Your Unconventional Holiday Stories: Part 4

December 20, 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 fourth and final installment of your holiday stories.

Nancy Johnson

Fresno, Calif.

As one of the chorister children at Westwood Lutheran Church in St. Louis Park, Minn., in the 1950s, Nancy and her fellow choristers sang each year for the Christmas Eve service at the Hennepin County Adult Corrections Facility in Plymouth, Minn. Nancy remembers those experiences well:

"A lucky few of us, usually the oldest, got to ride there and back in the facility's old police van. At stop signs, we waved our hands out the barred windows, laughing and caroling loudly. But entering the imposing building to the clank of heavy doors and gates locking behind us changed our mood immediately. The small, dark chapel was lighted by candles and I thought the men all looked old and sad. I don't remember much eye contact, except for an occasional teary, faraway look. These men's stories were unknown to children like us who brought only our simple voices to the worship.

"To the credit of the adults who brought us there, this was not a heavy-handed 'teaching moment' — I don't remember ever being lectured or warned. We were there to sing and worship and the experience was indelible.

"As soon as the service ended we were whisked back to the church, met by our parents and transported to our family celebrations. Talking later with my school friends, I had a pretty dramatic story: I rode in a police van, went into the workhouse and came home to lutefisk. For me, the lutefisk was surely the worst part."

Mike Hansel

Lake Elmo, Minn.

Mike remembers Christmas 1982 for a number of reasons. First, he, his wife and their three-year-old daughter were settling into a home on which they were completing construction. But the other reason Mike recalls that year so vividly involves a snowstorm and a car:

"After a wonderful Christmas celebration at my wife's parents' house —including the traditional German Stöllen and the Scandinavian Sylta, we headed back home in the early evening, so that we could attend Christmas Eve services that night at our church.

"By early evening a lot of snow had come down, but the main roads were passable. As we got to church, however, the winds had swung around to the northwest. When we left church after midnight, it was a full-blown blizzard with temperatures well below zero. Our trusty 1977 Toyota wagon started up well enough, but because we were in a hurry to get home, we didn't let it warm up for long. We were well bundled, and our three-year-old was blissfully sleeping in her car seat with multiple blankets to keep her warm.

"When I put the car in gear, it was extremely hard to shift — so hard in fact that I couldn't get it out of first gear. We limped the six miles home in first gear, slaloming around snow drifts on the country road. What was normally a 10-minute drive turned into a 45-minute ordeal. (Later I learned Toyota is smarter than the drivers of its cars: The transmission was not wrecked — the hydraulic fluid from the clutch had been dumped by the car to prevent damage to the transmission.)

"When we awoke on Christmas morning, there was no question we would be unable to make the 100-mile trip to southern Minnesota to visit my parents. We phoned to wish everyone a merry Christmas, then settled in for a very Spartan Christmas Day in our still-unfinished house. Because we were planning to be gone for several days, there was little food in the house, and we had taken no leftovers from my wife's parents. I don't remember what we ate for Christmas dinner, but it was a truly beautiful, very white Christmas."

Nancy Carlson

Nancy recalls a knock the door one Christmas that changed her life:

"Me, separated from husband one, living with my mother at the time (yikes!). We were having Christmas dinner; my sister, brother-in-law and nieces and other relatives were about. There was a knock on the back door (this is Minnesota) and these two incredibly gorgeous guys (ask anybody) come in — one of whom I've recently taken a shine to, as they say. With a gift. So. Many eyebrows raised.

"That guy is now husband two, and nobody else in sight."


Thank you to all who submitted these stories. In case you missed them, you can read Tuesday's stories here, Wednesday's stories here and Thursday's stories here.

Also on Thursday, Steve Staruch hosted a special Music with Minnesotans that featured two more of these holiday recollections, told by the people who lived them. You can listen to that show here.

And tonight at 7 p.m., Bill Morelock will once again host his 1964: A Child's Christmas on the Willamette special, in which he'll recount his own unforgettable holiday memory.

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