Saturday, December 26, 2015


It had been a wonderful Christmas Day. I’m sure you can imagine what fun the family had as they opened gifts together in the morning.   

The gathering for an early afternoon dinner included Aunt Bertha and Uncle June and their family and several neighbors who would otherwise be alone for Christmas. Ina served a big mid-day dinner, such as farm wives know how to prepare, with everyone sitting together at the big dining room table. Small gifts were shared, and as the neighbors took their leave, the leftover food was parceled out.

Ina & daughter Pearl, c. 1918
In the evening, the men withdrew to sit before the fireplace in the living room while the women drew chairs around the wood range in the kitchen. But before long, Sadie began to cry, and the womenfolk nodded knowingly at one another, recognizing a tired child. In the warmth of the kitchen, Ina helped Sadie get ready for bed. Ethel fixed a hot water bottle and placed it in the middle of Sadie’s bed.

Of course, Sadie wanted to take her new doll Lucy to bed with her, so she was allowed the time to put the doll’s nightgown on her. Then she and Ina climbed the stairs to her bed. Ina pushed the water bottle further toward the bottom of the bed to warm Sadie’s feet. Then she wrapped herself in an afghan and stretched out beside the little girl to help warm the bed.

Sadie asked to hear a story, and so Ina began to recite the verses from Luke 2:1-20, which she knew by heart. As she finished, Sadie’s breathing was deep and even, and Ina carefully slipped off the pallet and tiptoed from the room. She looked forward to rejoining the group in the kitchen.

“Gram?” the little voice called before Ina reached the stairs.

Oh dear. What now? “Yes, Sadie?”

“Thank you for making Lucy for me.”

“Why, Santa brought Lucy to you. Mrs. Claus made her.”

“I think you were Mrs. Claus,” said Sadie. “And anyway, I want to know that you made her.”

Ina was touched and admitted that yes, she had made the rag doll.

“Mama said I couldn’t have a doll this Christmas, and I’m so glad you made Lucy. Thank you.”

Ina gave the little girl a goodnight kiss and slipped off downstairs, thinking it had been a very satisfying Christmas indeed. People could do things like this – make somethings out of nothings so that there is “no skimpy Christmas.” KW

Friday, December 25, 2015


Christmas Eve, 1931

This was a big day, and Sadie, “American Farm Girl,” was excited. The adults put up with no foolishness, though. She was required to keep calm.

To everyone’s relief, Myrtle came in at lunchtime. Due to the snow, she had to walk from June’s place, leaving her suitcase for the time being. Now that Myrtle had arrived, it seemed to Ina that it really was Christmas.

Myrtle Dobson
Myrtle was a strong, independent woman who handled heavy work well. Never mind that she talked incessantly. The women were glad to have her help.  

Now it was time to get the tree. Ethel dressed Sadie in her snowsuit and she accompanied Jack and Ernest to get the tree. The snow was deep in places and it was rough going, but Sadie didn’t complain. Granddad showed her the pretty little tree he had saved for her Christmas at the farm, and she approved.

A heavy snowfall in the '30s
Back at the house, Ina had hot chocolate ready for the little girl and coffee for the adults. Jack set up the tree so that the womenfolk could get busy with the decorations. Then he made the final pre-Christmas trip to the mailbox where he found twenty Christmas cards and two more boxes of gifts -- one from Vance.

So, they opened Vance’s box first, knowing it contained holly and other greenery from the Washington coast which added so much to their holiday decorations. Out came a swag of greens he had made for the front door, which Myrtle hung immediately. Loose greens were tucked above pictures, placed on the mantel, and set aside to make a centerpiece for tomorrow’s dinner. And there were candles of the most beautiful red they had ever seen. Those, too, were saved for Christmas Day.

Sadie was allowed to help her grandmother decorate the tree. Ina had a dozen shiny brite balls, some old-fashioned tin icicles, lots of tinsel, and clip-on candle holders. Ina didn’t spend much for tree decorations, but this year she added a new box of tinsel and new candles.

