Monday, December 31, 2012


Yesterday we untrimmed the tree. I sure hated to see it go. . . Shirley Jean to her uncle Vance, January 1937

I guess kids in any era hate to see the Christmas tree go. I know I did. But I learned as I got older that taking down the Christmas tree is real work. As Christmas became New Year’s, the prospect of untrimming and putting away loomed large.

My mother was particular about her ornaments and the manner in which they were packed. Untrimming the tree and putting away the ornaments was a day’s work in itself, and – let’s face it – just not as much fun as trimming the tree.
To accommodate my country life, I have streamlined the process considerably. I wonder what my mother would say if she knew I hardly use my collection of ornaments, a good share of which she gave me. Helping her family amass ornaments was one of her missions in life. However, my tree goes up and comes down quickly, and that’s what’s important today.
Well, yesterday was the designated day of work at the farm. As we left the town house, a lone little snowflake danced before my face. By the time we reached the highway, more of them were dancing. They didn’t stick – there was no accumulation here in the valley -- but halfway up the Gilbert Grade, then it was another world, beautifully adorned in white. The grade became slippery and we went slowly in four-wheel drive. At the farm, we estimated 6 to 8 inches of snow. The little snowflakes continued to dance, but now they were adding to the accumulation.
I set to work untrimming the tree, finishing it within two hours. Then Mike used a sled to carry the tree to storage in the barn – sorta like “bringing home the Christmas tree” in reverse.

And then the work began in earnest. I unloaded the contents of the refrigerator into crates and boxes, added in a few things from the pantry that don’t fare well in the cold, and together we loaded the pick-up for the trip back to town. Then Mike set the mousetraps, turned off the water and drained the pipes.

It was about 2:30 when we left the farm, driving at a steady pace down the lane to the gulley at the bottom, and then up-up-up until we had topped Plank’s Pitch. “Made it!” said Mike. And on we went through the white world until, halfway down the grade, we were once again in warmer valley temps and out of the snow.

After we visited the landfill, we stopped near the airport to get a geocache. This picture is of the south side of the Clearwater, contrasting the snow of the high country with the drab winter brown of the valley.

Once we were back at the town house, we had more work to do in order to assimilate all that food into our freezers and refrigerator. Fortunately some of it can stay in the garage because it’s quite cold right now, but Mike and I have some serious eating to do.

And now I feel such relief! That seasonal work is done. KW

Saturday, December 29, 2012


Your beautiful box came on Dec. 26th so we still had Christmas, but I almost wept when I saw the lovely tapers, silver table ornament and luscious holly! Those were the most beautiful holly I’ve ever seen, it seems to me – so full of berries, and how beautifully your blue boxes looked in among the silver sprays. It was a veritable treasure chest. You were very generous to remember each one, and who but you would think of buying a screwdriver for Dad and writing such a tag! Ethel to Vance, January 1937

Every year since 1928 when he moved to Raymond, Washington, Vance had prepared a box of greens, holly, candles, and gifts to enhance Ina’s Christmas. This year he was a little late mailing the box and was disappointed that it was not received before Christmas. He meant that the greens should be used to decorate the house for Christmas.

Much to Shirley Jean’s delight, it snowed the day after Christmas – not much, just enough to make the world white. When Jack went for the mail, Shirley Jean trotted along at his side, chattering excitedly the whole quarter mile. At the mailbox they found the large box from Vance. Jack handed the cards and letters to Shirley Jean and then lifted the big box to his shoulder. He was curious about the contents of the box. He hoped that Ina wouldn’t find some excuse to postpone the opening, noting to himself that it would be just like her to decide they should wait until after supper.

But Ina was just as excited as everyone else. Had the box arrived before Christmas, she would have opened it herself and taken care of the contents accordingly, but today she gathered the household all around as she carefully untied the green string and removed the brown paper from the box. (She would save the string and paper for re-use.) As she slowly opened the box, Ethel gasped in awe.

