My first memory of Christmas was that of passing through the kitchen of Grandpa and Grandma Olson’s home heading toward the Christmas tree in the living room.
Even for a 6-year-old thinking of nothing but the presents under the tree and those coming from Santa, the aroma from the kitchen was heavenly. (They say that the spice rack of a Norwegian cook is made up of just salt and pepper, but my grandmother was one of the best cooks and was known throughout the community.)
While the grownups talked the youngsters would head for the tree and gaze at the brightly packaged presents. We also would stare at the tree lights — the big bubbly kind.
We moved from North Dakota and spent Christmas with just the four of us — Mom, Dad, my sister and me. Dad was still working the first Christmas Eve in Minnesota. Mom sent my sister and me into the bathroom where I told her that Mom was helping Santa, to which she replied,” I know there’s no Santa Claus.”
“We better tell Mom,” I replied. “Oh, don’t do that,” said sis. “We can get more presents this way.”
That year I got a dentist set from Santa. Now we lived in a rough neighborhood and the kids were older and bigger than I was. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I would have said, “Let’s not play cowboys and Indians today. Instead, let’s play dentist. Now who wants to be the first patient?”
I think I would have been the first patient.
My grandparents had moved to Oregon, but they would always come to visit at Christmas time. We would have to get some coffee cans for Grandpa because he always had a plug of Copenhagen in his lower lip. Grandma would take over the kitchen and would start by making lefse. Grandpa would go out and find the right stick so Grandma could flip the potato delights.
From the time I can remember right up to college days my sister and I would always get new pajamas and toothpaste for Christmas. Even today my sister and I laugh about that when we get together for the holidays.
It was always a couple of months before Christmas that we would receive the Sears and Roebuck and the Montgomery Ward toy catalogs. We would spend hours going over the “dream books” until they wore out.
I mentioned recently to a high school student that we would usually buy our appliances and electronics from Ward’s, to which he replied, “What is Ward’s?”
I remember coming home from college, sitting in front of the TV with popcorn and hot chocolate, to watch Bob Hope entertaining the troops in Vietnam. It became a Christmas tradition for too many years.
Christmas memories can be powerful. Like the time when as a Cub Scout leader we went caroling, handing out candy and nuts. We were given names of older couples who would enjoy seeing the young boys at Christmas time. We stopped the cars on the main road to walk down a long trail. I said I didn’t believe anyone would be home because it had snowed three days before and one could see that no one had gone down this driveway for days.
One of the adults knocked on the door while all of us started our first song. The outside lights went on and the big bay window shades opened up. Inside the house we could see the couple with smiles on their faces and tears in their eyes.
All of us left with a greater appreciation of Christmas.