I may be only one oat seed in a field of millions, yet I have a story to share of beginnings on our beloved farm in southern Minnesota and beyond to life as I've seen it to this point. Famous? No. Gifted? Unlikely. Yet, I want to leave a legacy to my children and grandchildren of who this gentle Norwegian man was. My happy times, sad times, successes and failures. Someday, those who are tiny now, will have this volume to come to and get to know this Norwegian Farmer's Son.
December 20th………..”GRANDPA, PLEASE TELL US A STORY ABOUT HOW YOUR FARMER FATHER GAVE THE “GIFT” OF EXTRA LOVE TO YOUR ANIMALS ON CHRISTMAS EVE”.
Similar to a mother covering her children at bedtime, the Minnesota sky above us gently drew her blanket of darkness over our snow-laden farm land on that Christmas Eve.
Yet, before that darkness fully descended, golden rays of the setting sun pierced the dust-covered windows of our barn. Fine particles of straw dust rode upon those sunbeam rays of gold as their light illuminated a mother Holstein cow and her baby calf.
One could surmise that that ray of light was almost like the Christmas Star above the Christchild’s holy manger in the city of Bethlehem, only in a bovine sort of way.
Across the yard from the barn, our farm home was bedecked with holiday festiveness. Mom had a fragrant pot of coffee brewing for Dad to warm up with when he finished chores on that special night.
Mom’s delicious Christmas cooking had filled the four walls of our humble home with the aromas of everything from her honey-baked ham to her family famous home-made bread.
For our family, it was a Christmas tradition to celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Eve. Mom would read the Christmas story from the Bible in the New Testament Book of Luke in Chapter 2, verses 1-7. Then, we’d begin the joys of opening presents that beckoned to us from under our glorious Christmas tree.
Before our indoor festivities could begin, our father, Russell, was giving some “presents” of his own to all the animals on our farm.
From the chickens, to the pigs and even our Shetland pony got extra food and fresh straw bedding to enjoy on that special Christmas Eve night.
By the time Dad bedded down our 15 Holstein cows with fresh straw from the haymow above us, the barn held a happy perfume all its own; a gift from their farmer/master who loved every creature that God had placed under his care there on our farm.
Like his beloved Norwegian farmer father before him, our daddy respected and loved each animal that relied on him for shelter, food and loving care.
One even wonders what the animals may have said to each other, on that special night of nights. After our father snapped off the last light in the barn and headed for the house, an animal interaction may have occurred, one never knows. So, with a bit of imagination, our Holsteins may have begun to speak their farm language of “Holsteinian” to each other in the quietness. Daddy “Herkamer Holstein”, off in his special pen in the barn, was definitely enjoying his extra feed and bedding. With a happy spirit, I’ll venture to say he moooooed a masculine-sounding “MOOOOORRY CHRISTMAS”!!! across the barn to “Henrietta Holstein” and their new son, “Horace Holstein”.
With only winter’s starlight now gently emanating through the barn windows, I can almost hear little “Horace Holstein” talking to his mother…….“Mom,why does Mr. Noorlun bless us with extra of everything on thisnight”? “Henrietta Holstein” lovingly responded to her little one……“Well, son, our human caretakers areChristians and for them, this night is called Christmas Eve”. She continued, “Every year at thistime, Christians around the world celebrate the birth of the Son of God in Bethlehem of Judea in aland called Israel”. “Henrietta” concluded to her son…..“I like to think our farmer/master wants to celebrate the birth of his Savior with these “presents” to us, just like the Wise Men brought gifts to young Jesus to honor Him and His birth long ago”!!
With a tummy full of warm milk from his mommy, and a fresh bed of straw as a “gift” from our farmer father, “Horace” was getting sleepy as he lay near the cozy body warmth of his dear momma. Just before floating off to dreamland, “Horace” groggily said, “Well, Mom, if I were a little human boy, here at Christmastime, I’d sure be saying MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL”!!! “And I’d even say that I thank God for being a Norwegian Farmer’s Son”!!! 😉
December 19th……….“WHAT CHILDHOOD CHRISTMAS EVENT, THAT WAS HELD IN YOUR HOMETOWN OF KIESTER, MINNESOTA, STILL HOLDS MAGIC FOR YOU AS A FAVORITE MEMORY OF THE HOLIDAY SEASON”??
