Thursday, December 14, 2017


Everyone now knows that Christmas is really coming. In fact, everyone is so busy that they have all forgotten about the magic closet. Gifts are either piling up in there or there’s nothing at all. No matter – no one is concerned. They have enough to do to get ready for the Gingerbread Pageant, and those involved are filled with anticipation.

This morning, after the chickens were fed and various other routine chores performed, Ina and Bertha set to work in their respective homes. The sewing machines whirred in double time -- pocketa whir, pocketa whir, pocketa whir, clackity clack – clunk. They made excellent progress today and left off as the early dusk fell, feeling that they would indeed finish the costumes in time. Of course! – wink, wink.

Jack was now pressed into service in the name of Christmas. Ina insisted he go to the mailbox every day. Today he came back with a box from daughter Shirley. You may recall that she’s in Idaho Falls, and her brother Earle helped her find a job as a live-in nanny / housekeeper. But Shirley had been her mother’s “right-hand helper” for many years and knew the Christmas drill, so she sent an early package containing supplies such as one found at a “five and dime” – stickers, cellophane tape, mints, stick candy, and nuts. The goody box was a day-brightener for Ina.

When the dishes from their light supper were finished, Ina and Jack returned to the table to open their Christmas mail, savoring the process. Jack removed each card from its envelope and read the sentiment. After the card was admired, Ina read any letter or note aloud. This Christmas ritual was more important than I can say, a special kind of togetherness that they only enjoyed at Christmas. The cards brought them news of family and friends from whom they had been separated for many years.

Little Shirley Anne listened with half an ear while she read a book. Before going to bed, Ina coached her on her lines for the Gingerbread Pageant. KW

Wednesday, December 13, 2017


You say you’re worried that Ina and Bertha can’t possibly make the deadline? You think they should have started this work weeks ago? Have you ever noticed how in holiday stories and Hallmark movies the time context just isn't a consideration? You just have to pretend . . .

And someone has observed that Bertha seems to have roped Ina into this activity. Yes and no. Bertha was the more affable, social, and community-oriented of the two. Ina was reserved and practical. Be that as it may, Bertha’s readiness to attempt this difficult project was tempered by Ina’s concerns, and in the end, Ina was willing to go with it. After all, Miss Johnson asked the sisters to make the costumes because she knew they could work magic.

Even so, Ina and Bertha had to get moving with this project. Bertha arrived early at Ina’s house. Jack had already put leaves in the oak table so that it stretched from the dining room into the living room – just like the old days when they fed a harvest crew. Ina, working in the dining room, decided the dirndl suggested by Miss Johnson as Shirley Anne’s costume was too impractical and opted for a jumper and white blouse, a pattern she had on hand. Once she had cut out Shirley Anne’s costume, she helped Bertha cut out many gingerbread costumes.

[Do you know what a dirndl is? Wikipedia will give you an explanation here. A dirndl is a costume of Austrian / Bavarian origin, but my mother used to speak of dirndl skirts – a skirt gathered onto a band. I call them gathered skirts, or full skirts. Perhaps “dirndl” is a rather old-fashioned term these days.]

Ina and Bertha were just finishing their work as Shirley Anne came in from school. Then Bertha left, taking some of the costumes with her to sew at home. Daylight was waning, so Ina laid the costume project on the sewing machine for tomorrow and began the little tasks that made the home comfortable in the evening. KW

Tuesday, December 12, 2017


“Now,” began Miss Johnson, getting right to the point. “I have yard goods here . . .” [That’s fabric by the yard, not yard ornaments] “. . . donated by certain merchants in town, and I wonder if I could prevail upon the two of you [Ina and Bertha] to make the costumes for the pageant.”

“Oh, we’d love to,” responded the eager Bertha, but the more reticent Ina shot her one of her withering glares.

“We need to hear more about it,” answered Ina.

The teacher then explained that she had written the pageant herself, based on a booklet, “The Little Gingerbread Man,” which was published by the Royal Baking Company some years prior. The teacher envisioned a Gingerbread Princess, the part won by Shirley Anne, dressed in a dirndl of gingerbread print paired with a bright red. She showed the sisters the dress pattern and fabric. Other children would be dressed as gingerbread people made of a soft brown knit. The teacher was honest. They would need a lot of costumes.

