Christmas in Brimley, Mich., in 1934Published 7:27am Sunday, December 25, 2011
Column: Pass the Hot Dish, by Alexandra Kloster
As told to me by my father, Alexander Kloster:
You want to hear about Christmas when I was a kid?
If I tell you I might get arrested.
We were living in Brimley on the farm. Must have been 1934. Well, it came near Christmas time. We didn’t have money, but someone decided we should have a tree, so my brother Pete and I were sent out to get one.
Across the road were our neighbor McClain’s woods. There was a great big spruce that stuck up above all the others. We thought, well, heck, that would make a real nice tree. We climbed all the way up there. It’s a wonder no one saw us, two little kids hanging from the top of a giant spruce. Anyway, we sawed off the top and dragged it home. That was our Christmas tree.
It looked terrible, that big tree sitting in the woods with no top. They searched all over trying to figure out who did it. We never said a word. That poor tree is probably still standing there with no top on it.
There weren’t presents, but we were lucky to always have a good meal. That’s because we were on the farm instead of in town. We had a turkey or a couple chickens. My mother made her own noodles. There were homemade breads and pies. I remember eating goose too, and it was mighty good.
The best gift we got that year was by accident. Toward the end of every summer we picked about 20 watermelons. Then we’d bury them under cornstalks in the barn so they wouldn’t rot. We had them all during the fall. Christmas morning I decided to go watermelon hunting. I didn’t have much hope, but I thought it was possible there might be one left under there. I dug around and dug around and sure enough my hand hit something smooth and cold. I bet we were the only people in Michigan who had watermelon for Christmas.
We had a Christmas play in school, but I made believe I had a sore throat so I didn’t have to recite or sing. I was bashful I guess. I wasn’t the only one. The program was on Wednesday and on Monday one boy claimed he was too sick to recite. The teacher said, “You’re not sick,” and he said, “I will be by Wednesday.”
What I remember most is Christmas Eve. Pa harnessed the horses, hooked up the sleigh, and loaded about three feet of straw into it. Then Ma laid a big quilt on the straw. We’d get in there and she’d cover us up with a couple more quilts. Off we’d go to town for Midnight Mass.
Pa stopped in front of the church and all 10 of us would bail out fast. Then he’d take the horses around to an abandoned livery stable. Never could understand a word the priest said. He was an old Austrian who did part of his preaching in German. The choir was almost all German immigrant men and could they ever sing.
I remember lying on my back on the way home looking up at all the stars. When we got up to the corner, Pa turned the sleigh and it looked like the whole sky was spinning. Really, really spectacular.
Ten years later, 1944, I was sailing the South Pacific on the battleship Washington. It was Christmas Eve. All we heard was Bing Crosby singing, “I’ll be home for Christmas” over and over. Well, none of us was going to be home for Christmas. The crew got so sick of it they’d sing, “I’ll be home for Christmas. You can count on me. I’ll be home for Christmas in 1983.”
I went topside, to the main deck, to sleep where it was cool. I put my shoes under my head for a pillow and looked up at the sky. I could see the Southern Cross constellation and the sky started twirling just like back home.
When I was at sea, I didn’t think about home. I put everything out of my mind except my job. That way I couldn’t get homesick, and I wouldn’t be lonesome. There was something in the way the stars spun around. It reminded me of riding in the sleigh with my brothers and sisters, so I lay there and let myself think about that for a little while. After all, it was Christmas.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears each Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is Radishes at Dawn at alexandrakloster.com.