Monday, December 31, 2007

Who's the Gal with the Legs?

Left to right: Doris Johnson, Bennie Johnson, George Johnson,
and Phyllis Johnson. Leonard, Minnesota, ca. 1930.

Even farm kids need a little comic relief now and again. For a good laugh one day, my mother and aunt changed clothing with their boy cousins, and someone came around with a Brownie camera to snap a photo. I'll bet the boys were cringing a few years after this one...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Go Gently, 2007

I usually pay little heed to the idea of New Year's resolutions. I've never been much for making or adhering to lists. I just can't seem to get organized enough, preferring to rely on my intuition instead. But, things seem to happen somehow.

In 2007, there were some successes, a few challenges, and a few sorrows: a slice of life, in other words:

  • During the summer, I wrapped up six years of research regarding the Johnson side of my mother's family, and I am SO close to sending the finished product to the printers. It should have been there several months ago, but life happens and alters one's timing. "A Long Way Downstream: the Life and Family of Thibertine Johnson Winje, Norwegian-American Pioneer," will be out in print in 2008.

  • I learned how to give more of myself as a human being when my husband had both hips replaced this summer, and he relied on me for many everyday things he'd never had to before (because he is a ski instructor, this was doubly frustrating for him). In November, I had another chance to give my understanding and support when my only aunt passed away, and 10 days later my sister's house burned, displacing both her and our mother. Mom flew out from Alabama to live with me, and although it's been an adjustment, it is one I gladly make. Now we will have much more time to discuss family history.

  • On October 8, my very first book was released through Arcadia Publishing: Snoqualmie Pass, by John and Chery Kinnick. I love the research and putting-together part; John loves the marketing and autographing (there's something for everyone in publishing!)

  • I was also excited to have the comraderie and support from Luci and Cathy, members of my writer's support group: the "Nearby Norwegians." We are plotting our next Norwegian projects, which may be related to the upcoming centennial celebration of the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, held in Seattle in 1909.

  • In the autumn, I participated in the Nearby History seminar for writers and local historians through Seattle's Museum of History and Industry: my second time around. This is a unique program (if you don't believe me, just try to find another like it). Those of us who have been a part of it can attest to the encouragement and opportunity it has provided to writers of history, whether it be family, local, regional, or other types of history. "Nearby History" is defined as "history that is close to the heart," not just near to Seattle. Our blogging friend, footnoteMaven, is a fellow participant, and she's, well... uh-uh! You thought I was going to give her identity away, now didn't you? I'm afraid you'll have to wait for her to raise that curtain herself, if ever, but I can tell you that she's every bit as clever, helpful, and wonderful a person as she seems in her blog posts, and real purty, too!
  • I began blogging in earnest this year, and I must say, there need be no lonely or boring moments out there for anyone involved in such a supportive venture as genealogy/family history writing. We come from near and far, answering the siren song of our computers, whatever corner they are hiding in at the moment, and we share ideas and inspire one another. Now, what could be neater than that? I am proud to be a Genealogy and Family History blogger--a GREAT bunch!

In 2008, my plan is to:

  • Work hard at keeping in contact with the many cousins and interested parties I have been in communication with while doing my family research. An important part of research is networking, and through it, coming to care about people that I haven't met yet, except through the internet. I even have an invitation to Norway, and I'm raking my brain trying to come up with a way to go as soon as possible. Oh, my! I can't think of a better plan for 2008 than visiting Norway.

  • Be very committed to my next book project, which deals with Seattle local history. Wish me luck! I will have to spend many hours in archives with my neck cranked and my fingers glued to my laptop, for starters.

  • Spend as much quality time with my family as I can possibly manage. My husband and I have decided to move from our mountain pass home, and although I won't bore you with the details, I'm hoping to decrease my stress levels and improve the quality of my "haven" at home with this move. I'm a nester, and I haven't had much of a chance to nest lately.

  • Be a Nearby History participant again in autumn 2008.
  • Continue blogging and seeking inspiration from all of you!

Image: Free Gifs and Animations

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas 1983

Merry Christmas, Munchkins!

This one is just for you.

