From the Fortress of Solitude
In today's digital reunion I'm going to repost several pictures from the family's Christmas Eve celebration circa 1986. I rescanned the slides using a different scanner than the one I originally used when I first posted these photos in 2012. Still, the photos are far from perfect, but it was the best I could do back in the day of film cameras and unreliable flashbulbs.
I begin with a darling photo of my two grandmothers. They found a bit of quiet for a nice gossip in our small kitchen at 2214 38th Street, Rapid City, South Dakota. The kitchen was an add-on to the house built before we called it home in 1968. Because it was added to the house, it had a natural gas wall heater of its own positioned behind Grandma Liessman. It was a miserly heater, keeping most of whatever heat it generated to itself. The pilot light was ever a martyr to the slightest gust of wind.
The living room carpet paid the ultimate price for our frigid kitchen. Eight kids, freezing South Dakota dark winter morning and icebox kitchen; where would you eat your Malt O Meal cereal? Precisely, in the living room as close to the one heating vent as possible.
Grandma Mattson was always too warm. We kept her internal temperature down by keeping her well supplied with cold tap water (on pain of death, we had to "let the water run" before filling the glass). For some reason, we didn't seem to know the purpose for making ice in the fridge. Why would you when the streets were covered with a foot or more of the stuff. Grandma Leissman, on the other hand, was inexorably cold, as seen in the photo below. Her sweaters added a bit of substance to her diminutive frame. She knew her son was a Scrooge when it came to burning money up the chimney.
Our Grandmas give Christmas its nostalgic charm; weren't they, after all, the same age as Santa? Perhaps they went to the same school.
Just look at these two Grandams. How proud they would be of this American dynasty they forged!
Two Of A Kind
From a Poem by Julie B. Bradstreet
Two funny beautiful ladies
That mean so much to me
May be gone from the land of the living
But with me they will always be
Because my memory holds them dearly
And my pen recalls their ways
And most of all I love them
A love that always stays
It stays inside my memory
And is often on my mind
Because ladies like my grandmas
Are rare and hard to find.
Grandma Mattson at the Piano
|Uncle Marvin (ghostified by my enthusiastic flash) with Grandma Mattson tickling the ivory on her old piano. I still hear her singing.|
That was the piano Kim and I learned to play on. It was grandma's piano from the ranch. Never in tune (I think it and the kitchen's heater were in a relationship), its innards held a collection of dead moths and forgotten tunes. No one could coerce a singable melody from its strings like Grandma. It knew to behave when Violet stroked its keys. Grandma's quivering voice singing those old Montana tunes gave our Christmas Eves a magic we only realize now that we're older.
|Luella with the Grandmas preparing the Christmas Eve party snacks|
There, in the photo above, for the world to see is our kerosene portable heater (the blurry object in front of Luke). We risked death, or at least brain damage, every time we used the thing. It was Dad's way of keeping a lid on the gas bill. Why turn up the furnace when we could heat the house the old fashion way! It's a wonder any of us survived those winters without constant and reoccurring carbon monoxide poisoning :)
(Maybe we didn't. The brain damage and memory loss we suspect in each other could well be the result of that heater!)
|Uncle Marvin Mattson with son Luke. Marvin was my mother's youngest sibling|
There is no doubt about it. Luke and Hallie were the darlings of that Christmas Eve gathering. Lisa and Annette graciously surrendered the title after realizing believers always trump non-believers at Christmas time.
|Cindy Mattson with daughter Hallie|
Hallie and Luke.
Luke's had enough of all of us, and he wasn't the only one......
I'm wondering if the carpet came that way, or the result of eight kids and hundreds of meals?
Yes indeed, Grandma and Grandpa Liessman joined Luke in a short mid-party nap. It was
either Grandma Mattson's singing or the kerosene fumes that got to them. I remember they did seem a bit loopy when it was time to wake them up and send them on to their motel. I worried about Grandpa Leissman driving under the influence of Kerosene, but considering how he drove when he was sober, perhaps the fumes would help.
Dad (Charles) with the youngest in the family and Grandpa Liessman. I may be mistaken, but there is definitely someone needing his two front teeth for Christmas 1986. I think Annette was trying to get away while Dad was doing his best to keep her there. She was acting as a buffer between himself and his stepfather. We had strict orders NOT to leave him alone with Grandpa Leissman. Grandpa had a way of droning on with the same stories year after year. It was amazing how long he could pontificate without coming up for air. With Annette between them, Dad could escape to the bathroom (he never went into the kitchen - another story for another time) the moment Grandpa's attention shifted to Annette.
And so we bid farewell to Christmas Eve 1986. I was home for the holiday enjoying some family time. It was my fourth year teaching at Central Elementary School in Pleasant Grove, Utah.
Are your grandparents still alive? If so, never miss an opportunity to talk to them about their lives. Ask about their childhood. All they want is a bit of your time. It would mean so much to them. I promise you won't regret it when you get older.