From the Fortress of Solitude
Christmas time in the old country was the best time of year. We didn't have a lot of money, but there were always presents under the tree. There was good food on the table and lots of sugary treats. And there was always family. In the early days, Grandma and Grandpa Leissman were regular Christmas time visitors. They risked life and limb to drive to Rapid City from Bismarck, North Dakota. It wasn't the frigid temperatures or the possibilities of Dakota blizzards that put them in harm's way. They risked life and limb because of Grandpa Leissman's driving.
Grandpa and Grandma Leissman
Grandpa Leissman owned the roads he drove upon. The entire road was his domain - left lane, right lane and both shoulders (to be used all at the same time if necessary to emphasis his point to any motorist who challenged his supremacy). He would occasional drift across lanes if he grew board with the right lane. He also considered the fences and fields around the roads his. Off roading in his 1980 Chevrolet sedan was not unheard of, though never recommend in the vehical's owner's manual. Grandma complained bitterly about his driving, but what could she do? Grandma Leissman didn't have a driving licenses. She was always a driven woman - choffered to and fro her entire life like a lady of means and status. Every Christmas I would pray and ask God to deliver them safely to our home. And every Christmas we cried when they left, not knowing if we would ever see them both alive again.
In 1985 our small three bedroom home on 38th Street played host to a larger family gathering. I was visiting from Utah. My sisters Kim and Janice were visiting from Colorado with their families.
"Where are they all going to sleep?" Charles worried. Our Rapid City home was small by everyone's standards. It had a miniature living room, petite bathroom (the second downstairs I won't mention. Calling it a bathroom would be a stretch of the imagination), a freezing cold kitchen and a sliver of a family room converted into a long narrow bedroom for Kevin and Jon.
"Don't worry. Things will work out," Luella assured him. Luella was the person in the marriage who believed in 'the more the merrier'. Dad was the family's "the glass is half empty" representative. He sat in family gatherings with his arms and legs tightly crossed. It was his comfort blanket, protecting him from the social situations his family thrust him into. He survived the holidays by spending more time at his two jobs, the state highway department and running a few rural newspaper routes in the afternoons.
The years have dulled my memory so I don't remember where everyone slept or how we managed to handle the demands on the bathroom(s) but we managed. We always did. It was our Little House on the Prairie. It was our time on the frontier.
Grandma Mattson holding her Great Granddaughter Autumn Delgrosso.
Some adults are easily recognized from their baby pictures and some are not. I am not. Attempting to find my 54 year old face in one of my baby pictures is a useless endeavor.
Yesteryear's Victor. Where is the resemblance?
I believe I've aged well. I've transformed from the baby my mother hid behind his beautiful older sister whenever we were out in the public, or kept in the bedroom when company came calling, to the pleasant face you have today - free to enjoy at family gatherings - and at my home (with appointment of course).
Look closely at Autumn. Look at her eyes. You can tell its her, can't you? Today's Autumn Delgrosso Turley looks like her yesteryear's babyself. Cute then and beautiful now. Her husband is a lucky man and he knows it. She reminds him daily.
This is Autumn's grandmother Luella. Christmas 1985.
There were times when even the Mighty Luella threw in the towel. Here she is on a Sunday morning, dressed, ready for church and completely knackered out, collapsed in a heap at the front door. This exhaustion was brought on from getting up before the crack of a winter's dawn to deliver the Rapid City Journal to dozens and dozens of homes in the surrounding Black Hills.
Having to clean up, get ready for church and deal with a house full of children after having delivered the Sunday papers pushed her to the breaking point. That morning we watched her melt to the floor. We crossed our fingers hoping she would make the call.
Wait....... wait....... here it comes.......... Quiet, she's about to speak.
"I'm taking this Sunday off. I'm too exhausted," she sighed. "Someone help me up and to my bed. I'm feeling quite poorly."
At which point everyone in the living room volunteered to stay home and keep her company.
We love our mother dear. Yes we do. Some days more than others.
Ashley and Amber DelGrosso in the Williamson living room in Rapid City waiting patiently for Grandma's decision on venturing out into the cold for church. Ashley is sporting her manufactured smile - good for most occasions, except when sincerity was required :) Amber is waiting for someone to tackle her morning hair.
Nichole Burrows, Janice Williamson Burrows' eldest daughter shushing her mother back. Amber DelGrosso stands behind her. Nichole would have none of that "be nice to Grandma. She's really tired" stuff.
Nichole was dressed to the nines for church and by golly, she was going to go to church. These South Dakotan's didn't know who she was or the terror she could inflict during a Sacrament Meeting. Our small LDS ward was a fresh, undiscovered field - ripe for the picking.
It was soon time for supper. I know because it is dark outside. There were good vittles at the Williamson home that night. We're talking Safeway brand hot dogs, pork and beans and a nice healthy salad with Buttermilk Ranch dressing. Sitting around the kitchen table are (left to right) Nichole Burrows, Forest Delgrosso, Lisa Williamson, Annette Williamson, Brandon Delgrosso, Amber Delgrosso and Ashley Delgrosso.
Forrest is shooting daggers at me with his eyes. I stopped him from 'digging in'. One had to be careful if you interrupted Forrie at meal times.
That poor kitchen table was rarely used. The Williamson tradition was to eat your meals in the living room. The kitchen table was there only to meet society's expectations that all homes have a kitchen table. It was there for ceremonial purposes only. The same was true of the kitchen chairs. They could hold a child's weight. Adults found them dangerously wobbly.
You can tell the picture above was taken at a special occasion because of the hot dog buns. Hot dog buns were a real treat in our home. Normally hot dogs in the Williamson kitchen were nuked in our primitive microwave and served hot on a slice of bread. We knew company was coming if Luella came back from the Safeway with real American hot dog buns!
Getting ready for the girl's holiday photo. Luella applies makeup to eldest daughter, Kim Williamson Delgrosso. Janice, having pawned her youngest Jazmine off to someone else, is giving Autumn a horsey ride. It stopped when Autumn spit up on Janice's black outfit.
Make up applied, it was time for the official Girl's Christmas portrait. Left to right, Lisa, Luella, Kim, Annette, Grandma Violet and Janice. The makeup job on Lisa was truly remarkable, completely hiding her look of disgust. It just goes to show that anything can look good with enough paint.
(that's Cindy's arm in blue).
Marvin with wife Cindy and children Hallie and Luke
Grandma Violet Mattson with grandchildren Lisa, Annette, Luke and Hallie and great grandchildren Brandon, Autumn, Forrest, Jazmine, Amber, Ashely and Nicole. That's Grandpa Charlie reflected in the living room mirror returning from delivering the afternoon Rapid City Journal.
"NO, I'm not smiling," Nichole is shouting to her mother. Jazmine's got quite the belly. Grandma isn't having a lot of luck with Luke and Hallie.
Grandma Violet with Janice, Kim, Cindy, Luke, son Marvin and eldest daughter Luella. Grandma Violet was wore out by this time. I had Brandon hold up a glass of ice cold water just before snapping the picture to get that awesome reaction out of Grandma Violet.
Finally, we celebrated Jazmine's first birthday before everyone returned home that holiday season. Does anyone have a picture of baby Jazmine looking at the camera? Does she look at the camera today when someone takes her picture?
We had a great Christmas in that little house on 38th Street.
I look at these pictures and think of where all these people are today. It reminds me of that great circle of life. New generations are added as the old ones depart. The lesson is to live each day to the fullest and be present in the moment.