Leigh and Nancy’s Christmas memories; country versus the city

By Kelsie Hoitomt

BOYCEVILLE — There are over 90 years of Christmas memories in the Diller household between Leigh and his wife Nancy.

Christmas with Leigh

Leigh was born in 1921 to Charles and Jane Diller. Together along with the younger twin girls, Barbara and Elizabeth, they lived just north of Connorsville on a farm in the Town of New Haven.

Being farmers and having around 27 dairy cows to milk meant Christmas time was often spent in the barn working.

Since Leigh was the only boy, he carried a lot of responsibilities on the farm and was expected to be his father’s helping hand.

The Dillers’ stopped and took time to celebrate the holiday with service at the Methodist Church in Connorsville and presents on Christmas Eve.

Leigh laughed as he remembered the years spent trying to hide presents in the house while his sisters waited in the car on their way to church.

This way the twins would believe Santa had dropped off the presents while they were at church.

Other times, the girls would be sent to the barn and then Jane would run to the house, ringing sleigh bells as if she were Santa arriving with the presents.

Every year Jane decorated the tree in the Diller household. Usually one was cut down and set in the house a few days before hand.

In those days, there was no electricity so trees were lit with real candles. Leigh remembers the candles were placed in a holder that snapped onto a branch and the candles burned while presents were opened.

Other than candles, there was a great deal of tinsel thrown around the tree and occasionally the classic paper chain that was made in class was strung from the ceiling.

Then on Christmas Day, the Dillers’ traveled to Menomonie where Leigh’s Uncle George and his family lived.

The day was spent along side George’s extended family of cousins, more aunts and uncles, grandparents and many more relatives.

The kids would open presents and spend time playing outside and a classic meal with turkey was served.

Leigh reminisced about how his mother used to bundled up him and sisters in their winter clothes and then wrap them in blankets when they got into the car to make the drive.

She would then heat up stones and place them at their feet because the touring car and the Model T that they owned didn’t have heat.

When they were back home, the kids played at their neighbors, Thomas farm. They had a pond so skating was a fun activity in the winter.

The hills around Connorsville were perfect for sledding and skiing as well. Those were presents under the tree that Leigh remembers receiving so they came in quite handy.

As the kids grew older, the twins left the house and moved to the Cites where they married and had their own families.

Leigh stayed on the farm, working and living the bachelor life so the girls would come back during the holidays and they would celebrate as a family.

Christmas with Nancy

Nearly 250 miles away, Nancy was celebrating the Christmas holiday in Oshkosh along side her parents, Dorothy and Eugene and her three siblings.

Nancy’s first Christmas memory is when she was about four years old and the family was at her German grandmother’s house.

There was a separate room in the house that was blocked off by a sheet hanging in the entry way.

It was opened on Christmas morning and to Nancy’s eager young eyes, she saw a beautiful Christmas tree with presents underneath and a train set and scenery that went around it.

Nancy was born in 1937, which was the Depression era and meant Christmas was more frugal than glamorous.

Despite the hard times, her mother worked several odd jobs in order to provide the best Christmas for her children as she was now a single parent in the early 1940s.

Dorothy would go out and find a tree and then she would decorate it with layers of tinsel and strings of lights. Living in the city they had electricity all throughout Nancy’s life.

Nancy remembers white tissue paper was used for decoration and after it has served its purpose, it was then reused as toilet paper.

On Christmas Day, the family enjoyed a hot meal of turkey and fruitcake was always included.

Every year Dorothy would include the children in her making of cut out cookies. She would do the baking and then the kids were allowed to decorate them.

They always went to church service on Christmas Day as well. As the kids got old enough to stay up, they transitioned to attending Midnight Mass.

As a child, Nancy remembers her favorite present was a pair of figure skates. She loved skating at the pond near her school, which was filled up every winter for the city kids to enjoy.

An activity inside that she enjoyed was paint-by-numbers. She received those for presents as a child and to this day Nancy enjoys painting them.

After graduation Nancy got married and began her life as military wife when her husband joined  the Air Force in 1955.

They moved to Denver, where she had the first of six children, a son. Then they were off to a base in Michigan were she had two more sons.

Her husband served four years and then the family moved to the Twin Cities, which is where Nancy gave birth to her fourth child, another boy.

As they were building a home in Blaine, Nancy was surprised with two more children, a fifth and final boy and then a baby girl.

With a family of her own now, Nancy created Christmas traditions that involved staying home, decorating a tree and cooking a warm meal like her mother used to do.

Nancy continued the tradition of making cookies and decorating them with her children as well. She is a religious fruitcake maker also, which was something that has been present at every Christmas.

These traditions carried to Ashland, which is were Nancy and the family moved to in 1977.

The first three years there, they were working on building a home so the space was limited and there was no room for decorating.

Once their geodesic dome home was finished, a large tree was able to fit inside so decorating resumed with large amounts of tinsel and then strings of lights and ornaments.

With six children, there was not much time for shopping so as the kids got older, their dad gave them money. This was much more simple and seemed to make everyone happy.

When they were younger, the boys did open presents that revealed Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys or a Mr. Machine. Usually it was all building stuff or educational.

As the children grew up and left the house, they always returned home for the holidays to enjoy their mom’s cooking.

They would all eat a big meal and then the boys would go out and shoot their rifles, which left Nancy with the chore of clean up.

Eventually hosting Christmas for the children changed after Nancy went back to school and got a full time job as an LPN in a nursing home.

The kids were all having their own families so it was easier for one of them to host and Nancy to visit.

Nancy spent several years working inside hospitals along doctors, but it was her career in the church that brought her to Boyceville and to Leigh.

Nancy had spent time as a Lay Speaker in the Methodist Church and over time she made the decision to become a licensed Local Pastor.

One day she received a phone call from District Superintendent, Reverend Don Frank. He informed her that there was a position open in the Pastor Parish Relations Community, which covered Boyceville, Connorsville and Wheeler Methodist Churches.

Nancy said yes to the job and moved from Ashland down to the parsonage in Boyceville in 1995. It was during a service in Connorsville that she met a gentleman named Leigh Diller.

Leigh had a way of making his presence known for quite a while and then one day Nancy finally agreed to go on a date with him.

Their courtship lasted a few months and then the two tied the knot in October of 1996.

Leigh sold his family’s farm in 2003 after 82 years there. He and Nancy then moved into Boyceville where they reside today.

With six children, 19 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, the Dillers did some traveling in the early years of their marriage.

Now a days, the children visit and Leigh’s sisters will drive over from the Cities as well.

One thing Leigh and Nancy never miss during the Christmas season is church. They both attend the Methodist Church in town.

This Christmas, they will go to church and Nancy will bring out a couple of decorations including the nice big poinsettia they buy and enjoy for months.

Together they will enjoy their time inside their home where it is nice and warm.