Oh! Vance had surely outdone himself this time. Not only were the greens exceptional, but he had included a wrapped gift for everyone there! Ina’s and Ethel’s gifts were tied with silvered leaves. Each tag was written with a special little verse just for the recipient.

“Who but Vance would think to send Dad a screwdriver and write such a tag!” remarked Ethel. “And how does he come to know that such a quaint little jewelry box would delight a young girl?” The gift was perfect for Shirley Jean as she had received a necklace and a ring for Christmas.

Ernest commented that his gift would serve to make the holidays more enjoyable. And Ethel’s gift was a package of lovely handkerchiefs with a tag that read, “Ethel is always making her nose go round and round.”

For Ina, Vance sent salt and pepper shakers which she liked very much. She immediately filled them for use at the table.

Shirley and Henry took the holly and greens and began to further embellish the house with them. They took down the big etching over the mantel and hung the large swag Vance had made in its place. Silvered branches were placed over other pictures.

And then the next day – a Sunday – was another festive celebration. Henry put the new area rug down in the living room, and it was fine! Everyone noted that the addition served to make the room appear more spacious.  Then Henry and Shirley made a centerpiece for the table with some of the silvered branches, “ball sprays,” and holly. The table was then set with the best tablecloth and dishes. Ina prepared a special dinner of roast stuffed chicken and the family dined in state by candlelight, using the beautiful red tapers that Vance had sent. KW

Friday, December 28, 2012


Shirley Jean was allowed to slip down and get her sock before everyone else was up. We only stipulated that it should not be too early morning. I put a book in the top of it, so as to keep her quiet till we were up. After breakfast she was allowed to take off gifts and hand them around and was delighted. It was another “skimpy Christmas,” with everyone well-remembered. Ina to Vance, January 1937

The fire in the fireplace was perking along merrily now, as if it caught Ina’s mood. She smiled to herself as she remembered the events of Christmas Day. A light sleeper, she heard Shirley Jean creeping downstairs at 5:00 a.m. The book in the top of her stocking did the trick, and she read quietly as she waited for the adults to get up, which began to happen about 7:00.

Ina’s favorite Christmas breakfast was doughnuts, and she made a big batch this morning and served them with fresh eggs and bacon. While Ethel and Shirley did the dishes, Ina set a beef roast in the oven for dinner. She had just begun to gather everyone around the tree when the phone rang -- two shorts and a long. It was Vance calling from Raymond. It eased Ina’s mind considerably to know that he was well, happy, and spending the holiday with friends. He asked if the box of greens had arrived, and she was sorry to tell him that it hadn’t. He was very disappointed, but she reassured him that it surely would come in the next day or so. Then Ina allowed the family to take turns talking to him while she kept an eye on the clock and moved them along. Phone calls were expensive.

Once again the little group settled in the living room. Shirley Jean was delighted when Ina appointed her to hand out the gifts. The adults chattered happily while waiting for her to finish her task. Then, starting with Shirley Jean, they took turns opening and showing their gifts.

Judging from what she received, Ina could see that times had improved for her children. Under Ethel’s direction, a collection had been taken – all six contributed -- and an area rug was purchased for the living room. Ina rehearsed her personal gifts in her mind, as she might report them to Vance:

Earle and Bernice sent us a plaque representing the covered wagon days. A wagon in the foreground and the train stretching beyond, the skull of an ox adds a touch of realism. It is about 8x10 and very interesting, looks fine on the mantel. They sent me a pen and pencil set in green. Myrtle sent Dad a bag of nuts and I put that in his sock. Shirley gave us a set of pretty plates in wild rose design [Homer Laughlin] and Shirley Jean gave us a sugar and creamer to match. I already had cups and saucers, platter and bowls in that design so feel pretty well fixed now for dishes. Ethel gave me a set of mixing bowls in heavy pink glass for my birthday . . .  Gene sent me a box of pretty handkerchiefs and Ben sent a box of stationery in a book-shaped box. Dad gave me pretty boudoir slippers, so I did well.

