Shirley Stone: the past is still present at Christmas
By LeAnn R. Ralph
GLENWOOD CITY — Even though Shirley Stone lives alone and only spends part of each week in Glenwood City, every year, she decorates a Christmas tree.
And all of the ornaments on her tree are very special, because each ornament tells a story.
Like the small multi-colored bell.
“This ornament (touching the bell so that it said ‘ting-a-ling’). I remember before my dad died I couldn’t touch it because I might break it. This is from 1933 or 1934,” Shirley recalled.
“And this is the paper chain I made in first grade. All the ornaments are something special,” she said.
The paper chain is made from paper with different patterns — not red and green construction paper.
“I’ve always had a tree. When I moved here, I’d had an artificial tree for many years. I bet it lasted for 20 years. But this is the third year on this one. It has lights on it, so I don’t have to monkey with that. I have all of these ornaments, so I have to put it up! It’s hard not to. Sometimes I probably haven’t even hardly had anybody in who has looked at it. But it’s what I’ve always got to have,” she said.
Shirley graduated from Glenwood City High School in 1945.
She went to school at River Falls for teacher training, and after that, she worked as a librarian in several schools, ending up in St. Louis Park in Minnesota from 1955 to 1985.
“I have roots up there. I’ve still got a condo up there. I go every Monday and come back Thursday. But you run out of friends after awhile. They die. Or they move away to be near children,” Shirley said.
“For Bridge, we can’t get eight very often. I just got an e-mail asking if we can play on Tuesday next week. I don’t know how many she’ll have. Maybe there will just be four. They go to Arizona or Florida in the winter,” she said.
“My parents lived on Maple Street, then they bought the house on the corner that I sold two years ago,” Shirley said.
Shirley lives in a duplex north of the Glenwood City Community Center, and the house where she lived (when she wasn’t in St. Louis Park) from the time she was two years old until she was 85, is just down the street.
“I worked at the grocery store (in Glenwood City), at Ted’s. It was a confectionary where the beauty shop is now on the corner, in the brick building. That was a grocery and confectionary. I worked there a couple summers and one year. I went to college one year, and I worked there one year for money and went back to college. People told me I should never do that. ‘You’ll never go back.’ Well, I went back to River Falls,” Shirley said.
Shirley was an only child. Her father, Edmond, worked at the creamery that was just across the way from the house where they lived.
“The creamery was right here. He would walk across the field to get to the creamery. I even remember one Halloween. I suppose I was probably still in first grade. It had snowed. I was showing him my pumpkin, and it had a candle in it. I came out the door and slipped on the steps while he was coming in. And he said, ‘well, you can’t have the candle lit if you’re going to fall.’ I remember that. I’d go across the street with my pumpkin with no candle,” Shirley said.
“What I remember most about Christmas, my dad died in 1934, and that Christmas, my mother said, ‘Mrs. Santa Claus stopped and got your doll. She’s going to make clothes for it.’ She made a layette. It turned out that it was the lady at the creamery who was the secretary. He was a buttermaker at the creamery,” Shirley said.
“So that lady had made all these doll clothes. I didn’t play with dolls that much. But I had a wicker baby doll buggy, and I kept all those clothes in there. Before I moved (from her house two years ago), I gave it all away. The doll buggy, the clothes and the doll. I remember that Christmas especially,” she said.
Shirley also remembers some fine and formal Christmas dinners.
“Later on, we would go to Downing to the Herdahls. Oliver Herdahl had the mortuary and the furniture store. He was my mother’s uncle. We would go there. Belle Herdahl had the English roots,” Shirley said.
“So for Christmas dinner we’d have Christmas goose. It was quite formal. They would bring it in on a tray, and he would carve it at the table. And my mother always made the pies. She always made especially good pies,” she said.
“And we would go to another place, my mother’s aunt, my grandmother’s sister, a Nelson. Her son had the grocery store in Downing. His wife is living in Menomonie, and she’s 103. I’ll probably go on Saturday (the day after the interview) to visit her. She would always make all the Norwegian things. Rommegrot. I couldn’t spell it for anything. Lefse. And sandbakkels,” Shirley said.