Combine the jungle king, “Tarzan”, a snow blizzard and John Deere tractors and they seem to be an incongruous teaming that could hardly ever be associated with Christmas memories. Yet to me, they go hand in glove to induce me to smiles and traveling back into the sweetness of childhood there in my hometown of Kiester, Minnesota at Christmastime.
In my boyhood days on our farm, my weekly bank account grew by a mere twenty-five cents (thanks to my parent’s kind sharing). Yup, a slim one quarter of a dollar bill was all mine to enjoy. Burning in my pocket (so to speak), that miniscule sum was usually expended by yours truly each and every Saturday night when our family drove into Kiester for our weekly shopping needs and the popular “Lucky Bucks” drawing. Needless to say, I was not in the financial position of having a surplus of monetary means to be able to afford to pay for a movie at the KEE Theater on my limited income of just twenty-five pennies.
Like another Santa Claus, a much loved man of our community, by the name of Arnold Bauman (along with the Sime family), came to the financial rescue of myself and hundreds of other boys and girls each year with a special Christmas “gift”.
Mr. Bauman had collaborated with the “Sime Equipment Co.” (our local John Deere tractor merchant) to provide a Christmastime gift to the children of our town with a FREE movie and popcorn each holiday season. This festive occasion was made all the sweeter by the parting gift of a tasty treat for all the little ones after the cartoons, short subject films and movie were completed.
The venue for this wondrous Christmas event was the one and only “KEE Theater” located at the north end of our small town’s Main Street. Having first opened in 1940, this magic arena for imagination and entertainment, over the decades, brought countless thousands the opportunity to step into its elegant chambers and be transported to whatever world of adventure one chose to enjoy.
From the second you stepped into the cozy lobby, you were greeted with the fragrant aroma of scrumptious theater-style popcorn being brought to perfection as it called to your culinary senses and said, “BUY ME!! I’M TASTY”!!! …….but on this special day, the price was FREE! 😉 My happy, little boy eyes watched each popcorn kernel jumping for joy as it ricocheted from the hot popping kettle to the glass wall and back into the amber-glowing of heat lamps awaiting the attendant to scoop it up and into your very own popcorn bag. A kid ambrosia of delight, it was, as I carefully navigated the crowd of bumping bodies so as not to spill even one delicious puff of popcorn!!
Thanks to the generosity of Mr. Bauman and the Sime family, this dollar-challenged little farm boy was now perusing the movie theater aisles in my winter rubber boots as I “kah-lumped” along while I sought the best seat to settle into and prepare for our kids Christmas film fest to begin.
As was the norm, for those Minnesota Christmastimes, there was usually a snowstorm blowing just outside of these cozy walls with frigid temperatures down in the 20’s or colder.
The lights of the KEE Theater Auditorium gently began to fade into darkness. We kids hushed our noisy chatter as we noticed the tall, regal, red velvet curtains begin to make their swishing sound as they pleated themselves into the sides of the arched framing which now revealed the immense white movie screen.
With an anticipatory darkness surrounding us all, the KEE Theater’s massive film projectors, in the balcony Projection Room above us, sparked to life and flickering images became clear on the sky-high movie screen as this agrarian audience witnessed promotional “commercials” for the latest John Deere tractors that could be purchased at our local “Sime Equipment Company”.
The John Deere advertisements were now over and on came joy-filled glee in the form of cartoons for old and young kids alike to create happy endorphins from giggle muscles being well exercised. This dominantly young audience around me made the sounds of happy popcorn munching as the last cartoon ended and it was now time for the main feature film to begin………..ohhhh boyyyy!!!
I, for one, was intrigued by the various choices of film subjects that were brought to us kids each year for this free movie day. The Tarzan movies were my favorites because here we were, all bundled up against the frozen temperatures that awaited us outside of the movie theater and yet, there, on the screen were story characters living in a hot, humid jungle setting while getting all sweaty in the sunshine of far away Africa. 😉
Having thoroughly enjoyed ever single minute of our FREE Christmas movie, it was now time to file out of the KEE Theater to face the cold snap of winter temperatures once again.
