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By Missy Klatt
Both Mary and Len Lagerstrom grew up in the Boyceville area. Mary right in town and Len not far out of town on the family farm.
Mary who grew up Mary Riek insists that their Christmases weren’t that exciting. She noted that their Christmas tree never went up till Christmas Eve and then it came down around the 20th of January. She’s not sure why they kept it up that long other than that was the way her mom wanted it.
The tree was always a real one that they would cut down on her grandparent’s farm north of Connorsville. Mary said her mom was a perfectionist when it came to the tinsel. “Each single strand had to be even at the bottom.” Mary notes that the lights had to be ‘just so’ too.
Every year for Christmas Mary states that her, and her brother and sister would get one toy and one article of clothing. One of those toys that she remembers when she was in the sixth grade, was a pair of ice skates. She said I prayed for them one year because they had the old ice skating pond behind the bowling alley. “And we had to have ice skates so we could go skating,” she stated matter-of-factly.
Mary said that they had lights up around the pond and the people who owned the bowling alley allowed the kids to come in the back room so they could warm up.
She always waited for her aunt’s Christmas presents to come because she always sent a big doll every year. She didn’t have any kids so Mary and her siblings always got nice gifts from her.
In December of 1947, when Mary was four years old, she went to help her mother clean her grandmother’s house. They were boiling hot water on the stove to clean the floors. As they were pouring the boiling water into the bucket, Mary came running in and slid into it. She has the burn scars yet to this day. Mary said the doctor came to the house every day for nine weeks. She said as soon as she saw him coming she would hide under the bed.
“So I really do not remember what type of Christmas my brother and I had that year”, she chuckles. Unfortunately that is the Christmas memory that most sticks out for Mary from when she was little. In the end she notes “We made it through and everything was fine.”
“My mother baked and baked and baked”. Mary however was not into the baking. “My sister was but not I.” They made cookies and cranberry bread and anything you wanted to look at, they also made fruit cakes which Mary doesn’t like.
Christmas Eve meant going to church, the Methodist church in Boyceville for the children’s program. Mary took piano lessons so in the sixth or seventh grade she would play the piano for the programs. She would also play piano for her aunt’s classes at Christmas time, she was a school teacher out of Menomonie.
They always opened their gifts on Christmas morning after Santa came. Then Mary chuckles and says my dad was Santa. Her Dad was the police chief in Boyceville and played Santa when Mary was a teenager. She of course knew who Santa was but she said it took a while for her sister, Ruthie who is five years younger to realize who it was. Finally one year she remarked, “that’s dad playing Santa Clause.”
Back then the village didn’t have a big celebration but one afternoon in December Santa would just show up and he would have bags of candy for the kids. He would be outside by where the library is now and kids would line up to see him.
On Christmas day they would go to different aunts and uncles for their Christmas get together with family. Everybody brought something and there was just about every kind of dessert you could imagine. Then the kids would get to get a gift when their name was drawn. Just little things like a book or a cheap necklace.
She remembers that for Christmas school programs each class had a separate part. There were verses they would have to learn and of course they would sing. They were always a big event for everyone.
When it came to Christmas trees, Len’s family was very much the opposite of Mary’s. Len states that his dad would cut, one or two trees while he was out deer hunting. He would bring them home and sometimes they were so ungodly crooked that my mother would have a holy livin’ fit. She’d have the stand built up with magazines to try and level that tree. “I remember her hollering at dad and my dad would just walk out and shake his head.” Some of those trees were really bad and then again you might get a good one once in a while. Remarked Len.
So their tree would go up right away around deer hunting time but their tree would come down right away after Christmas. They had bubble lights on their tree, they had to go on the tree whether they worked or not. “One year she made popcorn balls and threaded thread through them and decorated some of the tree with popcorn balls,” Len remembers.
“Us kids (Len had one older sister and one younger brother) didn’t decorate the tree, mom did it, we were out helping dad.” Mary chimes in “you were lucky.”
Len said her mom had a big special angel that she put on the top of the tree. It was up there every year. That’s why she had to jack the tree up so the angel would sit up there. “Boy some of those trees were bad, I tell ya but it was a Christmas tree.”
As for gifts it was basically one toy and then a new shirt or a pair of pants. One toy that really sticks out in his mind when he was young was a battery operated train that was as big around as the table. “Oh boy,” he said, “that was quite a toy. I played with that for a long time. I can remember that one.” Unfortunately he no longer has it. Another year he got a farm set. He said he set it up in the living room and no one dared to take it down.
