here and all the work will be done. She crawls into bed under her handmade quilt. The hot coals of the fireplaces are swept back by the brick walls to keep for tomorrow. The little house sleeps. With thoughts of family holidays ahead, Lydia soon falls fast asleep, snug in her bed in the little farmhouse in Dover Township.
I am the Historian for the Bay Village Historical Society. Member and Past President of the society. Lived in the village since 1936.