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Christmas at O’Dee’s

Holiday tradition gets all 15 grandchildren together
By: Teresa O'Hanlon, Special to The Placer Herald
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For Mary Pat Tormey of Rocklin, it seems like yesterday when she lived in an old Half Moon Bay farmhouse and eagerly offered to watch her baby grandson Patrick while her daughter and son-in-law took a little vacation. How hard could it be after raising her five children? Forgetting about the tall stairs in the three-story property and how difficult it was to maneuver up and down with a baby in tow, she often proclaimed “Oh dear” as she carefully carried her grandson around the house. Baby Patrick quickly learned to imitate his grandmother that holiday. “Patrick coined a new phrase and would try to say ‘Oh dear’ when he saw me, but for him it came out ‘O’Dee,’” Tormey said. So grandma became Patrick’s O’Dee and as the years passed every one of Tormey’s grandchildren came to know O’Dee as the grandma who was a joy to visit, especially at Christmastime. “Christmas was always just a lot of fun at our house,” said daughter Erin Tormey of Half Moon Bay. “There was always really good food and the place was dolled up nicely. Always a lot of people too.” Almost 20 years later, O’Dee welcomed her now 15 grandchildren and their friends for her annual early Christmas celebration in her Rocklin home. It was a day just for the younger set, filled with Secret Santa surprises, a holiday feast, a shopping spree for two needy families, and trimming O’Dee’s Christmas tree. “I only have 12 grandchildren, but I’ve adopted three others who don’t have grandparents close by,” Tormey said. “This day just has the reputation of being such a fun tradition because my grandchildren adore getting together with each other.” So earlier this month 15 grandchildren arrived in time for breakfast. The coffeecake, fruit and make-your-own yogurt sundaes proved irresistible. From the 7-year-old to the eldest at age 21, Christmas at O’Dee’s has always been very special because everyone took time to shop for two Bay Area families who needed help this Christmas. Through the Coastside Hope Christmas Bureau each grandchild learned they’d spend part of the day helping two families suffering from the economic downturn in the salmon fishing and agriculture industries. “I think quite frankly my grandchildren are more excited about getting presents for those children than they are about picking out presents for their cousins,” said Tormey who has made sure her annual Christmas get-together always includes a shopping spree for a needy family. One year the grandkids purchased gifts for migrant farm workers; another year the 15 came to the aide of an injured police officer and his family. “His wife had just given birth to twins and the babies needed to stay longer in the hospital during Christmas,” Tormey recalled. “So the fun thing was when the babies came home their picture in the Half Moon Bay Tribune showed them wrapped up in a couple of little blankets my grandkids had picked out. That was really nifty.” Granddaughter Emma Tormey, 7, of Rocklin couldn’t wait for the trip to the Galleria at Roseville. “My favorite part is picking out presents for other people,” Emma said with a grin. “And I want to go with my cousin Jennie.” After filling out Secret Santa forms and teaming up five grandkids per car, O’Dee led her crew to the mall for an afternoon of shopping for cousins and the sponsored families. Back at home 15 grandchildren wrapped and taped and tied and sipped Martinelli’s cider all afternoon. “I like it because we show each other what we picked out,” said family friend Cody Jordan of Fresno. “Not everyone has as much as we have, so it’s fun to shop for others.” Christmas lunch included Tormey family favorites like O’Dee’s famous root beer chicken wings and sweet and sour meatballs. Fifteen grandchildren also feasted on two kinds of sushi, Thai peanut salad, and tofu noodles. “I have two vegans in the bunch,” noted Tormey. “I serve mostly finger foods on small plates. For dessert I’ve made red velvet cupcakes and dark chocolate mint cupcakes. My grandsons Patrick and Adam told me we’re going to skip the paper and wash dishes this year to help with the planet. We’re all trying to be a little greener.” And keeping with tradition, after lunch all the grandchildren gathered around O’Dee’s Christmas tree. Ornaments from Christmas past, some created by their parents in grade school, came into the hands of 15 grandchildren who carefully decorated the tree. “Tree decorating is an absolute ball,” Tormey said. “Then they say their goodbyes and go.” Fifteen long holiday hugs because it’s hard to believe Christmas at O’Dee’s won’t happen again until next year.