Lansing families share long-held holiday traditions

John Todd and Jennifer Montague at the piano in Todd’s farmhouse on Davis Road in Lake Ridge some time in the late 1970s. The Todds, the Bills and the Montagues have been gathering to sing carols on every Christmas since 1973.
John Todd and Jennifer Montague at the piano in Todd’s farmhouse on Davis Road in Lake Ridge some time in the late 1970s. The Todds, the Bills and the Montagues have been gathering to sing carols on every Christmas since 1973.
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The winter holidays create a space for family and friends to come together, and they provide a structure of services, meals and parties for people who see each other every day or once a year to renew their friendships.

Some evoke a sense of warmth.

“One of my favorite traditions is the Christmas Eve gathering after mass at All Saints for a dish to pass, caroling and a warm sense of community,” Beth Hogan said. “The beautiful voices of Chuck Benson and his sons and their families. The delicious pork loins roasted by Dave Hatfield, assorted other Christmas favorites from many of our wonderful families. It is a lovely celebration of love and community.”

Some provoke laughter.

“Hands down, my favorite memory was a Christmas pageant in the Benson barn,” Julia Berens said. “The baby Jesus [a doll] is dropped from the hayloft only to be snatched by a goat. Justin saved the day by wrestling the baby Jesus from the goat’s mouth to put in the manger, and the whole show barely missed a beat.”

And some invoke a tradition that borders on a duty.

In 1973, three Lake Ridge families found themselves staying home for Christmas.

My parents, Lorne and Carolyn Montague, had moved their four children from the Buffalo area to Fenner Road in 1967 so that Lorne could transition from NYSEG lineman to power plant operator for the planned Bell Station. They promptly had two more children, twin boys born in 1968.

In 1971, Tom and Elsie Todd and their five children moved from Dryden to a farmhouse on Davis Road and erected two long barns – one built to raise 30,000 chickens from chick to layer and the other constructed to hold 30,000 laying chickens with the specialized conveying equipment needed to collect their eggs.

Nelson and Barbara Bills and their three children had settled on Davis Road in 1973, moving here from Michigan so Nelson could take a job at Cornell as an agricultural economist.

The Montagues couldn’t get to Buffalo, the Bills weren’t going to Michigan, and the Todds had 60,000 chickens to keep an eye on.

So, Elsie suggested that the three families gather their 14 children in the Todd farmhouse on Christmas Day for dinner. When dinner was done, and everyone had had a nap, Elsie herded everyone into the parlor, where she sat down at the piano and played a few bars. Sheet music was passed from hand to hand, and they sang.

The children there that night grew up, went off to school, got married and had children. Those children grew up, went off to school, got married and had children.

Each generation has roamed the farmyard, played basketball in the hay barn, “Duck-Duck-Goose” on the lawn, and hide and seek among the fields and trees.

They learned to gather eggs and had the unnerving experience of being stared at by 30,000 chickens in the pullet barn. They swam together down at the lake and shot off fireworks on the Fourth.

People brought back significant others for review by the families and families went to the weddings. The numbers grew and sometimes shrank as some people left, some forever.

And on Christmas Day of 2019, some 46 years after those first carols, Elsie warmed up on the piano and then sent Carolyn’s great grandson out among those same people chatting and eating to bring them back into the parlor for a few songs.

In Brief:

Rotarians’ Grocery Run Benefits Food Bank

John Lokomec was the winner of the Lansing-Ithaca Rotary Club’s fourth annual holiday “Grocery Store Run” to benefit the Lansing Food Pantry.
Lokomec made his dash through the Lansing Market Dec. 18 to gather holiday needs, but he also donated the majority of his winnings back to the food bank, according to Kathryn Mapes of the Rotarians. Mapes said that 1 in 5 residents of New York state is considered to be “food insecure.”

Coffee, conversation, connection at library

The Lansing Community Library will host “Coffee, Conversation, Connection,” a meeting for parents who are overwhelmed, frustrated or exhausted by their children’s struggles with social, emotional or behavioral health on Jan. 14 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Serena Ward of Racker will host the family-led discussion and conversation in partnership with Family Navigators, Racker and Lansing Central School District.

Light refreshments and beverages will be served. For more information, or to reserve a spot, call Ward at 607-592-0486 or email her at serenaw@racker.org.

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