Ina was skeptical. The costumes weren’t practical for everyday wear -- would be useless after the pageant. She said as much.

“Oh, I know what you mean, Aunt Ina,” said Miss Johnson, “but I was thinking that since the fabric was donated, we might make costumes just this once. So many of our families are struggling right now. Some of the children won’t have much Christmas at home this year, so a good program at the school might fill a void for the whole community.”

Bertha’s eyes were shining. “We can do it, Ina,” she said (wink, wink).

And Ina admitted that yes, it might be fun – and just what the community needed. That issue settled, they began to discuss the costumes in earnest, and Ina and Bertha left the schoolhouse with fabric and patterns. KW

[Wherever did Miss Johnson find that fabric and those patterns? Probably nothing like it in 1933. In real time, the gingerbread fabric came from Jo-Ann, and the patterns are from Doll Tag Clothing through Pixie Faire (here).]


Monday, December 11, 2017


Ina looked up from the letter she was writing at the dining room table to see Shirley Anne running down the east hill, coming home from school. Can't you just see her -- all bundled up in her winter coat and leggings, running as fast as her little legs would carry her. Ina correctly guessed the little girl had news about the try-outs for the Christmas pageant.

“Aunt Ina, Aunt Ina,” called the breathless child as she came through the kitchen door. I’m to be the ‘Gingerbread Princess’ in the pageant. Teacher says I’ll have a pretty costume – and everything.”

Oh dear, thought Ina. Just where was this pretty costume to come from, and what was entailed in “everything?” When she agreed to care for Shirley Anne, she hadn’t realized it would be such a large draw on her resources. Nevertheless, it had been years since Ina was involved in school activities, and she admitted to herself that she was more than a little interested.

Just then the telephone rang – one long and two shorts, wasn’t it? It was Miss Johnson, the teacher. Would the two Mrs. Dobson (Aunt Ina and Aunt Bertha) meet with her tomorrow to discuss costumes for the children’s pageant at the school? Yes, Ina agreed with some reticence, not yet knowing what was expected of her. They arranged to meet at the schoolhouse tomorrow at noon so as to avoid the early darkness after school.

Over a snack of cookies and milk, Ina and Shirley Anne looked over the script for the “Gingerbread Pageant.” Shirley Anne would have no trouble with her part. The pageant was filled with music and recitations by all the children. But -- it was time to get started learning her lines. After supper Ina and Shirley Anne sat together in the big rocking chair to begin the work. KW

Sunday, December 10, 2017


Ina’s Sundays were always quiet days, devoted to church, fellowship, a good mid-day meal, and quiet activities.

A visiting minister came the first Sunday of the month. Other Sundays, they called the service “Sunday school,” and a member would provide a lesson followed by discussion. Today, Bertha shared the story of the Wisemen. An inspiring discussion followed. The congregation sang several Christmas carols.

Pot roast was a natural for Sunday dinners since the meal roasted while they were at church and was mostly ready when they arrived home. Today, it was just the three of them. Shirley Anne set the table while Ina put the food in serving dishes. The meal and the dishes were finished quickly, and Ina was glad, since she wanted to start her Christmas cards.

Mid-afternoon, Ina became aware that Shirley Anne was sad and rightly guessed that she was missing her mother. It was difficult to know how to cheer her, but just then the phone rang – a long and two shorts – and Ina lifted the earpiece to answer. Yes! It was Mrs. Smith calling to talk to Shirley Anne. “Why, she’s right here. I’ll put her on,” said Ina.

Telephone calls were kept short in those days because they were expensive. If I told you the cost of a long distance call, you would think it a pittance, but even loose change was dear. Ina set the 3-minute egg timer on the windowsill, and Shirley Anne knew what it meant. Undaunted, she forgot her sadness in hearing her mother’s voice and chatted along about the magic closet, the new nightgown, robe, and slippers, and even about the poem she was learning for the school Christmas pageant. Ina was pleased to know the child was happy in her stay, even though she naturally missed her mother. 

The call ended satisfactorily within the three-minute limit, and Shirley Anne’s cheerful nature was restored. Ina set her to work putting stickers on the back of Christmas cards and letters. KW