December 11th………“TELL US, GRANDPA, ABOUT ENJOYING CHRISTMASTIME AT A RELATIVE’S HOME WHEN YOU WERE A YOUNG BOY AND LIVING IN MINNESOTA”.
Quiet, World War II heroes live among us all. Even after experiencing the vicious horrors of war, they came home to gently live out their daily lives in an elegant, soft-spoken manner that befits the tender soul that they are, yet, each of those quiet heroes have seen and endured immense suffering for the sake of survival of their own life in combat and for the betterment of this great nation that we live in called America.
One of my many heroes, in this realm of honor, was my mother’s brother, Marcus Delmaine (Del) Sletten. I hold numerous uncles on both sides of our family in honor for their service during World War II and they’re all treasured in my All-American little boy memories, but, for the sake of this Christmas story, I will 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, when Del’s outfit heard that name, given them by their adversaries, they took it as their very own. “The Blue Devils” was now their badge of honor.
Uncle Del’s regiment fought so courageously, that they earned the coveted “Presidential Unit Citation” award for bravery from our then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for “fearlessness, heroic determination and the aggressive fighting spirit that brings honor to the Armed Forces of The United States Of America”.
We fast-forward the Christmas time machine to the 1950’s and Uncle Del has survived and thrived after his service during World War II. Del found love, marriage and now had built his own lovely home for his young family in Albert Lea, Minnesota. In my childhood innocence, I had absolutely no cognizance what our gracious host had gone through to do his part in keeping America free. By his, and 16 million other patriot’s sacrifices, we, that day, were able to celebrate the birth of baby Jesus in a world brought back to peace and tranquility.
Especially at Christmastime, when you put a yuletide house-full of Norwegians and Germans together with lots of coffee and sugar-laden desserts……….it’s always the recipe for Christmas joviality and laughter. Our Norwegian patriarch, Russell, had a vein in his body made just for teasing, tricking, embarrassing while causing giggles and laughter to burst from whoever was nearest him at any given moment. One never knew what might pop out of Dad’s mouth, or elsewhere, to create a moment of convivial joy and raucous guffaws of merriment!! 😉
Without a doubt, on that late 1950’s Christmas Day, one of my most effervescent moments of Christmas magic at Uncle Del’s home was when I stepped inside to witness my very first sparkling, modern aluminum Christmas tree that was ablaze in an ever-changing radiant rainbow glow of color from a spotlight showing through a round, four-colored plastic wheel that went round and round by the power of a little electric motor. Every aluminum “branch needle” would be first glowing in cherry red, then verdant green, next to golden yellow and finish with a sapphire blue gleaming before repeating the color wheel’s turn once again. I’d be frozen in happy wonderment for what seemed like hours of childhood bliss as I saw those aluminum branches catch and reflect sparkling hues of spectacular Christmas prisms of joy for this boy!! 😉
Like all happy families in the spirit of Christmas, we treasured our times of laughter, food, colorfully wrapped gifts, Bible Storytime and singing of Christmas Carols.
What usually captured this boy’s attention was the veritable “ToyLand” that existed in my cousin’s bedroom after all those gifts had been opened. It was a little boy “heaven” to me. I’d often just lose track of time itself when we’d come to visit Uncle Del’s home for the holidays.
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 his 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 the memory of his Army buddies who didn’t come home from the war? Some of them had stopped a German bullet or were obliterated into a red vapor by the direct hit of a German mortar shell. Little me, on the other hand, while being oblivious to Del’s plight and experiences of war, was caught up in the bliss of my childhood innocence. Little did I realize what my uncle (and those 16 million other servicemen and women) did to preserve the freedoms that we, as Americans, still enjoy to this very day.
Eventually, our daddy donned his Homburg hat and pulled on his great coat over his handsome Christmas outfit of white shirt and tie. It was then we kids knew it was time to put away our cousin’s vast array of toys and prepare for our snowy trip across those winter roads that led back to our dear farm near Kiester. There were hearty handshakes amongst the men and our family ladies would be giving hugs and Season’s Greetings cheek kisses to one another as we stepped back outside to the frosty air and climbed into our modest, motorized chariot for the trip home. For, as a farmer, Christmas or no Christmas, our Holstein cows, back at the farm, needed to be milked and were getting hungry for their own Christmas “supper”, as well. Yes, Christmas in the long ago, still sets my memories all aglow for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.