Love, Mom

Friday, December 21, 2007

Musical Musings from Christmases Past

Advent Calendar, December 21: Music

Chestnuts roast on open fires,
snowflakes nip at Nat King Cole's nose;
Crosby dreams of a white Christmas,
and where's Dean Martin? No-one knows.

In the manger, Johnny Mathis
awaits a sleigh ride just with you;
while in St. Louis, Garland hangs
a shining star on highest bough.

Burl Ives spreads his holly jolly,
and Chipmunks just can't stand the wait;
"Oh, Hurry Christmas, hurry fast!"
And, Santa don't you dare be late.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wish Books and Hardwood Floors

Advent Calendar, December 19: Shopping

In the early 1960s, shopping was such a special occasion that my entire family went on purposeful expeditions only several times a year: one was during the inevitable "back to school" rush, and another always happened several weeks before Christmas.

My sister and I were never under the care of a babysitter, so on the chosen Friday night, we waited for Dad to arrive home from work with great anticipation. We gulped a dinner of something like macaroni and cheese with canned green beans. Right after, Mom struggled to get a coat and hat onto my fidgety little sister, and then checked for the third time that the shopping list was actually in her purse. Finally, we piled into Dad's red and white '57 Ford Ranch Wagon for a drive into town.

Becky sat sandwiched in the front seat between Dad and Mom, while I held on tight in the back seat and pressed my nose to the window, watching as headlights, taillights, and streetlights whizzed by. Magnified through rain drops on the glass, the color and sparkle of nighttime lights added to my holiday spirit.

We lived in the Richmond Annex along Carlson Boulevard, which consisted of homes built on landfill during the post World War II building boom. Woolworth's on Macdonald Avenue was the store of choice when Mom came out to Richmond from Minnesota in 1945. Department stores quickly became popular in the post war years, though Macy's was a little too expensive for Mom's taste. Once in a great while, we ventured into Oakland to visit the tall Sears Roebuck building, mostly to pick up catalog orders.

Macdonald Avenue at night, Richmond, 1959. Richmond Street Scenes

For us, Christmas gift-buying usually meant driving through the rain and the dark into downtown Richmond to shop at Montgomery Ward. After Dad found a parking spot, we climbed up the few short steps to enter the store and get out of the rain. Inside, the overheated department store immediately made us feel uncomfortable: our wool coats began to steam and smell, and our wet shoes clicked and slipped against highly polished hardwood floors. The foreign sounds of elevators bells and far-away voices on the intercom captured my attention as we wove around islands of neatly piled clothing and other shoppers. In the back of the store was a special area set up for Christmas, and we made a beeline for that before my sister's attention span had a chance to wane.

Mom had been formulating what to buy for weeks, but she always took my sister and I to have a look at some of the things we'd been drooling over in the catalog, known as the"Wish Book," all autumn. Though tempted at what we saw, we never begged; we were taught restraint. Even so, my active little sister found it quite difficult to keep from touching all of the glittery treats among the displays, because she loved everything. But, greedy? Never! We could point and sigh and smile and hope, and that was all we ever needed to do.

After World War II, Montgomery Ward had become the third-largest department store chain. In 1946, the Grolier Club, a society of bibliophiles in New York City, exhibited the Wards catalog alongside Webster's dictionary as one of 100 American books chosen for their influence on life and culture of the people. The brand name of the store became embedded in the popular American consciousness and was often called by the nickname "Monkey Wards," both affectionately and derisively.

In the 1950s, the company was slow to respond to general movement of the American middle class to suburbia. While its old rivals Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy's, and Dillard's established new anchor outlets in the growing number of suburban shopping malls, the top executives thought such moves as too expensive, sticking to their downtown and main street stores until the company had lost too much market share to compete with its rivals. Its catalog business had begun to slip by the 1960s...


Santa was in the store, of course, but after several unsuccessful attempts to get my sister to sit on his lap, Mom gave up. Becky was terrified by certain things, and one of them just happened to be Santa. Santa Claus in storybooks was a grand idea, but the reality of Santa-in-the-flesh was just too unsettling. I am reminded of a time when Becky was about three years old and Mom came home with new, dark-rimmed glasses. Oh, how Becky screamed and screamed - she was inconsolable! Poor Mom had to schedule another appointment and select something a bit less scary. You would never think that my sister, as a grown woman, would be into horror movies and collectibles, now would you?

