By Kelsie Hoitomt
BOYCEVILLE – Warren and Lana Benson have nearly 162 years worth of Christmas memories between the two of them.
“I have 90 years of Christmases to try and remember,” laughed Warren when asked if he had a favorite past time.
Warren was one of seven children born to Alfred and Amanda Benson. He was raised on the family farm north of Boyceville, on the outskirts of Connorsville.
Lana, grew up just three miles away from the Benson family. She was the seventh child out of 11 born to Herb and Marian Drinkman.
“Christmas was a very happy time. We were not rich by any means, but we still got gifts. However, my mother was very impatient so we usually got them early.” shared Lana.
Whether it came early or not, Lana remembers getting a new doll every year until she was about ten years old, since the old one always seemed to wear out quite fast.
Since their house was in the country, they were surrounded by perfect sliding hills so it made sense that one of the gifts to the kids was a long toboggan that could fit four to five of them.
“I remember that we would spend hours outside sliding behind the house in the valley till we froze. Once we got too cold, we would go into the barn and put our hands between the cow’s udder and back leg to warm up,” explained Lana.
The cows provided not only warmth, but a perfect treat for the kids as well since their milk made great tasting homemade ice cream. Aside from a treat, the main meal during not only Christmas, but the winter months was the famous “Drinkman Stew”.
“The stew would cook on the old wood stove all day and we would eat more whenever we wanted. We would eat and then go out to play and make room for more,” said Lana.
“Making homemade ice cream was a favorite thing to do, not just fro Christmas, but all winter. We would go out and cut ice from the cow tank and take turns cranking the ice cream maker. Wonderful times for a big family,” Lana shared.
In the Drinkman house, the Christmas tree was usually up and decorated on Christmas Eve and then taken down shortly after the holiday. Inside the house, it was covered with green and red paper chains that hung from one corner, to the light fixture and to the next corner.
Since the family was so big, they didn’t travel much to other places during the holiday season. Lana remember maybe going to one of her aunt and uncle’s house if anything.
One place they did travel to was church where the kids performed skits and sang songs while presenting the Nativity scene. School programs were also popular then too at the Best Valley grade school.
“I still remember one program my brother Bill had to say ‘I’m a chink chink Chinaman, so far aclosse the sea. So far a way old Santa Claus will never find a me’,” laughed Lana.
Lana remembers her old school house being decorated with paper chains that were hung at the top of he big blackboards and in the windows, but there was never a tree.
“We also made fantastic gifts for our moms. Moms seem to treasure those things more than dads. I still have some things my kids made for me. I have given most of their things back though, except a few I just can’t part with,” shared Lana.
As for Warren, he remembers not necessarily taking part in a Christmas program, but he knows that he was the “Master of Ceremonies” once and was able to announce all the kids.
Warren’s life as a child was similar to Lana’s as his family never ventured too far from the farm, unless it was a trip to town (Boyceville) to get groceries or go to church.
“I remember one time we had over 60 dozen eggs covered by a buffalo robe on the sleigh and I rode with my dad into town to deliver them to the old grocery store. Mother had over 100 laying hens so we traded eggs for groceries and then we’d cover up with that buffalo robe on the cold ride back,” shared Warren.
Aside from trip in the sleigh, Warren stayed busy ice skating at the rink on Pafko Park in Boyceville and skiing down any hills he could find.
“One year when I was about ten I got a new pair of skis on Christmas morning. So my brother Ken had this horse and he tied a rope around himself and he would pull me around down the road while I was on those skis,” shared Warren.
Other than skis, Warren remembers one special year when under the tree he had two presents, a Model-T Ford Coupe and a Fordson Tractor.
Both toys in those days were made of solid cast iron and could survive any amount of play-time they were put through.
The Benson family opened their gifts and celebrated the holiday on Christmas Day. It was a meal that revolved around chicken that they shared as well as homemade popcorn and ice-cream as treats; with an occasional batch of fudge.
Christmas with kids
As adults, Lana and Warren had their own Christmas traditions with their own children as both were previously married.
Lana and her husband, Jim Strand, had three children together. Warren and his wife Phyllis, had six children of their own.
In the Strand home, the tradition was that the children went to the barn on Christmas Eve so Santa could come to the house to fill the present boxes with gifts.
“We would send them outside and I would hurry into the house and eat the cookies and try to drink the milk, since I didn’t like milk,” chuckled Lana.
Jim and Lana typically gave their children one big toy and then the necessities of clothes, gloves, hats, etc.
The next day, the family would bundle up and hit the road to Jim’s mother’s house where they spent Christmas there after church.
“I remember the kids always made a chocolate cake. They were given the choice of baking the cake or going to the barn. Safe to say I never had to make another cake, I just got to clean the mess,” shared Lana.
The tradition of school and church programs carried on with their three children as well.
“We had a lot of programs to go to, but unfortunately that time of the year seemed to always bring pink eye, the mumps or something into the house,” said Lana.
Christmas time for Warren was a bit different as his children were living with their mother and he wasn’t able to share the holidays with them.
“We have them now though and that is what is important,” shared the Bensons.
The story of Warren and Lana began nine years ago, when the two married on September 18, 2004.
“Some people will never marry again,” said Warren. “But I believe that God did not intend for man and woman to be apart, they are supposed to be together.”
And with that, the Bensons decided to no longer continue on alone in their lives, so Warren moved back to Boyceville from St. Paul and Lana moved into town from the country and the rest is history.
Today, with nine kids, 23 grandchildren and 43 great-grandchildren between them, the Bensons celebrate with the family when they can.
Lana’s three children visit some time between Christmas and New Years since many of the children live an hour or more away; Warren’s side included.
Then on Christmas Day, the Bensons will spend time at Mike and Carla’s house, Warren’s youngest son. Warren and Lana float around to his other kids’ houses at different times as well.
Despite it being a bit hectic with traveling, there is still one tradition between the two families that happens; decorating.
“The grandkids come over during Thanksgiving and they will decorate the tree for me,” shared Lana.
The tree is beautifully decorated with purple and silver bulbs and garland hung by the grandkids as they are the colors that represent the Boyceville Bulldogs.
“Christmas has always been my favorite time of year,” expressed Lana. “The friendly atmosphere, the decorations, the movies… and the snow. As I get older there are some sad memories too, but the happy ones far outweigh the sad. Christmas is truly a wonderful and blessed time of year.”