What happened next was the treasured time of a “dessert” after the “meal” of the movie in the form of a FREE little paper bag of Christmas ribbon candies, jelly-filled hard candies and salted peanuts still in their shells.
These holiday delicacies were handed out by none other than “Santa”, himself.
Kind-hearted men of our town would volunteer, each year, to put on the Santa suit and be waiting outside the theater for us kids. True to form, there was this year’s “Santa” waiting for us and seated in his special chair. In front of him was a very large, red velvet bag full to overflowing with our candy and peanut bags that had been individually taped shut. “Santa” handed one bag to each little darling that passed him on their way to reunite with parents waiting outside the theater. On this particular Christmas movie occasion, the ill-fitting red suit easily revealed the features of a dear local farmer by the name of Lawrence Haase. Sweet Mr. Haase, that dear soul, was a thin-framed man, so he was “swimming” in the over-sized Santa suit. Besides, with his glasses on, and his “farmer tan” of a snow-white forehead and sunburned face, it was a cinch to recognize him from the traditional look of the “man from the North Pole”. With a child’s very grateful heart, I received “Santa’s” greeting of, “MERRY CHRISTMAS”!!! as he handed me my little bag of treats in the frosty air of this beloved hometown of a happy little Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
December 17th…………..“DURING YOUR FARM YEARS IN MINNESOTA, HOW DID YOU DECORATE YOUR FAMILY’S CHRISTMAS TREE AND HOME EACH YULETIDE SEASON”??
There he was, peering at me from his lair among the pine needle branches of our family’s Christmas tree. “Mr. Gator” was nestled into his place of annual honor, as if a unique ambassador of the season, there alongside all our other traditionally acceptable Christmas tree decorations. Where he came from, and why was he elevated from the swamp to our Christmas tree???………that I’ll never know. But, there, in all his red-n-yellow, articulated plastic splendor, rested “Mr. Gator” for yet another Yuletide Season within the evergreen heights of the Noorlun Christmas tree.
When it came to lighting our holiday tree, I can heartily say, to this very day, that I still favor and desire the consistent, peaceful glow and rich colors of our old-fashioned string of Christmas lights. Those conical, colorful orbs were festooned in spiraling aspirations upon our fragrant evergreen tree’s branches. To me, they were the foundation, upon the beginning bare branches, of what eventually became our towering Yuletide tower of treasures.
Every electronic, colored bauble was carefully brought forth from its cardboard “coach” that had seen them safely through another 11 months of storage since last Christmas. Now, with big sister Rosemary’s precision, each of these lovely lights were clipped onto the tree’s branches to achieve a proper spiral elegance of our, soon to be, evergreen elegance.
First created by German glass-blowers of the mid 1800’s, we tenderly brought out our tissue-wrapped, glass Christmas ornament boxes. A sweetness of seasonal royalty surrounded each handcrafted, hanging ornament. Our dear mother, Clarice, instilled a sense of awe and caution to us little ones as to the fragility of these glitter-encrusted glass marvels and taught us how to hang them for their best display upon our green mountain of merriment.
Our parents, having both grown up during America’s Great Depression of the 1930’s, had learned the value of every penny they earned. It is highly likely, that they may have garnered these Christmas decorations in their early years of marriage, starting in June of 1941, and had seen to it that these ornaments were still in use for we four children to enjoy in the late 1940’s, 50’s and early 1960’s. Even as children, we could sense Mom’s reverence of these decorations not only for their individual delicacy, but also for the nostalgic joy they represented in our parent’s history of Christmas times enjoyed since their early days of life together. Subsequent Yuletide Seasons were enjoyed by our folks even more when their young family came along consisting of brother, Lowell, and sister, Rosemary.