When the tour of the toys was completed and any grumbles had been quieted, Mom took us to look at clothing - the huge, dubious wasteland that made up most of the department store. That was Dad's cue to sneak back to the toy area and buy what Mom had instructed. I always knew what was happening, but it was more fun to pretend that I didn't.

Mom struggled to keep my sister in tow while searching for the perfect flannel shirt for Grampa, the tights Becky needed to match her cute holiday dress, or linens for Aunt Mabel. Afterwards, we all piled back into the station wagon for the drive home, grateful to be in the cool, evening air once again. The purchased gifts were secretly stowed in the back of the wagon, safe in the dark from prying eyes and distanced from curious fingers.

While Mom and Dad recovered from sticker shock and the stress of another holiday buying expedition, the family headed home to the little white stucco house with red wood shutters in the Richmond Annex. We all anticipated another happy Christmas, but, we had made Montgomery Ward even happier, I'm sure.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Christmastime Lesson Learned

Advent Calendar, December 16: School

Today's the day Santa's coming to our classroom! Wow, what will he bring?

Alvarado Elementary School,
Richmond, California

Funny, Santa doesn't look really old. I thought he'd have a lot of wrinkles, like Grampa Johnson. He sure is big, though, a lot bigger than anybody else in the room. The red suit looks really soft. I'd like to find out what it feels like, but Teacher warned us not to touch. What do you think would happen if paste got all over Santa's suit? He'd have to go back to the North Pole, and Mrs. Claus would have to wash and iron it all over again, and then we'd have to wait for our presents.

We shared some cookies and punch with Santa, then we opened our presents and sang Jingle Bells. When Santa left to go to the next classroom, he almost got stuck in the doorway with his large pack. Boy, he must be eating a lot of cookies.

Everybody in class got a little white china bell with a picture on it. How cute! They sound pretty, too. Some bells are round, and some are square. I like the square bells best, but I got a round one. Oh well, it's pretty anyway.

After school, I walked home with my friend, Kathy. This boy I didn't know ran up and held a square bell in front of my face. "Hey, wanna trade?" he asked.

I looked down at the round, white bell in my hand. Even though Santa had given me this one, I didn't think it would hurt to trade... and I did like the square bells a little bit better, so I said: "Sure."

The boy took my round bell and gave me his square bell. He ran off a few steps, stopped, and then held his arm way out over the sidewalk. He opened up his fingers and let go of the little bell Santa had given me. It fell and broke into a hundred little pieces on the sidewalk.

Did he just do that on purpose? It sure didn't look like an accident!

The boy hurried back over to me. He was trying to look angry and upset at the same time, and he yelled in my face: "Gimme mine back!"

I was afraid of bullies. I didn't want to give the bell back, but I did, mostly because I felt guilty about trading.

I walked home in a daze. As soon as Mommy opened the door, I started to cry. I cried so hard that when she tried to find out what was wrong, I couldn't talk. She took the lunch box out of my hand and helped me take off my coat and scarf, and then made some hot cocoa. Pretty soon, I was able to tell her about the bell and about the boy who wanted to trade... and how he broke it just to be mean.

I lost my bell. I wished I had kept the round one. Now I didn't have any!

Aunt Mabel had been listening from the dining room table. She told me: "Chery, put your coat and scarf back on. Let's walk down the street and see if we can find it."

"Really?" I sniffled and choked. "But, it's all broken up!"

"Well, let's just go take a look."

We walked a few blocks back to school, and I showed her the spot where the bell was dropped. Instead of a bell, there were lots and lots of white specks everywhere. Aunt Mabel bent down and began to pick them all up and put them into a bag - even the tiniest pieces, and I helped.

A couple of days later, I woke up and went into the kitchen for breakfast. I couldn't believe what I saw: there on the table was my little round bell! It was missing a little bit on one side, but it looked pretty much the same. Mommy told me that she stayed up late after putting my baby sister to bed, and then she glued the bell back together.

I had my bell back! I hugged her and felt like crying again. I told myself I would never trade a present again, whether it came from Santa Claus, or from anyone else.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Blog Caroling We Will Go...

