This article originally appeared in the November/December issue of Madeworthy Magazine.
‘Tis the season for turkey, tinsel, and traditions, and the First Family of Fort Worth has a deep and meaningful history of old and new traditions. I caught up with Mayor Betsy Price in October to hear about her holiday memories.
A deep vein of tradition runs through Mayor Price’s holiday season, one first established when she was just a little gal longing for a new dolly. Her family spent every Christmas Day in Goldthwaite, Texas, where her grandparents owned a ranch, but every Christmas Eve was spent in Fort Worth, waiting for Santa to come that night.
“Every Christmas Eve, we would always have dinner, and then either my oldest sister – there were four of us by the time the younger two came along – or my mother or dad would take us somewhere,” said Price. “And by the time we came home, Santa Claus had been there. It was always fun… because we knew full well that when we got back home, Santa Claus had come by while we were gone.”
What came in Santa’s pack stayed somewhat consistent through the years, too. “I had a big thing for dolls, and I always got a doll until I was pretty good-sized. My brother would always make fun of them.” she laughed. Mayor Price remembers Santa surprising her with several Madame Alexander dolls, a couple of baby dolls, and even a Tiny Tears doll, which has become a highly sought-after collector’s item. “It was the first doll you feed a bottle to, and it would wet, had a diaper and everything.” she explained. “I still have her in the suitcase she came in.”
Around the age of seven, the future mayor found a life-sized doll that walked under her parents’ bed. Of course, she never told her parents what she found, fearing that St. Nicholas might take the doll back if her discovery were to be found out. Later as a parent, the same logic was passed on each of her children. She said, “When our kids were growing up, we always said Santa Claus would come as long as you believe. Until our kids were college-aged, they still got a Santa Claus gift, and they knew full well not to say anything.”
Mayor Price and her husband Tom have three children together, all of whom graduated from Tanglewood Elementary School. Their oldest daughter turned forty this year and has two sons, ages nine and ten, with her husband, who is from the panhandle town of Dalhart. The Prices’ middle son, 36, is married to a fellow Tanglewood alumna, who was in his younger brother’s class, and who his big sister babysat. They now have a four-year-old son and a two-year-old daughter. Mayor Price’s youngest son, 30, and his wife were expecting his first child in October.
Having so many little Prices to keep track of, the family has developed a rotating schedule for holiday celebrations. “For years we’ve alternated back and forth… [our oldest and her husband] go to Dalhart at Thanksgiving one year and Christmas the next year. [Our youngest and his wife] go to San Antone at the same time,” said Price. “So every year we have one small holiday and then a bigger one, a big Thanksgiving or a big Christmas.”
No matter the schedule, though, on Christmas Day, the mayor heads to Dallas, where she enjoys a big lunch with extended family at her niece’s home. “There’ll be fifty people there or more, and it’s really fun,” said Price. “It used to be that everybody brought their favorite dishes, and now [my niece] has it catered. But now everybody brings a dessert instead, and that’s really fun to do.”
For dessert, the Price family has tasted and rotated through a few tried-and-true favorites. As a young girl, Mayor Price remembers her mother, Mary Elizabeth Cornelius, making Tin Lizzies, which she describes as a fruitcake in cookie form. Although she doesn’t care much for fruitcake in loaf form, her mother’s version was deliciously memorable. Price’s children, on the other hand, always pleaded for her sweet potato bread. Now that the children have grown, she can enjoy the sometimes sweet, sometimes savory rewards of others’ cooking.
“All three of my girls are really good cooks,” Price said of her daughter and daughters-in-law. “[My oldest] makes all kinds of stuff that it’s hard to say specifically what she’ll make this year… Our middle son’s wife owns [her own cookie and cake bakery], and she makes custom cookies that are just fabulous… Our youngest son’s wife makes a great corn relish and a great bruschetta, too.”
As her family grew bigger, keeping up with gift giving became a lot of work, so instead, the family shares white elephant gifts, and the funnier, the better. One year’s exchange brought a Dolly Parton wig, she recalls, and every couple of years a Santa Claus cap that dances and plays music gets passed around, as does a tube of infant diaper cream that gets rewrapped every year. Price said she’s also given a box of t-shirts as a joke because anyone that knows her knows she tends “to get t-shirts for everybody.”
