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Archive for December, 2012

Memories…and nativity scenes

Christmas is a magical season for children, a time of gifts and celebrations, school vacations, dreams of snow, family.

My earliest Christmas memory is from the Christmas just before my fourth birthday.  We spent Christmas Eve and Christmas in Provo at Aunt Verena and Uncle Eph’s home.  This is my earliest memory of my Uncle Gary, who I thought was a really neat guy.   I worried that Santa would not find me there, because our Christmas tree sat in the front window of our home in Murray.   Mom and Dad promised me that Santa knew I would be in Provo.   Santa found me in Provo, and all was well.   When we returned home, to my joy and delight, there were gifts under the Christmas tree there also!  Santa had found me in two places!  And what a brave Santa!  There were two drums under the tree, one for me and one for my brother!   I’m sure I was taught about the birth of the Savior, but that Christmas, it was all about Santa finding me.

The next Christmas I remember was after we moved back to Salt Lake City from Denver.  There, our tree was in front of the bay window on the south side of the front room.  Next to the bay window was a door that opened to the outside, but was never opened.  I imagine Grandpa had planned to put stairs there, perhaps a porch, too, but that was never built.  Just a door with about a four foot step straight down if one was inclined to use it as an exit.  There was a great advantage to this placement, as we children learned in years to come.  The door leading into the front room was a “pocket” door, a door that slide into a recess in the wall.  It was possible to open this door just over an inch before it made a sound.  We would use that for early peeks at what Santa brought.  But that is a later story.  This Christmas had been preceeded by some frustration, I remember.  We were living with Grandpa Ohlin, who was a carpenter.  He had a separate shop in back of our home, heated by a little pot belly stove.  I was always welcome to visit there, except for the few weeks before that Christmas.  It seems that there were secrets hidden in that shop.  Under the tree on Christmas morning were three toy chests, one for me, one for Steve, and one for Kathy.  The toy chests were open, and, on the lid of each chest, were new clothes for each of us.

Clothes and Christmas…always a pair.  Every Christmas, there were new clothes, sewed by Mom, late at night while we slept.   As my children were growing up,  I did the same thing.   Mom and I talked about it one Christmas.   With money tight, making new clothes filled two needs.  A gift was created to gladden a child, and needed clothing provided at the same time.  That new clothing almost led to the “year without a Christmas” when I was in fifth or sixth grade.  Girls were required to wear dresses to school, so I had several dresses, skirts, blouses, and sweaters.  A very popular skirt at that time was a plaid wool skirt, pleated on the plaid, so at the waistband of the skirt, only one of the colors showed.  I wanted a skirt like that.   About 1 a.m., Christmas morning, we crept down the stairs from the attic bedroom, to the oh-so-convenient door.  Carefully opening the door, we peeked through the small crack.  Hanging on the hinge of the “door to nowhere” was a red/black/grey pleated skirt!  Kathy, three years younger than me, immediately felt it was HER skirt.  I was equally convinced this was MY skirt.  Hustling back upstairs, there ensued an argument about the ownership of that most coveted gift.  I pulled the “age card” and announced the skirt was mine, because, “I’m the oldest.”  To that, Kathy responded with tears and proclaimed she was going to tell Mom and Dad that we were peeking.  In fact, she was going to go downstairs and tell them that very minute.  Horror of horrors – that would be the worst thing she could do.  We had heard many times that there were no presents for children who peeked.  There would only be coal in the stockings.  I wasn’t so worried about that threat, but knew we would be in trouble anyway.  After much discussion, it was decided that we would never mention this indiscretion.  The skirt was mine, but Mom made a turquoise one for Kathy soon after that.  We had all been adults for many years before Mom and Dad knew about that Christmas morning!

Although Dad didn’t paint like his mother did, one year he decided to paint a hillside in Bethlehem on the front room window.  It was great fun to see the hill, the buildings, and the star appear on the window.  At night, from outside, the silhouette of the land, with the shining star was magnificent.  I only remember one painting like that.  Perhaps the clean up was the problem.  As I recall, Dad had to scrape the paint off the window with a razor blade!

Growing up in Utah brought white Christmases.  We would worry, as children, that if the snow was missing, Santa won’t come.  One year, Dad suggested that if it didn’t snow, Santa would use his helicopter.  I remember trying to stay awake and listen for his noisy transportation, but fell asleep.  When morning came, even without snow, that magical man had come to our home!  I must admit that, while I love the Pacific Northwest, and hate having snow in a place where an inch of snow brings the city to a halt, seeing white flakes at Christmas time makes the season special.  There was a possibility of a few flakes this Christmas morning, but the temperatures are too high, so we will have liquid snow.  Our children also dreamed of white Christmases.  In the days before internet weather maps, learned well from their parents to call the ATIS at Boeing field and listen to the current aviation weather.  They learned the importance of relative humidity, temperature, and dew point in creating that most desired of Christmas weather.

