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By Amber Hayden
GLENWOOD CITY — Glenwood City resident Helen Krizan recalls that while her family was not wealthy when she was growing up, she and her siblings always knew there would be a present for Christmas.
Helen, age 96, was the second oldest of seven children in the family. She is a resident at Glenhaven’s Grand Oaks.
“Me and my sisters would get a doll, or paper dolls and coloring books. Things like that,” she said.
Helen and her siblings would wake up Christmas morning to a tree decorated the night before by her parents, and then they would start their day with fresh lefse.
“We had candles on our tree, so we had to be very careful,” Helen explained. “But we got to light them for a little bit.”
Helen grew up on Pine Street in Glenwood City a few houses from the corner, and because they had a street light, that’s where all the kids gathered to play Annie-Annie Over to toss the ball over the house.
Helen spends most of her days now resting or playing bingo at either the Catholic church in town or at Glenhaven, but jokes that she sleeps so much during the day because of her nightly visits from Art and Charley.
“You know Art and Charley,” she said. “Arthritis and Charley Horse — they keep me awake at night!”
“I remember my mother would scrub the top of that black stove nice and clean, and my dad would keep the fire box going, and my mother made lefse,” Helen said.
Once the lefse was done, they would roll it up with brown sugar, although her brother liked it with strawberry sauce.
When she was growing up, her family didn’t have a car, so they would put their boots and mittens on and make the three mile hike outside of Glenwood City to visit her grandmother.
“My uncle would hitch up the horses to the sleigh and come pick us up sometimes to take us out there for supper, and that was fun. We could run behind it or whatever we wanted to do. Those are a lot of our good times,” Helen said.
A tradition Helen carried on from her early years was that of picking butternuts with her family.
In September, the family would go out and pick the nuts and bring them home, Helen explained, and afterward the butternuts were set on the roof to dry. Her father would then go down to the basement on Christmas Day and set them in the groove of a block of wood he used and crack the nuts.
“They came out all nice and completely whole,” she said. “We carried that on even after we had all left the house and got married. So one Sunday in September around my mother’s birthday, all my brothers and sisters came down and the kids. We all took a gunny sack, and we all went down and picked butternuts.”
Helen said she always had good company and believed people knew when a person had been baking, including a neighbor who would pull up in the driveway shortly after she started baking during the day.
Helen recalled one Christmas there was a program at the church, and Geneva Thorson announced to the audience what the kids were about to perform.
“She got up there and said ‘We are going to hymn a sing’,” Helen giggled. “And every time she said it, we couldn’t stop laughing. Hymn a sing.”
With the laughter, it was hard to finish the program, she said, but it made an interesting Christmas program.
Helen’s memories of Confirmation when she was a girl also focused on laughter.
Pastor Peterson was a gruff, short little man who would walk between the four girls, and no matter what, you had to know the answer to his questions, she said.
Since moving in almost three years ago, the 96-year-old is thankful for those who work at Glenhaven.
“They do real good here. My pills are always on time when I need them, and they help me get my showers in too,” she explained.
Her only comment is she wished they played more Bingo, since right now, they only play on Mondays and every other Friday.
“So once in a while when our church goes upstairs we play bingo once a month, and when the Catholic church does, me and Becky go up. So we get to play it a little more, and we like it,” Helen said.
The group plays for quarters, and according to Helen, it doesn’t take long for a coin purse to fill up. Sometimes prizes are given out, too.