After the gift exchange, it was time to complete the preparations for Christmas dinner, set for 1:00. To ease the sting of not including “the Junes” in the opening of gifts, Ina had volunteered to provide the entire meal, but Bertha, who loved to cook, wouldn’t hear of it. She brought several rich side dishes as well as pumpkin and mince pies, with the result that the menu was large and varied. Everyone did justice to the meal until dessert. After such rich food, dessert was postponed till later.

When the dinner dishes were cleared away, Jack and June wandered off to do their evening chores while the women retired to the kitchen. They opened the oven door, made themselves comfortable in various poses, “let their hair down,” and visited for several hours. It was a lovely time of family togetherness – a memory to be treasured, thought Ina.

Christmas 1936 was fading away gradually. Oh! Had she nodded off? Ina made sure the dying fire was safe behind the screen and took herself off to bed. KW

[Norman Rockwell's "Santa Reading His Mail" was copyrighted in 1935. The picture of Vance at the piano was taken in Raymond, Washington, in 1937. The last illustration is vintage stickers.]

Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Shirley Jean hung up her stocking at the fireplace and Dad did too as he usually does when a grandchild is here. Ina to Vance, January 1937

Christmas Night, 1936
The fire was burning lower now and would soon go out unless Ina put another stick of wood on it, which she decided to do. She was enjoying a chance to be alone with her thoughts and wasn’t particularly sleepy yet. Besides, it wouldn’t hurt to generate more heat for the house.

So, where were we? Oh yes. The tree was up and decorated, and Shirley also made and placed garlands over the doors. They hadn’t decorated so well since 1930 when Ethel and Shirley Jean, then just five years old, had last spent Christmas with them.

Christmas Eve Henry left to go “over home” and spend Christmas with his folks. Ina liked Henry well enough, but she was also glad to have “just her own children” with her. There were the six of them in all, and they were a merry group.

After an early supper of soup, biscuits, and apple salad, Ethel and Shirley hurried to finish the dishes while Ina set out ginger cookies, sliced pork cake, hard candy, etc. Tomorrow “the Junes” would come to share a big Christmas dinner, but for tonight it was just their family. They had decided that this year they would defer their “tree” (gift exchange) until after breakfast Christmas Day to prolong the celebration as long as possible.
So, after supper Ina, the mistress of the celebration, gathered the family for a special Christmas Eve “tree lighting” ceremony. They doused the lights (except that from the fireplace), and Ina lit the candles one by one as Ethel led them in a chorus of “Silent Night.” Ina allowed the candles to burn ten minutes or so. She was aware that Ernest had made sure the water bucket in the kitchen was full, and he also sat near the door so that he could dash for it if the tree caught fire. Ina thought him a bit paranoid, but she had to appreciate that he was only thinking of their safety.

Ina had never experienced a fire-related accident, but as her thoughts meandered through Christmas events, she remembered a conversation with her friend, Nina Portfors. Nina had related that when she and her husband, Charlie, lived on the farm near Weippe (pronounced wee-ipe), Charlie had arranged that “Santa” should pay a call on Christmas morning to give the children (Francis and Dorothy) their gifts. As Santa hove in sight, Charlie called, “Here he comes,” and Nina hastened to light the candles on the tree. Santa entered the house and approached the tree to begin his work, when suddenly, Charlie (and Charlie was a rather small man), grabbed Santa and whirled him out the door into the snow. Santa was unaware that his beard had caught fire. Charlie’s quick action had averted what might have been a tragedy. Yes, you had to be careful with fire, Ina nodded to herself, but one also heard that those big electric Christmas bulbs could cause fires in dry trees.