The last phase of this particular holiday decoration drama scene was the one that taxed the most patience from my little child mind. Out came the boxes of aluminum tinsel that had been saved and reused from who knows how many Christmas times in the past. Into our quivering hands of excitement was lain a “ponytail” of silver, flat strands of tinsel that were to be placed ONE AT A TIME upon each inch of each branch of our evergreen “work of art”. If done correctly, the end result was a regal mane of silver resembling a stream of icicles flowing off of one of our frozen rooflines outside. After about 10 minutes of this flamboyant frustration, I was inclined to start tossing the aluminum man-made icicles in clumps onto the branches just to get the job over with. If caught, I was often, and appropriately, chastised by Mom and other family members for allowing this horrific breach of holiday decorating etiquette. 😉
Even at Christmastime, America was, and still is, in love with plastic. Since the early 1900’s, plastic had morphed into every facet of American culture…….even Christmas decorations.
To help portray our festive Christmas spirits to those who drove past our farm, we brought out our red, plastic wreaths that had a single pseudo, cardboard “candle” incorporated into its base with a red lightbulb glowing for effect. We’d take a hammer and tap a small nail into the wooden frame of our east and south-facing Living Room windows and add a bit of color towards the outside winter world around us with these wreaths. During those holiday seasons, as Dad and I would be walking towards our farm home from the barn at night, it was warming to my little boy heart to see that glowing red Christmas bulb in the window illuminating the red plastic wreath around it.
Our old, plastic Saint Nick came out of his yearly hiding box to be with us, too, on those fun HO HO HO occasions. Although he could have been assigned as a tree topper ornament, I seem to recall that he was usually taken into the kitchen and shined forth, precariously, upon the window sill. Once plugged in, his roly-poly self set to glowing and his electric Santa smile shined out towards the farmyard to let all the Blue Jays and wild bunny rabbits know that Christmas was here.
Being of Norwegian heritage, our Christmas tree was known in the old world Norwegian language as a “Juletre” (pronounced: “yoool-eh-treh”).
Being a Christian family, our dear mother, especially, saw to it that the true meaning of Christmas was brought to the forefront in all of our young lives via Bible Christmas stories and the like. No matter what time of the calendar year our Lord Jesus Christ may have actually been born, we as His children chose December 25th, each year, to celebrate His being born into this world as our most precious Savior and King. And, thanks to our godly Sunday School teachers at Grace Evangelical United Brethren Church, we also received beautiful little Nativity dioramas that were gladly placed on our television set and even hung upon the Christmas tree to remind me of the most wonderful reason for the season for this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
December 15th…………“AS A YOUNG BOY OF 12 YEARS, IN YOUR HOMETOWN OF KIESTER, MINNESOTA, WHAT UNLIKELY EVENT FOSTERED A LASTING CHRISTMASTIME MEMORY”??
Contemplatively speaking, it is an arresting thought to muse upon the mystique of our hearts in determining what we embed within our memories and what is set aside in our brains as dross and loss. With that parameter in place, travel with me back to a snowy December and my 1966-67 school year at Kiester High School in our village of Kiester, Minnesota.
I was privileged that year to be a member of our “Bulldog” Wrestling Team and we were about to be bound, that winter’s evening, aboard one of Leroy Dahl’s busses, for a wrestling meet in the distant town of Sherburn, Minnesota, which lay to the far west of our own farming community. This athletic event was transpiring in the holiday weeks leading up to Christmas, so, as winter weather normalcy had it, our town had been blessed with a wonderful, pristine blanket of snow covering our southern Minnesota world.
Our Wrestling Team Coach was the honorable Mr. Daryl Parker. I greatly admired him as teacher and as a fine masculine role model for we MatMen to follow. Coach had granted us permission, that evening, to buy and bring snacks and drinks onto the bus to appease the ever-gnawing hunger of ever-growing young bucks.
I quickly ran up the street, from our school campus, to the Kiester Food Market. Within its quaint and food-fragrant aisles, I had found a brand new type of snack crackers in a box called, “Chicken In A Biskit” and, to wash it all down, I bought a large glass bottle of soda-pop called, “Mountain Dew”.
As I emerged from the store, with my goodies in tow, I witnessed a combination of events that were both sublime and ethereal in nature. There was a calm-inducing quiet that night on the Main Street of our humble hometown.