Thanks to footnoteMaven for coming up with the idea of blog caroling! I'm going to pick one of my 87-year-old mom's longtime favorite carols. Can't you just picture her grooving to this in her purple and lime green "Grumpy" pjs (of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves fame)?

Though Mom would prefer a hot chocolate and a cozy spot near the woodstove while listening to Nat King Cole croon, I'll opt for an Irish Coffee and catching my Hubby under the mistletoe.

Now kids, don't let that fire go out while you are busy singing along!

The Christmas Song

(Merry Christmas to You) or
(Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping at your nose,
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,
And folks dressed up like Eskimos.

Everybody knows a turkey and some mistletoe,
Help to make the season bright.
Tiny tots with their eyes all aglow,
Will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know that Santa's on his way;
He's loaded lots of toys and goodies on his sleigh.
And every mother's child is going to spy,
To see if reindeer really know how to fly.

And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To kids from one to ninety-two,
Although its been said many times, many ways,
Merry Christmas to you.

"The Christmas Song" was written by Mel Torme and Bob Wells in 1944 during a blistering hot summer. It was first recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946, and his 1961 version remains a favorite today, even though the carol has since been recorded by many artists, including: John Denver, Glen Campbell, Kenny Rogers, Doris Day, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, Barbra Streisand, the Jackson Five, James Taylor, The Supremes, Chicago, The Lettermen, Natalie Cole, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Carpenters, Trisha Yearwood, New Kids on the Block, Twisted Sister, Charlotte Church, Al Jarreau, Whitney Houston, and, whew! Well, there are a lot...

Source: Wikipedia

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Traveling on the Cusp of a New Millennium

The current Carnival of Genealogy topic is the New Millennium. Where was I at the start of the 21st Century?

The 21st Century has long been revered as the epoch in which all technical aspirations would be achieved, all poverty ended, and the mysteries of the universe solved, once and for all. Well, time marches on, and it doesn't look much different from here than it did from several decades ago, except that everyone has more electronic toys at their beck and command. I'm not sure our lives are getting any easier, though.

But, they are ultimately more enjoyable! On New Year's Eve, 1999, I was at my mountain pass home trying to get some respite from long winter commutes to Seattle. My husband and I were reviewing slides from the trip of a lifetime we had taken in September of that year. We were gone so long that our poor dog nearly died from loneliness...

After coming into some insurance money, I decided I wanted to visit Europe for the first time. Rick Steves of Europe Through the Back Door became my hero. Following a year of planning, in September 1999, John and I flew into Copenhagen, and then drove through parts of Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and took the train to Prague in the Czech Republic. The experience just blew me away, and changed my life in many ways. After coming back home, I put my mental house in order and dropped out of grad school, deciding instead to focus on the things that were of real importance to me. I didn't need an extra degree for that!

During our travels, we enjoyed the Rhine from both castle ruins above the river, and from aboard a cruise boat; we walked the ancient wall in the quaint medieval German town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. We also drove the Romantic Road, which has signs in Japanese, as well as in German, and we later found out just what our rented VW Golf could do on the Autobahn - not bad, even though two Lamborghinis flashed past us like we were children playing in the dirt.

In Switzerland, we explored Roman ruins in Avenches, and later enjoyed fondue on the terrace of an old pension in Gimmelwald, high above the Lauterbrunnen Valley in the Berner Oberland. Our "modest" dining view was of the Jungfrau, Monch, and Eiger peaks at dusk. As I sipped local wine, I heard the lonely, far-off call of a train from across the valley. Looking way down, I spotted a single headlight winding its way near the base of the Jungfrau. When our fondue pot arrived, the hostess warned us with a smile: "If you forget to stir ze fondue at ze bottom of ze pot to keep it from burning, then you vill vash ze pot!"

A panorama of Gimmewald in the Berner Oberland, Switzerland

Ah, the Alps! The Berner Oberland is a slice of heaven, and we were fortunate enough to have clear weather during our entire stay. Walking the winding paths of Gimmelwald under the stars, local house cats, all looking alike, came out to greet us. Early the next morning, we took the Jungfraubahn (train) up to the Jungfraujoch, known as the Top of Europe, and on the ride back at noon we were the only passengers. From the Kleine Scheidegg station on down, my husband rode up front with the conductor, who proudly pointed out his house with his own laundry hanging in the yard, as the train passed by. I had the entire Oberland: its peaks, glacial moraines, sloping valleys, trails, hikers, and cows, all to myself from the passenger car behind...