“My mother would make sandbakkels. But that was about the only Norwegian thing she could make. She never got the hang of lefse. She was never at home anywhere where they made lefse, and she didn’t have the background,” Shirley said.
Shirley remembers getting ice skates for Christmas one year, too.
“One of my first Christmases, maybe I was seven or eight, and I got shoe skates. I had such small feet,” she said.
As with many other items, Shirley kept those skates as well until she moved out of her house two years ago.
“I had those skates when I moved. I suppose I disposed of them. The skating rink was where Ormson’s is. The boys would have nets set up for hockey on each end. You’d just have to skate around the sides because the boys would be playing hockey. I spent a lot of time there. I could put my skates on at home on the corner and walk over there on the icy road,” she recalled.
Shirley’s mother, Jennie, served as a telephone switchboard operator in Glenwood City for almost two decades.
“For 18 years, my mother was a switchboard operator, until 1964. She was out of a job then. She had worked there 18 years. You didn’t get anything in those days (when a job position was eliminated). I don’t think she even got severance,” Shirley said.
“But she would always work a shift on Christmas Day. We didn’t go to anybody’s place for Christmas too much. But I remember that we went to my dad’s sisters, my aunts, the Dotseths that own the trucking company. We’d go to my aunts,” she said.
“We were there one Christmas Eve when Santa Claus came. And one of the boys, I suppose he was probably about eight. They were happy to have Santa Claus. But then he looked at the shoes, and he knew who Santa Claus was. I don’t remember if he announced it or waited until afterwards. I think he said something about who that was. He could tell by the boots. It was probably somebody in the neighborhood,” Shirley said.
Shirley pointed out that her mother always told people her name was “Jennie with an ‘ie’.”
“People with mules had Jacks and Jennys, and she wanted to make sure people knew that her name was with an ‘ie,’” Shirley said.
“She had days off. But she always worked on Christmas. She never worked at night. There was Anna Draxler who worked at night and slept there (at the telephone office),” Shirley said.
“When I worked, I came home all the time. But a lot of that time, she was working, too. I was always home before Christmas because we had two weeks off. For Thanksgiving, lots of times I didn’t get here until Thanksgiving Day. We didn’t get off on Wednesday. You couldn’t get out of town until Wednesday night,” she said.
“I don’t remember much about my grandmother. When she was alone, she would go away during the winter. We’d have Thanksgiving at her place, but never Christmas. My Stone grandmother, her husband was 20 years older than she was. When he died at 85, she was 65. So she’d go to her kids’ places for Christmas. That kind of impressed me, that there was 20 years difference between them,” she said.
“I’ve always had lots of cousins. But they always had their own Christmases. When I was in school, we didn’t have transportation. So if we went somewhere, it had to be someone who invited us and then would come and get us. We didn’t go that many places,” Shirley said.
“I used to take my mother up to the City on one of the first days of Christmas vacation, and we’d shop at Southdale. I remember some of those things we got at Dayton’s at Southdale,” Shirley said.
“I got a car and my license in 1951. So I drove after that to where I worked. I bought my car at the Ford garage here. I got my car from young Fred Norenberg. There was old Fred and young Fred, and young Fred was a year older than I was. And I said, ‘I’ll buy the car, but you’ve got to teach me how to drive,’” Shirley recalled.
“One time, when I first had the car, I wanted to see what it was like, so I drove all the way around (Minneapolis and St. Paul) on Highway 100. You could drive all the way around without really getting into the city. Where 494 is, that was the old 100. But I can’t remember if north was where 694 is. But you could drive all the way around without getting into the city. It was a trial run. I suppose I hadn’t had the car more than a few months at that time,” she said.
“Before that, I always had to ride with somebody. When I was the librarian in Plainview, I taught some there, too. When the old bridge was at Wabasha, in the old days, it had a curve in it. You’d get up on this side, and then there was an S curve. It was kind of fun in the wintertime. I think this is the third bridge that’s there,” Shirley said.
While she was growing up, Shirley participated in a number of Christmas programs at the Methodist church and at school.
“I remember I was in one program, not sure where it was, but I had a line to say, ‘An overturned nail keg served as pulpit.’ But I said, ‘The overturned pulpit serves as nail keg.’ I had it backwards. I will remember that forever. That’s what you remember. I suppose I was eight years old. You could picture what a nail keg was in those days,” Shirley said.
“I was in the band in high school, and (Carlton DeWitt’s mother) was at a concert. I played in a trio. Trumpet. I don’t remember who else was in the trio. But afterwards, his mother said, ‘I couldn’t even see your face because the music stand was in the way.’ Lucille she was. I go way back,” she said.
“I can remember when Bonnie’s restaurant was the gas station. And I remember when my mother used to help at the furniture store when the mortuary had a funeral, when my Uncle Oliver Herdahl had a funeral,” Shirley said.
“I worked in lots of places. The hardware store and the lumberyard always gave a gift (to customers at Christmas). I gave my bowl to the historical society. It says ‘compliments of the lumberyard’ on the bottom. At the hardware, they’d give out a calendar,” she said.
“We’d wrap those things. My friend’s mother worked there, and we would wrap those things as a job. I worked at John Boyle’s meat market and grocery store. You remember certain fun things,” Shirley said.
Like whipped cream in a can.
“Every time somebody comes along with one of those cans for whipped cream, I think about this. When that was brand new, John Boyle was showing (a woman) how nice that was, and he pressed it and it went right in her face. He didn’t turn it over. Everybody was good humored about it. But it was really kind of funny,” she said.
“He was showing her this new thing. But he forgot the part about turning it over. I think about that every time I see someone use whipped cream in a can on a dessert,” Shirley said.
Although it seems as if being a buttermaker would be a technical sort of job that would require hands-on in-person training to learn, that turned out not to be the case.
“My dad took a buttermaking as a correspondence course from Chicago,” Shirley said.
And how does she know this, seeing as her father died when she was six?
“I had all these packets of his work. I threw all that away when I moved. They’d been in a box all those years. That would have been about 1930 or 31 or 32 that he took the correspondence course. I didn’t investigate them. But the address was Chicago,” Shirley said.
“When you’ve been in the same place — I lived in that house from the time I was two until I was 85. I had closets to keep a lot of things. There were things I didn’t even know. Like the packets from the correspondence course. I didn’t even know about those. I suppose I knew about them at one time, but they got stored in a closet and I forgot about them,” Shirley said.
Another Christmas decoration from Shirley’s childhood is a choir boy, maybe 12 inches high, in a red felt choir robe.
The candle he holds is a small electric light.
“My mother always called this the choir boy. We always had that on the table. The house had windows on the corner, facing two ways. We had that on the table for years. I don’t know how old that is. She always called it the choir boy. It’s something you’d never see now, except maybe in an antique store,” Shirley said.
“And I remember we used to go caroling. At school, we had a library club, and we would go caroling and have a potluck afterwards. There’d be six or eight of us in the chorus, and we’d go caroling,” she said.
Other people who have talked about their remembrances of Christmas past have talked about having real candles on the Christmas tree.
Shirley has no such memory.
“We always had electricity here in town. But I suppose those who lived in the country didn’t have that luxury until later. I suppose those who lived in the country remember exactly when they got electricity,” she said.
“We always had a phone, too, a party line in town, though, with four on it. There was a long and short (ring). Or two short. Or two long. That kind of thing. When my mother was a telephone operator, we’d go for a ride in the country, and she would always wish that the farmers would have names on the mailboxes. ‘This one lives here, and they’re all on the same line,’ she’d say. She was really good to know all the people on a line, although not necessarily where they lived,” Shirley said.
“I’m not very computer literate. I have an iPad and a hotspot. I can use it in the city and here. Otherwise you can’t be connected (to the Internet),” she said.
“At school we had a great big computer. It was as big as the windows there (patio windows). Just a few people got to use that, people who had taken special classes. (Computer technology) has changed a lot since then,” Shirley noted.