Many of our city businesses had their Christmas decorations festooned from here to there, as well as gorgeous garlands that were strung from one side of Main Street to the other. All were glowing in a primary spectrum of colored Yuletide lighting. To make this scene even more magical, a beautiful silent snow had begun to float down from the black velvet of God’s wintery Heaven.
This farm boy’s moment of bliss was elevated to an even higher echelon as a quintessential type of dessert alighted upon my ears. From above the roofline of “Jim’s TV & Appliance Store” a large, public-address horn speaker had been wired to the stereo record player down inside the store and was playing beautiful Christmas music over our whole town.
Being a former “Bulldog” himself, from our High School’s class of 1958, Jim Engebretson had a loyalty and love for his dear hometown and, from the sweetness of his heart, wanted to make this Christmas Season as wonderful as possible with the addition of music to the atmosphere around us.
Even though I knew I had to be on my way back to the bus for the wrestling tournament, I stood there and savored every moment that I could as “Mr. Guitar”…..Chet Atkins, masterfully played the Christmas song, “Little Drummer Boy” over our entire town. Within the music-enhanced silence of that snow falling from an onyx sky, my rubber metal-buckled winter boots began crunching upon the snowy sidewalks, which only added to the joy-filled beauty of the musical moment.
The metal buckles of my boots, clinking below me, seemed to keep cadence with the music by their happy “chinka kling” as I strolled in the darkness. The deft talent of Chet Atkin’s playing brought a rich color to “The Little Drummer Boy” song on his electric guitar.
In great gratitude to Jim Engebretson’s provision of this epiphany moment, it was as if that famous guitarist was playing just for me. In my own private soliloquy, I pondered on the thought that I wasn’t just going to a wrestling match, I was tenderly held within a zenith moment of manifest Christmas joy that I have carried gladly, for over a half century, in the heart of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
December 14th………….“AT GRACE EVANGELICAL UNITED BRETHREN CHURCH, IN KIESTER, MINNESOTA, DID YOUR FAMILY ENJOY A SPECIAL CHRISTMASTIME WORSHIP EXPERIENCE? WAS IT DURING THE DAYTIME? OR AT NIGHT”???
Christmas took on an almost mystical aura when cloaked in the black velvet of a snow-laden sky. From that ebony expanse above us effused a trillion, multi-laced flakes of snow that daintily floated down past the street lights that illuminated our family’s church-house of Grace Evangelical United Brethren Church in Kiester, Minnesota
On that Christmastime evening, the snow-chained tires of our family’s Chevrolet came to a crunching halt against the frozen curb that was drifted over by the latest snowfall.
As we popped open the four doors of that humble chariot, our family ventured into the below freezing temperatures regaled in all our Christmas finery. Tenderly watching our steps, upon the icy sidewalks below us, we gingerly walked along the northside of the church.
Upon rounding the bend of the sidewalk to the east side of our church entry, I was sweetly stunned by the vibrantly warm and rich coloring of the enormous stained glass window that dominated that portion of our worship center building. Since most of our family times at church were in the daylight, the nighttime view of this intricate glass craftsmanship was mesmerizing as its colors were brought to a vivid life of its own from the lighting inside our church. As a little boy, I was always held in awe of the intricate patterns of this leaded-glass “painting” of our Lord Jesus carrying a lamb.
A mutual merry magnetism drew the punctual arrival of both townfolk and local farm families to the front of our church entry as numerous other vehicle headlights were shutting down as families were exiting their cars. The happy “chinka-klink” of winter boot-buckle sounds went right along with the frost-imbued air of our breath as we wished everyone a “MERRY CHRISTMAS”!!! before stepping inside our church’s narthex to remove our winter coats and boots.
As our family entered and settled into a pew, we enjoyed the elegant Christmas hymns of “Silent Night” and other carols being played to perfection by our talented organist, Mrs. Dixie Ballweber. Dixie was one of many who lent their gifts to make this Christmas moment a memorable one for all.
Robed candle lighters made their way down center aisle to the communion table while holding their long, brightly-lit candle lighting sticks, with the bent-end bell “snuffer”, to bring the glow of more Christmas cheer to this pleasant occasion and signal to the congregation that the Yuletide ceremonies were about to begin.