If I could pick just one city to re-visit in Europe, it would be Prague, the City of a Hundred Spires. If you want to know Prague, listen to "Die Moldau," a symphonic poem by Smetana, and you will understand and feel his love for Bohemia. If you want to get close to old gothic Europe, get thee to Prague.

The Old Town Square in Prague
Discover Czech

So, on 12/31/1999, while a new Millennium rang in on the clock, my husband and I sat clinking our glasses in private, listening to the occasional "pop-pop" of illegal fireworks in the national forest outside our door. We were busy reliving the many details of our three and a half weeks spent in Europe that September.

I certainly don't want to wait until the next Millennium to plan a similar trip. If we are all adequate caretakers of our lovely earth and its diversity, the fulfillment and learning to be had by traveling among other cultures will still be available to us throughout this century of great promise.

Bonne joyeaux!

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Not So Perfect Gift

Advent Calendar, December 10: Gifts

Christmas Eve was always so special: a splash of color, glitter, mystery, and excitement to break up the everyday lull. I think Mom was the most excited of all. For a patient woman, she seemed decidedly impatient to get on with the fun of Christmas.

Early on, she started a family tradition where my sister and I were each allowed to pick a present from under the tree and open it on the night before Christmas Eve: "The Night Before the Night Before Christmas," as it were. We always knew to scrutinize each present before the 23rd of December came around - ready to pounce when given the go-ahead, thereby lessening the possibility of her changing her mind at the last moment.

But, why is it that no matter how many wonderful, thoughtful, lovely, and brilliant gifts we receive, it's always the weird ones we remember the most?

During our family get-togethers with "the other side" of the family (Dad's side), we usually had a dinner party. Names were drawn ahead of time for gifts. Each party-goer knew exactly who they would need to bring a present for, so there was always one perfectly chosen present per person.

Not so perfect, in some cases, unfortunately.

On one of these Christmas gatherings, I watched as family members each received their single, anonymous present. Oh, how lovely they all were, or appropriate, at least. Everything seemed to fit. In past years, I had received talcum powder, a carved jewelry box, selections of lacy handkerchiefs, or some sort of feminine treat of the type usually offered to a young girl.

I waited calmly for my turn, because I felt certain I would not be disappointed.

Near the end of the gift exchange, someone called my name and placed a wrapped box into my hands. Savoring the anticipation, I slowly removed the ribbon, peeled off the tape and unfolded corners of the paper. Hmmmm, it smelled a little like soap. There were fleeting thoughts of having to take more baths, but, oh well, I could live with a pretty pink soap, or whatever.

When I opened the cardboard box, a lumpy, dark, waxy round thing spilled out on the end of a thick string. "Ackkk... what is that?" I wondered to myself before I dared touch it.

I gingerly rolled the thing from side to side, looking at it from every angle. There were three small round indents on one side, like someone had pushed a pencil top into the surface. The sphere felt soft and sticky, and did indeed smell like soap, but strong soap, sort of like the Old Spice aftershave Dad splashed on before going to church on Sundays. Attached to this blucky, waxy, green-black sphere was a coarse, burlap rope that was scratchy to the touch.

I was still puzzling it over when someone nearby took the thing in hand, and said, "Oh, that's a soap on a rope... looks like a bowling ball."

Green-black soap on a scratchy rope? Bowling ball?

Dear Reader, are you wondering what gentle, hopeful yuletide dreams were dashed that evening?

What person would give an undebatedly ugly bowling ball soap on a rope (a man's gift, and a bad one at that) to a ten year old girl?

You know, I'm still pondering the answer to that question myself...

Image: ©2000 Denise Van Patten - Doll Collecting at

Friday, December 07, 2007

Oh What Fun It is to Make...

Advent Calendar, December 7: Grab Bag

During the 1960s, Mom often browsed her magazines in search of inexpensive crafts to make in time for the holidays. There were more craft materials available to consumers than ever before, and at reasonable prices. Before modern media took a firm hold of our ears and tugged us into a heavily commercialized future, homemade gifts were common. They were fun to plan and make, and the recipient usually appreciated the effort, even if the end result didn't quite have that "je ne sais quoi."