Ina's tree
After supper – creamed onions on toast – Sadie got ready for bed and her father, Ernest, read her “The Night Before Christmas” from the old family copy. Then the family gathered in the living room. Jack and Myrtle lit the candles on the tree and blew out the kerosene lamps except for the one in the kitchen window. For ten minutes they quietly admired the candlelit tree. Then Granddad Jack screwed two cup hooks into the mantel – and he and Sadie hung their stockings. (Jack always hung his stocking when a child was there for Christmas.)

At bedtime, Sadie was admonished that if she arose early – and everyone knew she would – she was not to arouse any of the adults nor touch the gifts, but if Santa had filled her stocking, she could look at those things. Ernest took his daughter up to bed so that – well, you know.

Together Ina and her daughters placed gifts under the tree, including those received through the mail. In those days, packing boxes were wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. The boxes were opened with care and the brown paper and string saved for re-use. Ina was partial to the green string and liked to use it to tie some of the smaller gifts onto the tree.

And then it was time for everyone to retire. Well, not quite everyone. When the house was quiet, Ina reached under her bed for that special box (the rag doll and her clothes) and crept back downstairs. The box for Sadie was placed under the tree and the two stockings filled with trinkets such as the recipients would like. On the hearth she placed a coloring book and crayons to occupy little Sadie when she arose. Then she crept back upstairs. All was in readiness for Christmas morning. KW

Thursday, December 24, 2015


UPS truck stuck in lane

Mike and I have been in town all month. I haven’t done a thing toward preparing the farmhouse, the one in 2015, for Christmas. As I write this, a new slimline “pencil” tree, unlit, sits in the livingroom. Tonight maybe I’ll pretend I’m Ina and decorate my tree. Or maybe I’m too tired. Need a little Christmas? Light candles.

Neighbor Pete comes to the rescue with his old tractor
Anyway, Mike and I dined with Ken and Ginny at Meriwether’s in the Lewiston Red Lion last night. We had hoped to find some Christmas atmosphere, but the main diningroom was surprisingly un-Christmas-like – not so much as a wreath, a tree, or a table decoration in view. The meal and the associations were great, and that’s what’s important.

So, today – Christmas Eve – we decided to load up and head out to the farm – the same place where Ina and Jack lived in 1931.

Gilbert Grade was slick. As we arrived on top, Mike commented that his knuckles were white. Angling back over to our place, we could see the road had been plowed prior to the last snowstorm and someone had driven in as far as the neighbor’s. Fearing what might lie ahead, we stopped and chained up above Plank’s Pitch. It was hard on Mike who feels the cold in his hands these days, but he got it done.

We got as far as mid-lane – just past the “pine-apple” grove – before the Dakota bogged down in the snow. We let the dogs out, gathered a few things, and set out for the house on foot.

Pulling truck onto road backwards
Just then I heard the approach of a vehicle – UPS. “No!” I yelled; “go back.” Mike waved frantically. The driver stopped where the gate posts are. We feared it was too late, but the driver had yet to realize his plight. Mike walked down and accepted the package, and the driver returned to his truck. He tried to back out, but it was useless. Mike and I kept walking toward the house, and the poor guy may have thought we were abandoning him, but we had to get tools in order to help him.

Tractor stalls on Plank's Pitch
Mike grabbed shovels and headed back while I put on waterproof boots and texted Hallie about this remarkable situation. (Hey! I have my priorities.) She reminded me to take pictures, so when I got to the Dakota, I crawled in and found the camera, taking the pictures you see here.

Pete plows Plank's driveway for turn-around
Mike and the UPS guy were unable to free the truck, so the driver asked if we knew someone with a tractor. Yes, said Mike, and sent me to call Neighbor Pete. We try not to bother Pete, but this was different. However, I had to walk back to the farmyard and higher ground in order for the call to go through.