After some munching of holiday goodies and general Christmas fun, Shirley Jean had hung up her sock. Playing along, Jack hung his, too. Ina was ready to help Santa with Shirley Jean’s sock, but fortunately, she remembered a package of nuts daughter Myrtle had sent, and those went into Jack’s sock. KW

[This photograph of the Christmas tree in the living room of the Julian and Ina Dobson home was taken in 1921. Given that the camera wasn't very sophisticated, I think the picture turned out fairly well. If you look closely, you can see gifts or cards tied onto the branches.]

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


The story of Christmas 1936 at the Gilbert home place continues:
Shirley Jean went with Ernest to get our tree and Dad set it up on the 23rd. Then she, Shirley, and Henry trimmed it. Shirley Jean was thrilled to be allowed to tie on gifts, etc. Ina to Vance

Christmas night, 1936:  Ina sat alone before the fireplace. Shirley and Shirley Jean had retired early while the others sat up to visit. Now Ina was the only one left downstairs. She loved to ponder the events of a Christmas well-celebrated as she sat quietly in the darkened living room -- the fire burning low in the grate, the Christmas tree stately in the corner.

A thinker and a student of the Bible, Ina knew the religious meaning of the season but also appreciated Christmas as a winter celebration and thought it essential to morale in dark days. It lifted the spirits and brought plenty to think about.  

Gifts? Ina put a great deal of thought into what she gave. She never asked the recipient what he wanted but endeavored to provide a thoughtful gift from her storehouse. For those of her household, she would buy needful items, such as stockings, gloves, pajamas, stationery, and soap. A jar of strawberry jam, an apron made of scraps, a book from her shelf, or a premium from a feed sack were the kinds of gifts she sent to her children and grandchildren. To a struggling neighbor she would send a chicken, a jar of cream, a sack of beans.

As for what she received, Ina expected the same kind of gift in return. Her children were all thoughtful, giving her dishes, yard goods for a new dress or curtains, or even a little cash. But Ina remembered her disappointment in '33 when they all said they couldn't afford to send anything. She thought they could have been more imaginative. After all, she cared not so much for worldly goods but for ideas.

Food? Christmas was a time of feasting, but Ina believed in simplicity – roast beef and/or stuffed chicken, plenty of vegetables, fresh rolls, and pumpkin pie for dessert. The ostentatious presentation of rich food promoted in women’s magazines eluded her. On one page they discussed healthy living and on the next they presented rich food. What was the matter with the world anyway?

On the eve of Christmas Eve, all was in readiness so that the festivities might begin. Then, and only then, was the Christmas tree brought in. Jack suggested that Ernest and Shirley Jean go after the tree. He was sure, he told Ernest, that if they headed into the gulley beyond the flat, they could find a suitable tree. It was not worth a lot of discussion, and the two men, one short and the other tall, immediately saw eye-to-eye on the subject: make short work of finding and cutting a four-foot tree. The important part was the experience for Shirley Jean.

Within two hours, Ernest and Shirley Jean were back at the house, Ernest easily carrying a sparsely branched fir while Shirley Jean jumped for joy beside him. Jack then took over, placing the spindly tree in a stand.

You could talk about strings of electric lights all you wanted. Ina had seen the ads in the back of the Good Housekeeping magazine she was reading. In fact, she had even seen these lights at the Merc in Orofino. No use to think of these things. Her tree would be lit as always by real candles -- a dangerous practice now becoming obsolete. Never mind. They were always careful – always.

After the noon meal, Shirley and Henry helped Shirley Jean decorate the tree with a few ornaments and tinsel. Ina always tried to remove as much of the tinsel as possible for re-use the next year, and this year she had purchased a new box as well. Once the candle clips were in place, Shirley inserted and secured new candles.

After the tree was trimmed, Ina brought out wrapped gifts and showed Shirley Jean how to tie them on the tree with green string. It was just common green string – the kind everyone had for tying packages for mailing – but Ina had a fondness for it. Shirley Jean’s delight in this simple task was infectious. Ina marveled that the presence of even one child enlivened the celebration. KW