--Large glass marbles baked on high heat in the oven and then cracked in cold water made spectacular pendant necklaces.

--A couple of hours spent knitting little multi-colored squares and sewing them together created nice doll afghans, especially in popular colors of the day: harvest gold, orange, beige, and chocolate brown.

One time, Mom found a fox fur remnant at a second hand store and made lined fur stoles for my sister, my cousin, and myself, or rather, for our Barbies. We felt like queens!

She also saved prescription bottles--clear plastic back then--and made little angels or elves using bits of paper, pipe cleaners, tiny styrofoam balls, sequins, and angel hair. Once the figures were glued into the bottle and a hook was attached to the lid, they made unique Christmas tree ornaments.

One craft I particularly enjoyed was making "fish" bathroom decorations using little more than a bar of soap, pastel-colored netting, sequins, pins, and beads. I was proud of the fish we made in so many beautiful colors (lavender was my favorite); I wish I had a photograph to show. If there is a child in your life, she/he would love your help in making one of these.

So, here is a description of how to make a SweetHeart soap fish, at least as far as my fuzzy memory allows:

To make a SweetHeart soap fish:
  • Use an oval bar of soap as the body for your "fish." SweetHeart soaps were traditionally used for this craft because of their light, sweet scent, and they can still be purchased at The Vermont Country Store.

  • Cut a large square of pastel-colored netting; position it around the soap and tie the ends together with a small strip of netting to make a fan-type tail.

  • Take four hat pins with elongated pearl tips; place other shiny or pearlescent beads on the hat pin to fill up about 2/3 of the pin. Stick all four hat pins into the bottom of the soap (through the netting), and position them apart at outward angles, creating four "legs" for the fish to stand on.

  • Using three more hat pins (decorate those with extra beads, too), insert them at an angle into the top edge of the soap to create a "fin." You'll want to graduate the lengths: the longest pin should be closer to the head of the fish, while the shortest should be placed closer to the tail. You may also use hat pins, or extra netting, on each side of the fish to create side fins.

  • A heart-shaped red sequin should be pinned to the front of the soap for a mouth (use a small-head sewing pin).

  • An eye (one on each side of the soap) can be made from a small shiny black sequin pinned onto a larger, silver flower-shaped sequin. Once again, pin them together, on the fish, using a small head sewing pin.

Is your fish standing level? Does it have eyes, a mouth, a tail, and fins? Then, voila, you have it, a vintage Christmas craft. Place it on a bathroom shelf and watch the child in your life--or the child in you--smile.

Monday, December 03, 2007

No Ode to Lutefisk

Advent Calendar, December 3: Foods

Being from a Norwegian-American family, I should be looking forward to the traditional holiday fare of lutefisk and lefse just about now. Lefse, ya sure, bring it on! I love lefse with butter, and sometimes a little sugar and cinnamon sprinkled on.

But lutefisk?

For those of you not familiar with lutefisk, it is reconstituted cod: long-dried cod brought nearly back to life using lye.

It may be interesting to know that the typical native Norwegian no longer eats this. Then, why in Thor's hammer is it on many Norwegian-American tables at holiday family get-togethers, potlucks, church suppers, and even offered at buffets on ships cruising the North Sea?

It boils down (literally!) to the Viking spirit.

Lutefisk was a poor person's food in Norway, and it was also a source of protein that could be produced no matter what the weather. The method is timeless: catch the cod, dry the cod, store it in a shed, wait copious amounts of time, retrieve as needed, beat off any dust or dirt, soak in lye for several days, boil or bake well, and then serve up with riced potatoes, small cooked frozen peas, and a look of nonchalance.

Because of the longevity of dried fish and the plentiful supply of fish in Norway, lutefisk found its way to many early Norwegian farming tables whenever a little extra something was desired, especially at celebrations. Now that Norwegians are no longer as poor as they used to be, this food is ignored, and even downright shunned in its place of origin.

But, in America, lutefisk is a source of pride. It's a symbol of survivorship - proof that you can't keep a good ole' Ole down.

