Your Unconventional Holiday Stories: Part 2

December 18, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — In the spirit of Bill Morelock's holiday special, 1964: A Child's Christmas on the Willamette, we've asked you to share your own unconventional holiday memories.

We've enjoyed reading your submissions. Today we present the second collection of your holiday stories.

Lois Braun

St. Paul, Minn.

Lois recounts a Christmas in 1970, when her parents were working as doctors in a small rural hospital in Ghana, West Africa. Lois and her three older brothers attended a boarding school in Accra, but visited their parents on school breaks. When Lois and her brothers got to their parents' rural hospital on Christmas break, they arrived a cholera outbreak:

"The normally busy hospital looked like a major transit terminal, with trucks arriving all the time to deliver seriously sick people. Our parents had no time for us. Instead of doing the normal Christmas holiday things, we children were pressed into service. Cholera can be treated with intravenous fluids. Our hospital had the supplies to make the IV bags, but the assembly required time and attention to detail. My parents deemed my three brothers, aged 11, 13, and 15, to be old and responsible enough to assemble IV bags. Eight is perhaps too young to be given such responsibility, but I have a vague recollection of counting out pills and putting them in small plastic bags, then sealing them.

"The epidemic eased just around the time we were to go back to school. My parents' emotions were conflicted: On the one hand, they were proud that there had been no fatalities at our hospital; but on the other, they felt they had deprived their kids of a real Christmas.

"Fast-forward to Christmas 1971, when we were on leave in the States. At a church event, my brothers were asked to share a story about Christmas in Ghana. What did they talk about? The Christmas when they did something that was truly important, in which they learned about the satisfaction that comes with service to others."

Judith Krause

Golden Valley, Minn.

Starting in 1974, Judith and her husband began the Christmas Eve tradition of walking to Elm Creek. It turns out there was a reason for the timing of the walk:

"We had convinced our daughter that Santa wouldn't bring presents if we were at home. We'd start out on our walk, but about halfway down the driveway, I would stop in my tracks and make up some excuse about why I had to go back inside for a "minute." I'd come back outside after a few minutes — catching a bit of grumbling from my family after waiting for me in the cold — but then our walk would begin in earnest.

"The creek was a quarter-mile from our acreage in southern Minnesota. Of course, we couldn't turn back for home until my husband and I had 'seen' Santa and his sleigh flying low over our house (on the really bitter Christmas Eves, we tended to spot him earlier in our walk). When we got home, lo and behold, there were always presents under the tree."

Pat McKeown

Plymouth, Minn.

In the 1950s, Pat, his parents and six siblings would make the trek from Minneapolis to visit their grandfather's home on Green Lake in Spicer, Minn., for Christmas. After a day of Christmas celebrations, the family would pack up their station wagon for the 100-mile trip back to Minneapolis. One year, Pat's father had driven all the way to Litchfield, Minn., when the family discovered Pat's sister, Cindy, was not in the car:

"When Dad realized Cindy was really missing, he slammed on the brakes and did a U-turn that would have done a stunt driver proud. We were heading back to Green Lake much faster than the 65-mile-per-hour speed limit. We hadn't gone more than a mile or two when the heat gauge was in the red and steam was coming from under the hood. We pulled to the shoulder near a farmhouse and Dad ran up to get help.

"When Dad returned, we got the good news that my sister was safe and sound at Grandpa's and that a wrecker was on its way from Litchfield. I don't know how safe it was, but the wrecker hooked us up and pulled us back into town with us in the car and the front end of the car way up in the air — what a thrill!

"It turns out Dad's dramatic driving was the cause of our problems: He hit the brakes so hard it broke both motor mounts, and when the engine shifted, it broke the radiator hose and we lost all the coolant. But the car was repaired, and it didn't take long to return to Grandpa's to retrieve Cindy."

Susan Smith-Grier

Emily, Minn.

Susan recalls Christmas 1982, when her family gathered at her parents' home on Roosevelt Lake near Outing, Minn. Susan describes a fun and relaxing Dec. 23. The peace was broken, however, with a rude awakening at 3:30 a.m.:

"My brother ran to my room and yelled at me to get my son and go and that he would get my daughter. 'Get out NOW!' he yelled as he flew down the stairs with my baby girl in his arms. 'The house is on fire!' We all escaped from the house in our pajamas with no time to grab anything other than a sweater that happened to be handy.

"The volunteer firemen came in what seemed like a relatively short time, but still we sat in the car and watched as the flames shot out of the windows and black smoke swirled up in the night sky.

"Christmas Eve found us huddled in a cabin, thankful to be alive. Friends and neighbors came with gifts of clothing, food, incidentals and toys for the children, and of course, prayers and words of encouragement.

"On Christmas Day, I surveyed our gutted home with its charred mess and frozen black icicles, and I thought of all the love and work that had gone into building that beautiful home. Dad was standing in the yard looking out toward the lake smoking his pipe. I knew how I felt inside, but I needed to know how he felt. So I asked him. He looked at me thoughtfully and took a couple of puffs on his pipe. Then he said, 'You know kid, this is just a little setback. Everything that was in there can be replaced. Everything that I care about made it out alive, and that's all that matters.'

"Christmas of 1982 was the year my parents' beautiful home was gutted by fire. It was also the best Christmas of my life."

Louise Burton

Plymouth, Minn.

Louise recounted the year she decided to host a caroling party. Despite no rehearsal and little planning she and her friends visited a retirement home where they sang for the residents. But the after-party didn't go so smoothly:

"We returned to my apartment. All I had to do was serve my guests hot apple cider and cookies — what could go wrong? I quickly heated the cider in my tea kettle. While pouring it into mugs, I noticed that the cider had turned a little green after heating, but thought nothing of it; after all, there are green apples, right? But after serving the food and cider, my guests took their leave quickly. A total bust of a party.

"The next day one of the guests came by. 'Wow,' he exclaimed, 'that was the worst cider I have ever tasted!'

"I was to find out many months later the reason for the sudden departures: One of the guests had vomited in our bathroom after having cider, and another had vomited out in the snow on the way home. It wasn't just a bust of a party; I had poisoned everyone!

"I have never hosted another caroling party. However, once in a while my friends and I recall that night and roar with laughter."

Chelsea Wagner

Osceola, Wis.

Chelsea lives in a community that runs a dairy farm and vegetable CSA. She shares a special tradition from the farm:

"Every year on Christmas Eve, we gather at midnight to sing Christmas carols to the cows! It is a really special time for us humans, and the cows seem happy because they get a little extra chow."

We'll publish more of your unconventional holiday memories tomorrow. You can read yesterday's stories here.

On Thursday, Dec. 19, you can hear a special Music with Minnesotans at 5 p.m., featuring more of these holiday recollections. Then on Friday at 7 p.m., Bill Morelock will once again host his 1964: A Child's Christmas on the Willamette special.

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