It all started in the summer of ’57 when 11-year-old Susan made friends with her good neighbor, Mrs. Julius Strasberger, who was recruiting kids for a camp in town.
Turns out, Mrs. S. “took a liking” to Susan (who went to that camp for five summers in a row). And for some reason that Susan does not recall, her neighbor knitted her a Christmas stocking that year.
After Christmas of 1957 when that first stocking was hung by the mantel with care, Mrs. Strasberger began making stockings for Susan’s three older siblings — JoAnn, Howard and John.
She made one for Susan’s dad, Howard, but her mom, Florence, declined the offer. Mom was a bit attached to the stocking she already had — a black, high-heeled boot trimmed with pearls, ribbons and tulle.
When the siblings all married, the new spouses received similar stockings.
“As the siblings had children, Mrs. S. would knit a stocking for them. She got to a point where she was too old to do it, so my mother had another friend knit the stockings. … There was a time where I lived in Atlanta, and had just had Mitch. … I wanted to continue the stocking thing. I had one for me, for my husband, and I wanted one for Mitch,” Susan said.
She found a woman in North Georgia, who sent her a photo of her work, and the stocking was identical to some of the ones she already had. “The one with the chimney,” Susan noted.
Flash forward to last year.
Susan happened to come across a Facebook photo from her nephews’ holiday gathering … and what to her wondering eyes should appear?
Fanned out on the floor were several similarly designed knitted stockings.
“And I thought, ‘holy cow … I didn’t know they had continued this tradition!'”
It turns out that these darn stockings kept multiplying — the nieces and nephews kept the tradition going.
All unbeknownst to Susan.
Now, there are four generations of stockings — for Susan’s dad, her siblings, nieces and nephews, and great-nieces and great-nephews.
There are 60 stockings in all, scattered around the country — Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Kentucky and Georgia.
And Susan called them all home to Wheeling — just for the sake of a photograph and this Weelunk story — although 12 of them didn’t make it home to the “mothership” for their photo op.
Some have jingle bells attached … those are from the lady from Georgia; lots of them have Santa coming out of a chimney; there’s a “Grinch” green stocking (a laundry mishap); some are moth-eaten or discolored.
“Look at this poor pathetic thing,” Susan said, pointing out her oldest nephew Craig’s stocking. His is one of the originals, she noted. “It’s a little worse for wear.”
“I told the kids … get yourself a new stocking this year,” she said.
Besides the full-size stocking for Mitch, there’s a tiny stocking, knit by Susan’s mother-in-law, Nan Haddad, when he was born.
“We’ve always hung the baby one on the tree,” she said.
“I love the chimney … I’m partial to mine with the big Santa Claus face, but I do like the chimney, so I’m glad they kept with that,” and she noted, “The oddball stockings are the oddball kids!”
SOCK IT TO HER
Does the Later Alligator proprietor have any other holiday traditions?
“I didn’t even know I had that one!” she exclaimed.
As a kid, Susan recalls getting “the weirdest things for Christmas, but I didn’t think they were that weird at the time.” Other traditions she decided to keep “safe inside her memory box” … and not give away any family secrets. She did point out that her mother was way ahead of the times — in the early 1950s, Florence had the outdoor evergreens all lit up.
“About the only thing we’ve ever done as a tradition … we always had red socks. I started that after I got married. We’d put on our red socks on Christmas day,” she said. They started out as the red wool hiker variety, but stepped into Christmas-themed socks as the years went on.
“Just yesterday, I found some of these socks… Christmas socks. Santa coming out of chimney,” she said.
THE STOCKINGS WERE HUNG …
Susan went to great lengths to stage the family stockings for this photograph. She went to Lowe’s to get a couple of long pipes, tacked them up in front of the picture window at the Sandscrest Conference and Retreat Center, (which, coincidentally, her mother-in-law ran for years), trimmed the display with holly berries, and she even brought toothpaste to fill the holes she may have made.
At the end of the interview, she packed them all up and dashed them off to their rightful owners.
Just in time for Christmas Eve so that they could be hung by their chimneys — with care.
What’s your favorite holiday tradition? Share it here!
• Having spent nearly 38 years as reporter, bureau chief, lifestyles editor and managing editor at The Times Leader, and design editor at The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register, Phyllis Sigal now serves as Weelunk’s managing editor. She lives in Wheeling with her husband Bruce Wheeler. Along with their two children, son-in-law and two grandchildren, food, wine, travel, theater and music are close to their hearts.