St Croix River Road Ramblings

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Christmas Memories

Brandon, Scott and Colby 30 years  ago

          As we get older we look back and remember the fun of being a kid and the wonderful things that happened then.  Christmas was the best time of the year because people made it so for us.   It was a do-it-yourself celebration that brought families and the neighborhood together to celebrate the birth of Christ in a mixture of religious, secular and commercial events.  The homecoming of family and friends, the wonderful seasonal meals and cookies, the reaffirmation of religious beliefs, the gifts for the kids and vacations are what made the memories so strong for all of us.   While growing up in the old days was fun and is great to remember, it should remind us that what we do now with Christmas is making memories for our children and grandchildren.  Are we doing as well as our as our own parents and grandparents did for us?  

Mom enlisted the boys to tie a quilt--not their favorite

          Christmas season began in earnest for us four Hanson boys on the farm when at school and Sunday school we got our “parts” for the Christmas programs.  Both were big events in the neighborhood.  Local schools and churches were the glue that connected the community.    

          The Sunday School Program was always a reenactment of the story of the birth of Christ.  We boys worked our way up from silent (emphasis from the teacher) cows, donkeys and sheep to “Shepherds watching their flocks by night” and “Wise Men following Yonder Star” (we figured it was near the North Star).  We never made the big parts of Joseph or the Innkeeper because our tryouts were weak (“Try the emergency room lady!”).  We learned that all men in the Bible wore bathrobes and towels wrapped around their heads.  Of course on the farm we never had any bathrobes instead preferring long johns for winter and short johns for summer so these were borrowed from the sophisticated ladies in the church.  “I don’t think a Shepherd would wear a pink bathrobe” complained Marvin to non-listening ears.  

          The reward for both school and church programs other than the fame of performing in front of the whole community was the small brown paper bag with Christmas treats.  Dad said that the school board bought and packed the bags out of their own pockets.  A good bag of treats was likely to get the board reelected next spring.  In the bag would be either an apple or an orange, a handful of salted peanuts in the shell, a few soft Christmas candies and a few hard candies—bright reds, greens and white colors.  I never got used to the candy flavors of the era—anise, horehound, rootbeer and liquorish, so traded them at great loss to my brothers.

          One Saturday in December the Cushing merchants would have a Santa Claus day.  We kids filled the Little Hall above the north tavern or the Big Hall above the grocery store to see some cartoons and a short movie and to get some candy and trinkets and visit with Santa Claus. 

          Cutting a Christmas tree meant a trip to the woods.  Early years we went to the big “Christmas Tree Swamp” near the St Croix River where spruce trees grew in abundance. 

          We got our Christmas presents on Christmas morning after Santa Claus had put them under the tree.  We didn’t hang stockings because we knew Santa was not so dumb as to come down the chimney, through the furnace and up the heat registers when the door was never locked anyway.

Scott makes a snowman

           Everett had a harder time giving up Santa Claus than the rest of us.  Uncle Chan asked him what he got for Christmas and he listed all of the toys and clothes from uncles, aunts, grandparents and a toy log truck from Santa.  “Didn’t your mom and dad give you anything?” teased Chan.  Everett thought a long time and finally allowed “they gave me one of the logs on the truck”.

          Grandpa and Grandma Hanson (Eugene and Nettie) always had us over for Christmas dinner. Grandma’s Jack Pine tree was special!  She had some really old decorations that she brought out and put on the tree.  Tinsel loaded with lead, candle holders for real candles and balls and ornaments that had been carefully packed and carried through many moves.  The most fascinating decoration was the string of bubble lights.  When they first came out in the late 1940s Grandma had splurged and got a set.  We boys were fascinated that they never boiled away the water in them. 

          Grandma raised geese for the traditional cooked goose.  All of her food was home grown and home made and home cooked in the wood stove.  As a special treat she might have us help her make popcorn balls and pull taffy.  Our gifts were home knitted mittens or socks and homemade candy and cookies.  Grandma was a school teacher before getting married.  If the snow was fresh she would take us out and tramp a fox and geese circle and get us started playing the old schoolyard game.  Indoors she would bring out her favorite board game “Bringing Home the Bacon” and we 4 boys played it with her.  Grandpa liked to sing so would have grandma play a song on the piano and sing with us.

          After months of school it was time to get out and really do hard core sliding down the big hill by the house.  We had accumulated skis, runner sleds, toboggan and skates as previous Christmas presents or passed on from neighbors and relatives whose kids had outgrown them.

          The hillside by the house had to be prepared for the runner sleds.  We cleaned the summer rust from the runners by hooking on the back of the tractor and trailer and riding them up the road and into the woods to haul a load of wood back to the house.  We made a careful set of ruts in the deep snow by pulling a sled and rider down the hill.  We hauled pail after pail of water from the pump to ice the tracks, following the example of the old time loggers icing their roads.  Halfway down the hill we built a jump – a carefully packed, flattened and iced pile of snow that dropped an amazing amount—larger each year.  After a cold night the hill was ready!  The sleds whizzed down the hills, crashed over the jump finishing in the cattail swamp below.

Jed at Grandma's

          Ernest Swanson plowed and flooded a skating rink on Bass Lake for the Gullicksons, Swansons, Hansons, Nelsons and other neighbors to enjoy.  He plowed the snow in a large circle with the back blade on his Ford tractor leaving a snow bank ridge around it.  On a windless cold day he put the fence post auger on the tractor and ground it through the ice to auger fresh water to flood the rink.  It froze overnight to leave a glass surface for skating. Speed was the goal of the boys and elegance the girls. Skating backwards and stopping quickly while still on your feet were the true tests of a good skater.

          Some evenings we started a fire and skated late as the full moon lit up the area bright as day.  We boys found “hockey sticks” out of the woods and banged chunks of ice or wood around valuing speed and crashes above all.  We knew true disgust when an older boy left the hockey group to skate with someone’s sister!

           All too soon Christmas vacation was over and it was back to school preparing to be adults by copying pages out of the dictionary, getting used to the taste of the soap bar and writing our faults 25 times on the blackboard.