Len’s family always opened their presents on Christmas Eve. Santa would come after he got done milking cows. He would hurry up and get his clothes changed and he’d come to the house. They didn’t realize for a long time that low and behold, this Santa was actually their dad.
Come Christmas Eve Len and his brother would get their chores done really early. They’d have wood brought to the house, milking machines put together, all the heifers and calves fed, long before they did it any other day. But then of course they still had to wait for dad to get done with chores.
Len’s family all exchanged something with each other every year. One year when Len was a young teenager he hadn’t bought any gifts and his mom took him up to Glenwood to the old Erikson’s store on Christmas Eve afternoon so he could do his shopping. “I went up with her and bought Dad, Mike and Judy all presents and I remember giving my sister some type of scarf I bought. She opened it up and looked at it and she said ‘what in the hell is this?’ he laughs and says “I’ll never forget that.” When asked if it was that awful he comes right back with an enthusiastic, “I didn’t think so”. Which prompted more laughter. He goes on to say that he doesn’t remember what he got his brother or dad that year but he remembers the gift that his sister didn’t like.
Len admits he’s not much of a shopper even today.
Christmas Eve they would be at home then on Christmas day they would go to church (Trinity Lutheran in Boyceville) in the morning. Then from there they would go up to his grandma and grandpa’s outside of Glenwood and spend Christmas day up there with the Frantz side of the family. He said everybody brought something to eat. He also commented that the house was so small, it was packed.
He can’t remember getting together with the Lagerstrom side at Christmas time although he’s sure they did at some point.
Len’s favorite Christmas treat that his mom would make for him were date filled cookies. “I loved them, I ate them and ate them and ate them.”
Len attended the Midway School for the first six years and when that closed he went to the Goff School for seventh and eighth grade. He didn’t like the Christmas programs because he had to learn a poem or a speech. “I hated it.” But it was a big deal and all the parents came.
Then, if that weren’t enough, the program at church might have been worse. Len laments that they had to practice for three weeks! For three Saturdays, “It spoiled your whole day!” He didn’t like giving up his Saturdays. Then the program was on a Sunday afternoon. He grudgingly said we had to memorize a poem or something for that too. He chuckles and said “I did not like it at all but I had to do it.”
Len and Mary
Len and Mary met in high school and were married in October of 1963, fifty-seven years now. Their first son, Scott came along a year later followed by Kelly in 1967 and Kevin in 1970. In 1965 they moved up to the Cities. When the kids were little they didn’t do anything real special with them up there because Mary said it was always a rush to come back here. “My folks Christmas Eve, his folks Christmas Day.” She continues, it wasn’t even fun because as soon as the kids opened their gifts it was time to leave.
They would put up a tree with the boys for Christmas, usually one that they bought from the Boy Scouts. Len remarks, “They weren’t as crooked as my dad’s”. For a while they would get a real one but then later switched to an artificial one after Mary got tired of cleaning up pine needles in the hallways of the apartment buildings that they managed.
When the boys were small they went to church on Christmas Eve. By the time they got done with church in the afternoon and come home, Santa had been there already because they had to leave soon after to head back to Boyceville so their time was limited. Len remarks, “Santa came, I know because I got so damn full eating that cookie and drinking that glass of milk before I went to church.” To pull this off Len said that he always forget something like his billfold that he would have to run back in the house to get right before they left for church.
Mary did say that they would take the kids around to malls in the cities to see the decorations and drive around looking at the lights. They moved back to Boyceville in 1978.
Mary recalls one Christmas after they moved back and were farming that they had a bad year financially. So she said they sat the boys down (they were older by then) and told them that if they didn’t mind not getting anything from them for Christmas that they would wait until January and they would take them to the cities and they could pick out what they wanted. That’s what they did and they still all remember that today.
Nowadays Mary and Len say that they do absolutely nothing for Christmas as far as getting together with family. They used to, but it became such a rush as the kids all had to go to the in-laws as well. Mary said the kids all have their own families and grandkids etc. that it just got to be too much to try and do anything. Len and Mary have nine grandchildren and twelve great-grandchildren.
Three years ago for Christmas they went to Vegas. The next year they went to Turtle Lake for Christmas. They were surprised how packed the place was. But they said it was people like them that didn’t have kids coming home, “and so many people we knew,” noted Mary. Which kind of surprised them.
Their biggest thing has been and is always going to be Christmas Eve services.