An old 15-by-30 inch three-paneled window, its white paint scared by years of beatings from the elements, is the first Christmas decoration that is hung in the kitchen when we arrive at La Farm, our family retreat between my childhood homes of Ashby and Battle Lake, Minn.
It was the home of our grandparents, the late John and Mabel La Valleur, for about 40 years until bought by Verle and the late Rose Martin. They owned it for about 40 years, too, before selling it to the La Valleur Sisters nearly 20 years ago.
The old window panes, now painted with “Let it Snow,” and three cherry-cheeked whimsical snowmen by the Martin’s daughter-in-law, Val, will smile down on us Christmas Eve as we catch up on family news around the old red formica table.
For the past 20 years, I’ve been coming to La Farm to celebrate Christmas (as well as most of the major holidays during the year). My husband, Arnie Bigbee, patiently and lovingly drags the plastic storage totes from the basement and the old corn crib.
I open the boxes and start sorting out what to put up where. It’s a ritual I’ve come to cherish as I grow older. I usually put on Christmas music in the background.
Of course there are far more decorations than the six rooms of the old farmhouse can handle. What to use?
Right after the Let it Snow window, comes the two 60-plus-year-old electric candles to place in the living room windows. I hope our neighbor, Char, can see them when she walks by with her two dogs ever day.
The year after we first bought La Farm, we planted 1,000 trees of different varieties in a field on our property so we’d have lots of tree color in the fall. Many were pine varieties for us to be able to cut our own real Christmas trees. Now more than 30 feet tall, it’s past time to chop those majestic beauties down.
We’ve bit the bullet and bought a simple-to-put up artificial tree that already has the lights on it. The only other decorations I place on the tree are 25 tiny red felt bags with the numbers of the days of Christmas. It doesn’t smell great like the real deal, but it’s a lot easier to handle!
Gone are those great old bubbly candle shaped lights that have been replaced by energy efficient LED lights.
Oh, look at those candles! Real wax, one a red-and-white lantern shape with green holly and a red bow, and the other St. Nick rising out of a chimney. I remember them from when I was a little girl, too. I place them nostalgically on the kitchen window ledge. We’d never dream of actually lighting them!
Then there’s the cheery wooden decoration hand painted by our Crazy Cousin Candy Kersey from California of three angels with bells hanging from red ribbon on the bottom. Could she have had the three La Valleur Sister “angels” in mind when she made it several years ago? Probably not. I hung it above the TV in the living room. In the meantime, I’ve turned the Christmas music off and am listening to Ellen Degeneres in the background giving people amazing gifts.
More lights adorn the large new sliding glass door in the living room that gives us a great view of La Pond sunsets. Arnie bought a couple of LED rope light strings this year, and they look great.
We wrapped one string around the bannister and hung six old Christmas stockings on the lights. Below the bannister is our late neighbor Willy Nelson’s old rocking chair with an Ashby High School (AHS ’04) maroon-and-gold pillow made from fabric of the old high school stage curtains. Even the bathroom is lit up with lights over the mirror. And I can’t help myself, I still put out that awful old knit Santa hat toilet paper cover. It’s almost as bad as the crocheted snowman cover I put on the tissue box. After all, it’s tradition.
Eivor’s handmade needlepoint, Noel, is hung under the snowflakes. I remember Eivor, our former Swedish neighbor, who was perhaps our mother’s best friend. She and I also had a special relationship up until she passed a few years ago.
I place our late mother’s old handcrafted mail box on a shelf under the TV. She used to put her Christmas cards in it. Not many people mail cards these days. Like me, email is easier and certainly cheaper. The box will no doubt only contain the card we receive from the Martins ever year.
For a change, I tape many old felt decorations handmade by various family members on the living room windows. Not visible from the gravel road that passes our place, you have to get up close and personal to see them.
The colorful balls issued by the Ashby State Bank a few years ago depict its building on one and City Hall and the Fire Department on another. Our First Presbyterian Church also sold a decoration with images of the church building through the years. We hang those on the special Ashby quilt my sister, June, bought years ago made with 15 old black-and-white photos of all the important buildings in town: the bank, school, old Kittson Hotel, hardware store, creamery, the three churches, town hall and main street.
Outside, Arnie hangs a string of lights above the front door and ties another artificial tree to the yard light pole. Its tiny lights glow as the sun sets. As I try to photograph it, the wind blows fiercely. Normally I would delete the results of that shoot, but I kinda like the artsy effect I got from the blowing wind.
Nearly done, I discover the oldest of our decorations, five fragile pink-and-silver aluminum foil pieces: two bells, two snowflakes and a tree. Stored flat and wrapped in tissue paper, I spread them out carefully to create a 3-D effect. We hang those in the hallway window on an elastic string. Wow, I know they are at least 65 years old, and the sight of them takes me back to Christmas at our childhood farm only a few miles away. I can still remember the year June told me there was no Santa Claus. It was 1952. I was 7. She was 11. And I didn’t want to believe her.
Near the bottom of the totes, I come across a box with numerous tiny ornaments made of wood, felt, glass and knit figures wrapped in paper towels. I unwrap each one carefully and hang 16 of them on a simple wooden dowel Christmas tree made by my late stepfather, Loyd Evander. He made a few of those trees to remind us of the simplicity of days past. Back in Sweden, where his ancestors came from, similar trees would be decorated with the simple gifts they could make.
As I finish writing this blog and look out our large kitchen windows, snowflakes are starting to fall. Looks like a white Christmas after all. Let it Snow!
🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄Merry Christmas to all! 🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄🎄