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Beverlye Thompson: homemade treats and homemade gifts

By Cara L. Dempski

GLENWOOD CITY — When most people think back on childhood Christmas celebrations, there seems to be a constant theme: children need to be in bed and asleep for Santa Claus to come.

Of course, some children had early visits from Santa. He would tell parents he had much too heavy a load of presents to deliver in one night, so he needed to drop some off early. For other homes, he had just enough room on his sleigh for the gifts to be delivered on Christmas Eve.

Beverlye Thompson, age 88 and formerly of Boyceville, recalls one Christmas where Santa showed up while all the children were still awake.

“We hadn’t gone to bed yet,” she laughed remembering. “So he left us each an orange and said he’d be back later. That was one of our main rules Christmas Eve: we had to be in bed before Santa would come.”

The memories of Santa’s arrival are just a fraction of what Thompson recalls from her childhood Christmas celebrations. From the homemade candy and bread figuring heavily into many of her meals, to the gifts made by her father and mother, Thompson has plenty of happy times to think of this time of year.

Homemade treats

Most children leave Santa Claus a small treat before going to bed the night before Christmas. The snack of choice is oftentimes cookies and a glass of milk, but there are some who get creative about what they leave out.

Some children are concerned for the health of the Jolly Old Elf, and so leave fruit or vegetables for him, others leave hot cocoa and a piece of cake. Other children go so far as to leave some hay for the reindeer.

Thompson’s family was no different in leaving a treat for Santa, but the treat left was a little unconventional, as was its location. Her mother would make multiple loaves of bread and leave them in the pantry for him.

“In the morning, us kids, the first thing we did was run down to see if Santa took the bread,” she explained.

There were also more traditional treats like cookies, which the children helped to cut out, bake, and decorate. Thompson said some cookies would have colored, or “sanding,” sugar providing decoration, while the others would be frosted.

In later years, when there was a little more money to be spent on such things, Thompson’s mother would make homemade candy. Items like caramel, hard candy, divinity and fudge made regular appearances.

There was, however, one Christmas-time goodie that the whole family agreed on: homemade lefse.

Thompson explained her mother would mix up a batch of the dough from mashed potatoes, flour and other ingredients.

“It wasn’t the way we make lefse now,” she said. “In the kitchen, we had an old cookstove, and she’d get that fired up so the top was hot and fried (the lefse) on the cookstove.”

Of course, the heat was difficult to regulate on such a stove, so there were some burnt spots on individual pieces, but that did not make the family love the snack any less. The pieces were also thicker than what can be purchased in a store nowadays.

And if anyone is wondering, Thompson and her siblings would eat the fresh lefse just as it was, maybe with a little butter, but her father would sprinkle each piece he ate with sugar before rolling it up to eat it.

Homemade gifts

Like many people of her generation, Thompson’s family did not have a lot of extra money some years when she was a child.

“I can remember one Christmas, we got an orange, some peanuts, and stuff like that in our stockings,” she said.

One year, her parents bought her a doll because she had been asking one for several years, another year, she received a checkers set. She also recalls her father sticking close to the kitchen stove as he crafted handmade sleds and skis.

Thompson explained her father would boil the wood used for either item to make it easier to shape into its final form, and then would test either the sled or skis before sanding things smooth, and rubbing them down with wax to make sure they glided easily through the snow.

There were, of course, gifts of a more practical nature under the candle-lit Christmas tree and in stockings come Christmas morning. Items like mittens and hats, and even the long, thick woolen stockings necessary to keep legs and feet warm in the winter, were always welcomed, as were new dresses, shirts, skirts and pants.

She distinctly remembers her mother telling her father which flour sacks to buy while he was at the store in order to get enough fabric to make dresses out of the wide variety of patterns available in the cloth.

“If she wanted to make a dress with a windmill pattern, well, then she’d just tell him what colors and what pattern to look for,” Thompson said with a laugh.

As she got older and had a family of her own, Thompson began to miss some of the things she experienced during the holiday season as a child. With things like artificial Christmas trees and bright, candy-colored lights adorning them, the Glenwood City woman said she always found the decorations of her childhood to be the best.

“Nowadays, you just wish you had the old stuff back,” she finished.