It was my turn, on that happy evening, to leave our parent’s side, in the pew, and make my way to the back of the church to put on my choir robe and step into and up upon the choir loft with the other children of our church to do our part in singing God’s praises for His greatest gift of all……….celebrating the birth of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, here on this holy day in December.
Even though our Children’s Choir attempts at singing were shaky and Munchkin-like, we strove to do the best our little voices could do on those happy Christmas performance nights at the church. Even in our immaturity, one could see our juvelile efforts were welcomed and visually enjoyed by many a smiling adult face as parents, grandparents and townfolk welcomed their progeny’s contribution to the evening here in the local assembling of His saints.
A lasting imprint upon the mental tablet of my little boy happy memories was the ever-faithful and loving men who served as ushers there in our church. Mr. Mike Iverson and Harold Kinder were an amazing team with one goal in mind, to be ambassadors for Christ as they weekly stood by those grand double entry doors of our church every Sunday morning and especially for this special evening Christmas occasion!
As the last “Wise Man” stepped off the church stage and after the congregation sang a serene version of “Silent Night”, our pastor gave us all his blessings and with a final “Amen”, we Yuletide saints began filing out of the worship center and fellowshipping together as pew aisles merged to the center and towards the church’s entrance.
The church’s twin entry doors were now swung open wide to the very brisk winter’s night as our two beloved ushers, one on each side of the doorframe, stood next to big boxes of delicious, ruby-red “Snoboy” apples that were given out as tasty gifts to the entire congregation as they were heading for their homes.
Those tender-hearted church ushers, Harold and Mike, were like godly elves of Santa as they handed these apple gifts to old and young alike. Gifts, in a sense, in that each yummy apple was individually wrapped in a blue crepe paper. And this gift was extra-special in that it was not only sweet to eat, but had come all the way from Washington State to our little town for us to enjoy. As my little boy voice said, “Thank you so much”!!!, these kindly, Christian men responded with a hearty, “MERRRRRY CHRISTMAS”!!! as they saw their tasty apple disappear into the tummy of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.
December 13th………“DURING YOUR YOUNG YEARS, ON YOUR FARM IN MINNESOTA, WHAT WERE SOME OF THE POPULAR CHRISTMAS CARTOONS YOU ENJOYED WATCHING ON YOUR BLACK & WHITE TELEVISION”??
Nestled within the chambers of a child’s imagination are sparkling embers of fantasy. Then, when an inspiring artist, like Charles Schultz, comes along, those happy embers are fanned into a joyous blaze of wonderment.
Like a meal for the mind, you add music, gentle animation, voices and magic-infused story telling and combine them together to create a sweet moment that makes an indelible mark in the lives of every child who treasured the television premiere of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” back in 1965. Granted, I was a whole 11 years old that year, but hey, I was still a kid in a majority of ways.
This delightful cartoon story made me smile and even caused me to become introspective of what Charlie Brown’s quest was all about.
What a deeply poignant moment it was when little Linus called for the house lights to be dimmed and a spotlight was brought to focus on in his place, there on the school stage, while he shared the beauty of the Holy Scriptures. He told the Christmas Story from the New Testament Book of Luke. I am moved, even to this very day, with that touching moment. Cartoon? Yes. But powerful?……another resounding YES!
During the following year of 1966, another team of creative artists brought to life a cartoon version of the Dr. Seuss book, “How The Grinch Stole Christmas”. The cartoon genius of Mr. Chuck Jones, and fellow artists, created a delightful and yet moving story of animation that all us kids could cringe and giggle at, at the same time. And who but the “master of malice”, Boris Karloff, could create the convincing narrative voice that was synonymous with evil intent as the Grinch, himself. Dripping with malevolent overtones, The Grinch spoke of all the terrible things he’d do to the Who’s of Whoville. The deep, bass voice used to sing “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” belonged to none other than voice actor/singer, Thurl Ravenscroft, as he rendered that deep, despicable voice of his for this song. That gripping, unique Christmastime melody is stuck within the psyche of many a “Baby Boomer” (those born between 1946 to 1964) kid to this present day.
These classic Christmas cartoons, and many others, still hold a warm place in the heart of this HO HO HO Norwegian Farmer’s Son.