My formative years were spent in southern Minnesota. In that climate, where weather patterns varied from crossing the Great Plains from the Rockies or sweeping down out of Canada, we didn’t have to dream of a white Christmas; it was the norm. In fact a white Thanksgiving wasn’t all that rare.
We always had a real tree. Artificial trees in the 1940s were rare, and if you got one it was expensive. Christmas evergreens in southern Minnesota were plentiful, and Dad usually managed to get one for next to nothing.
The way he did it was to look for something less than symmetrical. Then he’d bargain down the seller, pointing out the flaws in their growth. His secret was to bring it home and do a bit of carpentry to fill the gaps, transplanting a sprig here and there to make the tree look as full as possible.
Then we’d decorate the tree. The era of dainty little bulbs was yet to come; our strings of lights had the larger bulbs, which tended to burn out frequently and need replacement. When one light burned out, the whole string went out, and you had to replace the bulbs one by one until you found the bad bulb. A revolutionary improvement came when we bought a string equipped with buttons on each light that you could push to bypass the blown-out bulb and tell which one needed replacement.
Also toward the end of our Minnesota years, the first bubble lights appeared. You replaced a regular light and the tubes of liquid above the bulb would bubble away when sufficiently warmed.
In our last home in Mankato, the tree always went in an anteroom in the front along a row of windows facing the street. We always put up the tree at least a couple of weeks before Christmas and left it up until just before New Year’s. Outside lighting wasn’t big then, but we always had lights in the windows. And a manger scene.
Many of our decorations were handed down from other family members or bought specially, usually for their young son. After my dad died and we moved to Indiana, many of those special decorations came with us. Most of them broke or were discarded, but I think we may still have a piece or two on our tree today.
My folks always hedged on the Santa Claus tradition, reluctant to bend the truth even for their little boy. But Santa still was a beloved part of Christmas even if just in a fantasy way. I even made up stories about Santa and his reindeer, including one in which Rudolph had to miss the Christmas Eve trip one year because he had contracted a rare disease called greenblood. I had quite an imagination.
I hope your Christmas memories are as vivid as mine this year.
Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.