Christmas Memories Part I ~ Homestead Nursing Home

12.18.2022 [archived ~ originally published 12.11.2014]

I published this series over three consecutive weeks eight years ago! I will publish every couple days during this week.

Christmas for Sally, Erick, Eleanor, and Esther is a time of special memories.  Like most children who grew up on rural farms in the 1920s and 1930s, the emphasis was on family, community, and church.  I had a chance to visit with folks at Homestead Nursing Home and am sharing some of their memories in this column and the next two.

On the farm in Mott, North Dakota, where Sally was born in 1924, the Christmas tree was artificial because there were very few evergreens.  “We had real candles, but only on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning” she explained.  “My sisters and I had to sit and play very quietly, and the folks kept watch on the candles.”  They had popcorn on the tree, but Sally didn’t remember any other ornaments. 

“My mother had a beautiful fold out garland that was tacked to the ceiling and went to all four corners of the room.  It had a bell that hung down from the middle.”  Sally’s parents were both from Norway, so their Christmas included krumkake which was made using a pan similar to a waffle iron, on the wood cook stove.  Krumkake is quite thin and before it cools, it is rolled up.  The main meal was krub, also called blood sausage.  It was made in a loaf pan, sliced, fried, and served with melted butter. 

“Our Sunday school always had a Christmas program at the church.  We sang some songs together, and then took turns reciting a piece that we had each learned.  One year my older sister and I sang together, and our father accompanied us on the violin.  Dad played the introduction, and we started singing.  For some reason my sister quit singing, so I quit singing and hid behind my sister.  My dad said he might as well quit too, but they talked him into playing, which he did.”  

“It was all girls in our family so mom tried to make each of the four of us a new dress for Christmas, I don’t remember much about toys for presents.”  Sally does recall a favorite gift was a pair of green handknit mittens.

Erick remembers mittens too. “Nellie Wadman was a really nice neighbor lady whose children were grown, and she always knit socks and mittens for us a Christmas.”  Erick was born in Spring Lake in 1930.  His parents and older brother emigrated from Sweden in 1923, settling in the area because Erick’s uncle was living there. 

“Oh, Christmas was special.  There would be a big program at Little Sand Lake School which included a visit from Santa.  He would also come to our house on Christmas Day.”  Erick admits he was a little afraid of him and for many years did not know who it was.  “We had a Christmas tree with candles both at school and at home.  My mom made cookies, though I can’t remember the names of them, I know I ate plenty.  We usually went to my aunt and uncles for Christmas dinner and always had Swedish meatballs.”  His face lights up and he says, “They were my favorite then and they still are now.” 

Erick also remembers his mom making a Christmas pudding and sewing shirts for him and his brother.  The most memorable present he received was a top from Santa when he came to the house.  “It was the metal kind that you push down on the top a few times and watched it whiz around on the floor.”

For 84-year-old Eleanor, her childhood Christmas’ were a time of mixed memories.  When she was about nine years old, two family members were killed in a vehicle-train accident.  “My parents were Polish, and dad was taking his mother, my grandmother, to the Catholic Church in Ball Club for the Christmas service.  Two of my sisters and I were to go with, but I couldn’t find my white socks.  It was very important that we wear white socks to church at that time.  Anyway, my mom was working in the barn, and I couldn’t find my socks, so I just stayed home.  As it turned out it was a blessing, as who knows what might have happened.  The train didn’t blow its whistle, and the car was struck.  Dad and my grandmother died, and my sisters were taken to the hospital in Grand Rapids as there wasn’t one in Deer River.”

After that, Eleanor’s mother raised the rest of the family on her own.  She did what she could on their meager income to make the holiday fun.  Usually there were homemade clothes and maybe a small toy for presents.  Her mom always hid the presents in the house for them on Christmas day.  Eleanor and her sisters and brothers put out a clean sock on Christmas Eve and found it filled with goodies in the morning.  “My mom was a real good woman.  We didn’t have much but she took care of us kids real good, and she loved to laugh while we searched for those presents!”

Esther was born in Denmark, New York in 1934.  She was the oldest of eight and helped her mother care for her younger sisters and brothers.  “At Christmas we had a real tree that dad cut and brought in the house.  We decorated it with popcorn, though we ate a lot of it, and ornaments.  Some of them were my grandmother’s and very fancy.  We did not have candles on the tree as there were too many children running around in our house.” 

The food Esther remembers included pumpkin pie and carrot pie, which was her father’s favorite. Most of their presents were homemade.  Her mother made clothes for them from the bright and cheerful feed sacks, and dolls from mens socks.

“I remember one year I was in town with my mother, and I saw a beautiful doll in the store window.  I told her that was what I wanted for Christmas.  I was so surprised to see it under the tree, and so disappointed when I saw that it had my younger sister’s name on it!” 

One of Esther’s favorite gifts was a scaled down ironing board that her father made for her.  “I used the same iron as my mom, heating it up on the stove, and ironing my own clothes.”  With a smile and a nod, she added, “I have always been very particular about my clothes.”

Sally, Erick, Eleanor, and Esther all remember getting an orange or an apple and nuts, along with a little hard candy.  Their overall favorite seems to be the colorful Christmas ribbon candy.

1 Comment

  1. Vickie says:

    These are wonderful memories.


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