I have a collection of nativity sets, and perhaps my love for that particular decoration in my home began with those early Christmases.  I don’t remember how we got the nativity set, but we had a cardboard nativity.  The base had cardboard half-circles that we pushed up and stood the figures on.  I don’t know what happened to it, but for many years, I remember the excitement of setting it up.  It was simple and inexpensive, but a reminder to all of the true meaning of Christmas.  I thought of that nativity, so many years ago, last night.  A knock at the door brought us a gift.  Opened, it was a nativity set, unlike any I have.  And, for years to come, when I set up that set, I will remember the wonderful friends who brought that to our home, just as I remember those who have given me other nativities, and that first nativity in my life.

There were many other Christmases celebrated in that home on 7th East, then in the home on Brookwood Circle.  As the years progressed, more and more gifts were under the tree, as the family size increased.  On two most memorable Christmases, all seven of Mom and Dad’s children were there, bringing their own families to the celebration.  Not all could sleep at the home.  The last of these celebrations, in 1982, had about 35 people for Christmas morning.  My family slept at Aunt Fern’s home, and my children have wonderful memories of sleeping upstairs in the room Aunt Fern built herself, many years after Uncle Walt’s death.  In fact, the older children loved many things about that home.  But that is a blog for another day.  Mom bought Christmas fabric and we made fabric drawstring bags for the children to put their gifts in.  Mike and Kathy brought treats from Frito-Lay (his employer) and the children earned “money” to buy their treats at the store Mike ran.  My children remember that year, too, for our trip to Mesa to see their paternal grandparents, where we went swimming in an outdoor pool.  That was our last Christmas with their Grandpa Christensen, who suffered a stroke while we were there, and passed away the next spring.  We drove home from the visit with a stop-over in St. George, where we visited with Aunt Jocile, spending an extra night because of snow.  My older children might remember visiting the tabernacle there, where the Church filmed The Windows of Heaven video.  Aunt Jo showed us the different patterns on the stone bricks, each characteristic of the mason who shaped the stone. We returned to Salt Lake on Christmas Eve, having spent  nine hours very snowy hours on the road.  A memorable year,  the last in which all the descendants of my parents celebrated Christmas together.

Since then, the grandchildren are grown, and the greatgrandchildren are many.  The family is scattered across the United States, while Kathy and Mike are in New Zealand.  Wherever we are, I’m sure many of us will think of those Christmases this Christmas Day.  Memories…what Christmases are made of.  Memories of snow and Santa…family and friends…the greatest memory of all…the gift of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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A few of the nativity sets in my home.

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Some of the other nativities in my collection.

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A very special set, made with the assistance of a good friend and neighbor, Liz Salterelli, many years ago.

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The newest of my collection.

May your joys be many on this Christmas day.  With recent events in our country, I have felt sadness, too.  My nephew, who writes some brilliant posts on his blog, has a beautiful perspective for the season.  Feel free to read his thoughts at:  http://sinceyouaskedbert.blogspot.com/2012/12/yes-mr-morris-there-is-joy-this.html

May peace be with you this day!

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Birth…and death

Yesterday, December 14, was a day pondering birth…and death.  Part of my early morning routine is checking my email.  One of my sisters lives in New Zealand, and her emails are so fun.  Yesterday, I had a notice of a new blog post from my dear Aunt Ethel,  The Real Child of Christmas.  I pondered her wisdom, gained over the past 95 years.  Yes, Christmas is for the child, young and full of wonder at the season.  What fun I had as the mother of young children, watching those sparkling eyes.  But even more, Christmas is about The Child, born in Bethlehem, laid in a manger.   I remembered the year my daughter, Deborah, was born, and I nursed her by Christmas tree lights.  I felt a closeness to Mary, the mother of The Child of Bethlehem, that Christmas.

I didn’t working yesterday, even though it was a school day.  Yesterday was the funeral service for Lennie.  I met Lennie just a few weeks after we purchased our home, years ago when our family was only three.  She was the mother of a high school daughter, Annette.  In a few years, Annette would become a friend, another “sister.”   Over the years, my family grew to nine, Annette’s, to ten. And so, Lennie has been part of my life for many years.   Lennie passed away last Sunday.  Actively involved in her family, she had already sent a Facebook birthday greeting to a teenage family member that morning.    Friday morning,  I was preparing to attend her funeral, to help serve a meal to the family after the services.  And so the morning began, birth and death.

Then the news broke of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.  I’m a school teacher, and I have been in two lockdowns with my students, both prompted by possible weapons threats.  Each ended with no danger being found.   I can’t begin to imagine what those teachers and their children experienced.  This wasn’t a drill.  This was painfully real, terrifying, brutal, wrong.  My heart and soul cry for the teachers, the students, the parents, the families of those whose lives ended all too soon.

And so, I ponder life…and death.  Death for Lennie was sweet.  The reunion with her husband, who preceded her in death by 27 years, and her son, George, last seen 40 years ago, was,  beyond doubt,  joyful.  Even those left behind rejoice in her life.  She will be missed, for she leaves a large family.  But there is joy also, for who she was and what she did.  For the families in Connecticut, and all who know and love them, there is no answer to the question,”Why?”  that will satisfy.

