In the early 1960s I made a "gingerbread" house, probably about three-quarter-inch scale and quite primitive by today's standards. For close to fifty years I got it out every once in a while during the holidays.
Our Christmas decorations during the first four years of our marriage were two little ceramic angels that I purchased at a Woolworth’s in downtown Lubbock for our first Christmas. Our first little honeymoon trailer was quite small, so a tree wasn't even feasible, even if we could have afforded one during those college years. However, for our second Christmas, I made a red net Christmas tree like a larger one that my mother-in-law had. It was made by doubling and gathering long strips of red net and stringing them in successively smaller circles on a piece of coat hanger. Trimmed with tiny red balls, it was quite festive.
For the first Christmas in El Paso I added to those meager decorations the elves that I made just before our daughter Dana was born. It was two or three years after we moved to El Paso when Dana was big enough to know about Santa Claus, that we got our first live tree. Except for two or three boxes of colored balls and some lights, she and I made all its decorations that year.
It was such fun that I decided to make a gingerbread house. It was the early 60’s, while we were putting me through college on my husband's teacher’s salary, and all I had to work with was a small cardboard box and a few different colors of poster paint.
I painted the box with brown poster paint to suggest gingerbread. With a butcher knife I cut windows on either side of the door and at either end of the house, and a circular one above the doorway. The window panes were berry baskets painted white and turned so that they were on the diagonal. The shutters were simply pieces of cardboard painted white, and the door was outlined with paper strips.
All that I could afford to purchase was one cellophane package of six Christmas cane ornaments designed to hang on the Christmas tree and one package of little cardboard snowmen with brooms. I had a few trees already that I had used with the elves, and cut a bit of batting from our Christmas tree skirt for the snow, but everything else I had to make.
I rummaged through my sewing basket and jewelry box (what jewelry did I have in those days! lol) looking for anything that could suggest candy, but without luck. I did find several corks in the kitchen junk drawer, and figured I could cut them up for lollipops and gumdrops. In the bathroom closet, I found a box of Epsom salts, the remainder of what my husband had used in hot water to soak his badly twisted ankle in Lubbock. Aha! Sugar! Cut into different shapes, painted with my daughter's poster paint and rolled in Epsom Salts (who nowadays would even know what Epsom Salts is!), those cork slices made lollipops, sugared gumdrops and lozenges!
I painted the flat cork slices bright colors and poked in cut toothpicks for handles.
While the gumdrops were still wet with paint, I dipped them into some of the Epsom salts.
I had enough cork slices for eight lollipops and eight sugared gumdrops to go over the doorway and at each window.
(One gumdrop has been lost over the years.)
The roof was also made from cardboard, given a coat of white poster paint and scored and folded down the middle.
I lined the inside of the house with white paper and made a small fireplace out of cardboard and paper, using the same type of felt flames and stockings as I had with the elves’ fireplace. It was set against the back wall so that it was visible through the left window.
The Christmas tree was a small paper cone covered with green felt and garlanded with leftover gold trim, a few straight pins and sequins, and beads left from our ornament making. I set the tree inside the house so that it would be visible through the right front window.
The finished Christmas gingerbread house sat on a snowy cotton base, its roof also covered with some of the batting. The trees were poked into the batting here and there, and the little cardboard snowmen were placed by the doorway and next to the trees, happily holding their brooms. It looked really neat, we thought, and we used it for many Christmases while the children were growing up.
I came across these pictures as I was looking through family photos recently. I was doing some scrapbook pages a few years ago and decided to take pictures of the old cardboard box gingerbread house. When I got it out, I had to throw away the batting, which had turned the color of butterscotch after almost fifty years. The little house and the other items still looked fairly good, considering its age and strange provenance.
Now my oldest grandson Joshua, Dana's oldest, is 29 years old, and the youngest, Laura, Jeffrey's daughter, is a sophomore in high school!
I plan to make a shadow box especially for those little snowmen. Last week I passed the cardboard house on to someone else for her grandchildren, since neither of my children wanted it, and it still survives in this story and these pictures.
After all, we can't keep everything.