Ya, ve have da Viking blood coursing tru da veins!

Come harsh weather, near starvation, emigration, poverty and hardship on the prairie, you name it, the lutefisk will go on... and on... and on...

and on.

A Norwegian-American saying goes: "... about half the Norwegians who immigrated to America came in order to escape the hated lutefisk, and the other half came to spread the gospel of lutefisk's wonderfulness." [1]

I remember my mother prepared lutefisk for Christmas one year when I was young. My grandfather, great aunts and uncles, and many other relatives had arrived at our house for dinner. The women chattered off and on in Norwegian, so that the kids couldn't understand all the gossip. The little living Christmas tree in the living room was hung with ornaments, and the plastic Santa and Snowman were glowing in the front window. The dining room table was set beautifully, draped in a white tablecloth decorated with embroidered pointsettias, an evergreen centerpiece, and Mom's best silver laid out next to pearl colored cloth napkins.

This is one of my family's favorite photos of my "Grampa" (Ernest Johnson), wearing his characteristic flannel shirt and argyle socks.  Christmas, early 1960s, in Salem, Oregon.

Why, the lutefisk even had its own special holiday serving platter. And, resting in the mucky, jiggly, yellowish slush was a beautifully engraved, antique silver serving fork... turned green. It had actually turned green from the lye!
My chin was not much higher than the table, but I remember giving the lutefisk platter the once over, at eye level. After all the excited talk about this "delicacy," I was anxious to try it; that first taste held promise.

But, after spying that green serving fork, I decided that lutefisk wasn't for me. They could disown me as Norwegian offspring, but no morsel of that jiggly stuff was going to get past my sealed lips and turn my insides green. Uh-uh!
And, it never did.  But, the lefse... oooohhh, the lefse!


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Winter Memories in Minnesota

The first big winter storm has come to Snoqualmie Pass, Washington: over two feet of snow within 24-hours!

My 87-year-old mother, Doris, has just moved in with my husband and myself - in time to enjoy a very white Christmas. It's quite a change for her from the sticky, warm weather in Alabama over the past seven years.

In honor of winter memories from times past, I'd like to share some images from her childhood, and some from even earlier. These photographs were taken of the Ole and Malla Johnson family near Fosston, Polk County, and Leonard, Clearwater County, Minnesota, in between 1910-1944.

Let it snow!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Little Living Tree in Richmond

Advent Calendar, December 1: Christmas Tree

When I was a child, my parents would not think of using an artificial Christmas tree. The smell of fresh evergreen always uplifted the spirits and helped us believe that Christmas time had finally arrived, at least indoors. Outside our door, there were no snowy sparkles or delicate icy sculptures, only the oily, stinging, and unconvincing December rain of Richmond, California--home to a huge Standard Oil refinery complex, among many other Bay Area industries.

Having a Christmas tree was important to my mother, in particular, because her grandparents were not in the habit of putting one up on their rural Minnesota farm until she was nearly grown. All that waiting must have stuck with her, for she wanted to make extra certain that my sister and I did not miss out on the joy of celebrating the holiday with a beautiful, glittery tree.

For a few years, my family used a living tree, more to reduce overall cost than anything. It came planted in a large redwood tub, and though small, it tried very hard, and willingly gave center stage to all the ornaments it could possibly hold. But, it spent the rest of the year outside on the back patio, looking lonely and forgotten, simply biding its time until December rolled around again.

When the living tree became depressed from too much waiting around--we could tell by its dingy and brown-tinged edges--we planted it in the yard and went back to buying a cut tree each Christmas. Though larger and flashier, these doomed visitors were not any better at their job than that trusty little living tree, perhaps because they were more impersonal, not to mention, well... expired. Once their grand entrance wore off, they never remained long, hardly enough time to make an acquaintance.

That little evergreen from my childhood, long set free from the constraints of its redwood tub, is probably still spreading its limbs and sheltering birds from the stinging December rain, oily as ever. Each year, when the fading autumn light gives way to the winter solstice, a misty, sensory memory sends a shudder through its boughs and needles. I like to imagine our old friend straining toward the dim winter daylight, searching for the familiar weight of ornaments from times past, and feeling for the reverberation of childish laughter, which once rang like Christmas bells through the house.