The only comfort is that given by The Child, whose birth we celebrate this month.  In Nazareth, He stood in the synagogue and read from the prophets, saying, “he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted.”  (Luke 4:18, KJV)  He loved little children, for He said, ”Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God.”  (Luke 18:16, KJV)  May He heal our broken hearts, and give us peace.  May those closest to this tragedy find the peace available only from the Great Comforter, who said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you.  Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27, KJV)

May we, this Christmas season, seek to be His hands, to serve others, to give comfort to the broken hearted, to hug our loved ones a bit tighter,  to seek for the peace from The Child who is the Great Comforter, from everlasting to everlasting.

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

December 4 is a special day for our family.  It is my father’s birthday, as well as the birthday of my third daughter, Deborah.  How fun it is to celebrate this day for two very special people.  Today, Deborah and I will be at work, and Dad lives 850 miles away.  Getting together for a party, as we have on some occasions, just isn’t possible.  However, I would love to share some early memories of that special man who is the patriarch of a large extended family today,  I can’t even guess how many descendants he has.  Seven children, and, if I counted right,  27 grandchildren.   I’m not guessing at the number of great grandchildren, as keeping up with those numbers is impossible!  They are many and much loved.  Along the way are many who looked to Dad as a father figure in their lives, who are yet close to my parents.

Today, Dad continues to be an example of loving devotion to family and God.  At 89 years, he is actively serving in the Church, working on family history, and being a loving companion to my dear mother.  He is an example to all of us of how to live well.

Daddy, this is for you, with all my love!  Sis

 Memories of Dad

I have searched my memories for the earliest hints of my life, those flickering pictures, as it were, that whisper of events only dimly seen.  I remember standing in a room, looking out a window at snow, lots and lots of snow,  and a snowplow coming down the road.  I’m sure this is from Rose Circle.  This memory is like a snapshot, just a picture of all the snow.  I don’t remember anything else about it.  There are no other people in the picture, except there must have been a driver for that plow!

My first memory of Dad is on State Street.  We are walking down the street, my little hand in his much larger hand, going to check on something to do with the car.  I remember thinking there was always something wrong with the car.  Based on stories I’ve heard about that car, it was probably true.  It was an old Studebaker, I know that.

The fire station across the street was a constant source of entertainment.  Who needs TV when any time of day, sirens can announce a vehicle leaving the building.  I know that Stephen and I would run to the window to watch the engines leaving, lights flashing and sirens screaming.    I also remember the night during dinner, when the fire sirens went off during the prayer.  I don’t remember which one of us jumped and ran for the window.  I do remember we never considered such a move again!

The family’s move to Denver was a grand adventure, in the eyes of a four year old.  We would ride a train!  I loved the train station with the mural of Brigham Young at Promontory Point, with the driving of the golden spike.   Grandma and Grandpa Ohlin took us to the station and gave us a Childrens Friend storybook.  Mom wouldn’t let us open the book until the train pulled out of the station.  When we were finally able to open it and read it, I was so excited, because some of the stories were things I could at least read parts of.  I have always been grateful that Mom and Dad instilled a love of reading in me at a very early age, and that I was able to learn to read so easily.

Arriving in Denver was so exciting.  I couldn’t wait to tell him about sleeping on the train and about looking out the window as we went through a tunnel.  Dad picked us up at the station, and then started the incredibly long drive to our new house.  I have no idea how long the drive really was, but it seemed to last forever.  We drove past one house that Dad said he had looked at, but the bathroom was upstairs, and he didn’t feel that would work.  I was very insulted because I felt he was saying I couldn’t get there fast enough.  I realize now, as a mother, that it would have been a nightmare for Mom to have her kitchen downstairs and the only bathroom upstairs, especially with three little children.

The excitement of our arrival continued with a GREEN fire engine!  I’ve seen them since, but all Murray fire stations trucks were red.  That color was just wrong, in my youthful eyes.

Then we arrived at the house!  Two kitchens, oak trees, and SQUIRRELS.  Those squirrels were almost as good as fire engines.  In fact, in some ways, they were better.

My other vivid memory of Denver is the day Dad was washing the car in the alley out back.  I asked, totally seriously, “What are you doing, Daddy?”  He responded, “Frying eggs and bacon!”  I ran back into the house, crying, “Mommy, Daddy says he’s frying eggs and bacon, but he’s washing the car!”  That response was one heard many more times in my growing up years, and not always spoken to me.  In fact, one of my children came running into my house once with a similar report while Mom and Dad were in my home.  Mom and I looked at each other, and said, “She asked a silly question!”

I’m not sure where we lived when this last memory happened.  I lost my first tooth while living in Denver, but the “tooth memory” might have happened once we were back in Utah.  I had a loose tooth in the front, and refused to pull it myself or let someone else pull it.  I had gone for a ride with Dad, and while we were out, he bought me a candy bar.  He said that would help me get the tooth out.  Great idea, but Dad raised smart daughters.  I carefully placed that candy bar between my molars and took bites that way.  We arrived home, one loose tooth and no candy bar!

Once we moved back to Utah, the memories are many and dear.  These are those early memories, so precious, that will always mean “Daddy” to me.