December 22nd…“TELL ABOUT CHRISTMAS CELEBRATIONS AT A RELATIVE’S HOME DURING YOUR CHILDHOOD.”
From an original military of sixteen million, only a remnant of “The Greatest Generation” (300K) are still with us. Those quiet, valiant warriors of World War II live among us all. They gently live out their daily lives in an elegant, soft-spoken manner that befits the tender souls that they are, yet each of those quiet heroes have seen and endured much horror for the sake of survival of their own life in combat and for the betterment of this great nation we live in called America. One of my many heroes, in this realm of honor, was my mother’s brother, Marcus Delmaine (“Del”) Sletten (5/14/1924 – 7/13/1994). Of course, on both our maternal and paternal sides of the family, I hold other uncles cherished who also are treasured as heroes to this little boy’s memory, but for this story, we’re going to hold up and honor my Uncle Del. Delmaine Sletten served gallantly, during World War II, with Company A of the 351st Infantry Regiment of the 88th Division of the United States Army. With distinction, he and his fellow warriors fought tenaciously against the entrenched German invaders in the mountainous areas of Italy. Uncle Del, and his fellow soldiers, fought so fiercely, that their German enemies labeled this American fighting unit as “The Blue Devils”…..and the name stuck, like the badge of honor it was. Uncle Del’s Regiment fought so courageously, that they earned a coveted “Unit Citation” for bravery from our then President, The Honorable Franklin Delano Roosevelt, for “fearlessness, heroic determination and aggressive fighting spirit that brings honor to the armed forces of the United States”.
So, when it came to a present day Christmas, during the late 1950’s, we often gathered the clan at Uncle Del’s lovely home in Albert Lea, Minnesota. Little did this tiny guy realize, back then, what our gracious host had gone through to keep America free and by that sacrifice, entitled us to celebrate Jesus’s birth in a world of peace and tranquility……. and with an aluminum tree, even 😉
Once home from the War, Uncle Del found love, marriage and the opportunity to build a very handsome home for his new family to be born into and grow up enjoying. From stories my mother told us, her brother was a very talented man in many ways. Drawing on the reserves of his many talents, our beloved uncle even built a quaint cottage for his parents to comfortably spend the rest of their lives within, just down the road from him, there in the city of Albert Lea, Minnesota.
At Christmas, or any other time of the year, for that matter, whenever you put Norwegians and Germans together, add lots of coffee with sugar-laden desserts, it’s the recipe for Christmas fun and laughter.
Our father, Russell Noorlun, had a vein in his body made just for teasing, tricking and causing blushing guffaws to whoever was nearest him at a given moment. Anything might pop out of his mouth (or other places) to create a moment of convivial joy and raucous joviality. For instance, telling our prepubescent girl cousins to, “Awww, eat that burnt toast, it’ll put hair on your chest!!” 🙂 To, passing gas at the dinner table and then swing around in his seat as he’s blaming it on the dog…..“Darn dogs, how’d they get in here??!!!”
Without a doubt, one of the most effervescent moments for me was to step into Uncle Del Sletten’s lovely home and behold his sparkling, modern, aluminum Christmas tree that was ablaze in an ever-changing rainbow show of color from a spotlight showing through a primary-colored plastic wheel that went round and round by the power of a little electric motor. First, the tree would be aflame in RED, then fading to a GREEN, then fading to a BLUE and then a golden YELLOW in wonderful repetition that had me frozen in happy wonderment for what seemed hours as I saw the aluminum branches catch and reflect sparkling hues of spectacular Christmas prisms of joy.
Like all happy families, we treasured our times of laughter, food, colorfully wrapped Christmas gifts, Bible story time and singing of Christmas carols. What usually captured this boy’s attention, though, was the cornucopia of a veritable “toyland” that existed in my cousin’s bedroom. It was a boy toy “heaven” to me. I’d often lose track of time itself when we’d come visit as I’d ride their spring-loaded plastic pony, or play with any myriad of toy choices within their lair of a playland.
In retrospective thought, I have often pondered on what may have been going through Uncle Del’s mind as he gazed down upon we little ones at Christmas play around the fireplace and Yuletide tree. I can only surmise how deeply grateful he was to God for our Lord to have seen mercy upon him to survive and come home from that horrific war to enjoy an America of freedom and plenty. Do you suppose he thought upon his Army buddies who didn’t come home? Those who stopped a German bullet or were obliterated by a German mortar shell? Caught up in the bliss of my childhood innocence, little did I realize what my uncle (and 16 million others) did to preserve the freedoms that we, as Americans, still enjoy to this very day.
Eventually, when our daddy pulled on his great coat over his handsome Christmas outfit of shirt and tie, we kids knew it was time to put away our cousin’s toys and prepare for our trip across the snowy roads and back to our dear farm. Moving us kids towards the front door, there’d be hearty handshakes among the men and our family ladies would be giving season’s greeting kisses to each other on the cheeks as we climbed into our modest, motorized chariot for the trip home. For, as a farmer, Christmas or no Christmas, those Holstein cows back at the farm needed to be milked and were getting hungry for their Christmas “dinner”, as well. Such is just a taste of one of the Christmas joys, in the past, for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.