"Give 'er hell! You can do it! But it didn't happen.
“Oh!” said Pete’s wife, “I’ll send Pete right over with the tractor.” I thought she sounded rather happy about it, like maybe she welcomed this opportunity for Pete to get out of the house. And by the time I trudged back down to the culvert, Pete and the tractor were in sight.

Discussion ensued among the menfolk. Pete wasn’t sure the old tractor was equal to the job, but long story short, he pulled the UPS truck all the way up Plank’s Pitch.

The driver said he had no difficulties prior to driving our road, but other roads here receive better winter maintenance. He said he’d had enough and was going back to town without attempting further deliveries.

Old tractor pulls UPS truck -- "I think I can."
As Pete and the UPS truck disappeared at the top of the Pitch, we turned to walk back to the farmhouse. Mike said he was all for leaving and going back to town. I would have been fine with that, but just then the tractor reappeared, and Pete insisted on plowing the lane for us, which he did.
"I thought I could, I thought I could, I thought I could."

The problem is compounded by soft ground under the snow. It’s supposed to turn cold, and Mike and Pete agreed that it would be better if it did. Meanwhile, anyone coming here can probably get in – if it doesn’t snow again. Might be slick, though. KW


[Please forgive the tardiness of the blog author. Life happened in real time.]
The family at the farmhouse awoke to a world of renewed whiteness. Sadie jumped out of bed the minute she heard Granddad’s footsteps on the stairs. Anticipating that she would be up early, her mother left her clothes in the kitchen beside the stove. Sadie quickly dressed, and Granddad helped her put on her snowsuit so that she could go to the barn with him while he did his chores.

“I’d forgotten how hard it is to get out of bed in winter at the farmhouse,” mumbled Ethel as she tugged the blankets more closely around her neck and nestled back into the covers. Ernest chuckled and pointed out that the chill of the house hadn’t bothered Sadie, “American Farm Girl.”

As she gathered the fortitude to get out of bed, Ethel pondered the situation at the homestead. It’s not easy to return to primitive conditions when one has become accustomed to “modern conveniences.” Not just personal comfort was involved, though. The impact on hygiene and health as household standards improved couldn’t be denied. The old folks growing older on the farm without water, indoor plumbing, and electrification was definitely a problem not easily solved. Nonetheless, allowing Sadie the opportunity to experience this life – to be the “American Farm Girl,” if only for a short time – was precious.

Ethel did get up, and so did Shirley, and she and Shirley fixed breakfast, allowing Ina to sleep in. The poor dear needed an extra hour in bed this morning, and no one begrudged her that. Ina had taught both Ethel and Shirley to cook and both knew how to manage the old wood range. They fixed another hearty farm breakfast – bacon, eggs, oatmeal, and toast, with butter, cream, and preserves.

Having baked cookies yesterday, today they frosted them. The gingerbread men were covered in white with currents and raisins for buttons and eyes.

After lunch, Jack and Sadie again went for the mail. This time there were two boxes of Christmas gifts and many more cards. The family gathered around the table in the diningroom with coffee and Christmas cookies to open cards and share the messages of goodwill. They took turns reading letters from friends and family. Sadie sat quietly putting together a small jigsaw puzzle.

After a light supper of chicken soup and farm bread, Ina pressed Jack into popping popcorn while she mixed the molasses coating. Using two big roasters, Jack poured the syrup from the heavy cast iron frying pan over the popcorn while Ina and Shirley quickly stirred. Then Ina sent Jack and Sadie to the livingroom to munch on bits of sugared popcorn in the bottom of the pan. The three women cleaned the kitchen and then packed boxes of the sugared corn for the party on Christmas Day. On the radio, a choir softly sang beautiful Christmas carols. KW

[I’ll bet you’re wondering if Ina ever mailed her packages. Yes, they were all mailed by Monday, the 21st. I think Jack just carried them out to the mailbox to be picked up by the mail carrier, but I wonder – does anyone know how the payment for postage was handled?]