Gag gifts aside, the mayor always has surprises wrapped and ready for her grandkids. For all her children, she’ll sometimes plan experience gifts, such as two years ago when she took her family to Watercolor, Florida. “We didn’t take them until summer,” she said. “But we took them all there and on a trip to Disney World, too… We’ve taken a trip to the Texas coast, too. We’ve kind of been all around, and that’s really fun. Makes my job easy because I don’t have to shop as much.”
Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, Price will take some time off from her busier-than-normal day job, to venture out to the Fort Worth Holiday Parade of Lights, a new tradition for her family, and to partake in some older holiday traditions. Husband Tom and the other men in the family go hunting while Betsy trims the family’s two trees. The bigger of the two trees is decked in Texas-themed ornaments and family heirlooms that have weathered many holiday seasons.
“I’ve collected some ornaments from my parents’ tree, my grandparents’ tree, and my husband’s parents’ tree. They’re all pretty beat up and tend to go on the back of the tree,” she said. “But they’re always there.”
Her other, smaller tree is also stacked with sentiments “only a mother could love.”
“With three kids, I [had] a lot of ornaments. Every year when I put them out, I think about their Tanglewood days,” she explained. Back then, the Price family still lived on Westcliff West, located in a quiet cul-de-sac. Every year, every one of her children would bring home a new ornament made during classroom holiday parties – for which the mayor was often a room mother in addition to always serving as a member of the Parent Teacher Association. She remembers how all the neighborhood kids would jet out to try their new bikes, skateboards, and doll strollers on the street, while the adults sat on front porches drinking coffee.
One of her favorite traditions between Thanksgiving and Christmas was taking pictures with St. Nick. “I have a whole series of Santa Claus pictures with my kids, from the time they were born to the time they were in high school and said, ‘We’re not taking another picture with Santa Claus!’” she joked. Most years, she took her children to a Junior League of Fort Worth event that brought Santa in for pictures at Thistle Hill. She laughed a little louder when she said that one of her children would always have a meltdown over posing on Santa’s lap.
One year her second child, then two years old, didn’t want any part of the Santa experience. One day, however, Price was out and about with her kids, and her son requested ice cream.
“He and [my daughter] wanted to go to Dairy Queen, and Santa Claus was there!” she laughed. “So I have the funniest picture of him with Santa Claus eating a Dairy Queen ice cream. It was the only way we were getting that picture that year.”
Another memory she and other Fort Worthians remember fondly is the Christmas of 1987. Although the mayor likes a warm Texas Christmas as much as the next Funkytowner, she enjoyed the heavy snowfall that came that year, saying, “We went to church, and when we came out of church, it was snowing.” She’ll never forget stepping outside in matching green jumpers with her then ten-year-old daughter and feeling very pregnant with her youngest son.
With so many happy holidays under her belt, Mayor Price serves up some wonderful advice for successful holiday preparations. “Just enjoy the holidays,” she said. “[The holiday season] goes too fast. Tanglewood moms in particular are in a very blessed spot. All of us in Fort Worth are in a great place. It’s a great place to live and a great place to raise children.”
Jackie Hoermann-Elliott is the Assistant Director of TCU’s New Media Writing Studio, where she teaches digital composing to Horned Frogs needing to create videos, infographics, blogs, and much more. She wrote for newspapers and magazines around the Midwest before settling down in the Lone Star State. Since she moved here in 2013, she’s written for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Indulge, K Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, and GuideLive. Currently, she writes for those fun guys running The Fort Worth Weekly and is a valuable member of the TanglewoodMoms.com team. When she’s not writing, she’s procrasti-cleaning to avoid her dissertation or reading up on new trends in health and psychology research. For fun, she cheers on her husband, Mansfield ISD football coach Buck Elliott, teaches yoga at Yogali off E. Lancaster, practices poses with her amazing bonus daughter, “E,” and enjoys the newest addition to the Elliot family, “Baby B.”