Holiday Memories: In and Out of the Ebell

By Laura Foti Cohen (December 2012)

Holiday memories are better when they’re shared. And our members look back with joy, whether it’s on days from childhood, recent dinners with family or the very special feeling at the Ebell this time of year.

Life Member Dennee Frey says, “My mother always did Christmas in a big way. We weren’t well-to-do but she made Christmas warm. My brother was a choirboy at our church in Harrisburg. It was a pre-Revolutionary War church and we would go there for Christmas Eve and have a lobster dinner with my grandparents.”

More recently, Dennee says, “When I first joined the Ebell in 1994 and for a number of years thereafter, the Citrus College Concert Choir performed at the Holiday Ball. That’s one of my fondest memories of holidays at the Ebell. When they sang ‘The Little Drummer Boy,’ there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.”

She adds, “When you mentioned the Ebell and holidays, I thought immediately about Kate Nunes [who died this summer]. She was involved in so many Christmases at Ebell. She chaired or co-chaired so many Balls and made such beautiful arrangements. The first time my husband came to the Ball with me, he fell in love with the nutcrackers in the centerpieces and Kate gave him one. We bring it out every Christmas.”

Yvonne Auerbach also equates Christmas at the Ebell with Kate Nunes. She says, “Most of the Christmas Balls I attended I sat with Kate because she was a special friend. My family is small, and the one thing I usually do to celebrate the holidays is go the Ball. I’m looking forward to it again this year, but I will miss Kate and her contributions to it.”

Membership chair Evelyn “Sparkle” Toliver calls herself “the Christmas girl” of her family. For nine years, she has been “responsible for Christmas. I start with brunch at 12:00 and people stay until 9:00. We include people from out of town who have nowhere else to go, so I meet as many as 15 new people on Christmas.

“Last year my dad was in the hospital, so it was hard. It was the first time he hadn’t spent Christmas Day with us and made me realize you really have to cherish every moment. He will be with me this year and I’m so excited. My parents have been married more than 50 years and that’s a miracle. I’m very blessed that I’ve had my parents my whole life.”

Her favorite Ebell holiday memory? “Last year’s Christmas luncheon at the Ebell. I had gone to one before but I didn’t really know people that well. Last year I noticed people were reaching out to others, walking around and introducing themselves. The Chorale did a great job. When the tree is all lit up in the room and everyone gets dressed up, the Ebell is so beautiful.”

Brenda Chandler Cooke, a native of Memphis, is the kind of person who calls you “sweetie” and makes you smile. Of her childhood she says, “My mother always decorated so beautifully. We went to my grandmother’s on Christmas Eve, then Christmas morning we were with immediate family, then in the afternoon back to grandmother’s. It was food, family and friends.”

These days, food, family and friends are still the focus of the holidays. Brenda says, “I take my nine grandchildren to Supper with Santa and we have the best time ever. We’ve been doing it for 10 years, maybe longer. They love making the crafts. It’s a great place for the kids to sit on Santa’s lap and give him their Christmas list.”

At home, Brenda says, she decorates “to bring the little ones all the joy – they’re so excited by everything.” She has a candy table with nutcrackers, gingerbread houses, gingerbread trains and a silver compote filled with chocolates and peppermints. (She offers this tip: “Bristol Farms has the best gingerbread houses.”) A dessert table is fully stocked. Of course, first they have to eat their vegetables!

Carrie Perry first came to the Ebell as a temp. “I was a receptionist sent to the Ebell by an agency and they had to give me a bonus to get me to go outside the downtown area.” Once she got here, she was hooked: “I’ve celebrated so many Christmases at the Ebell, and happily so.

“My first or second year, I volunteered my services with Ann Bloxsom at Supper with Santa. June Bilgore did the balloons with one of her sons, and Sandy, Fluff McLean’s husband, was our Santa Claus. We called him ‘Santy.’ The children looked so beautiful, the girls in their taffeta and velvet dresses, the boys in their ties, so well-mannered and polite. About a half hour into it they were running wild, popping the balloons and having a ball.

“The employee Christmas party every year was outstanding. We exchanged gifts and had such a wonderful time mingling together,” she adds.

Carrie is a native Chicagoan. “My parents and sister and I lived with my aunt, uncle and two first cousins. We were in a bungalow with four bedrooms and the two families lived together until I was going into high school and my parents bought a house down the street. We kids were inseparable. We believed in Santa until we were 12 or 13. We always had good Christmases. Even if it was snowing we didn’t mind – I would play with my dollhouse or the game of pretend, which is still alive and well with me.”

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