Through the twists and turns of life, new holiday memories are created
By Marv Kohlbeck
Most everyone can single out one special Christmas memory. Instead of just one, I would like to travel down Christmas memory lane and touch on some of the more memorable ones of my 84 years.
Mom and Dad raised eight children on a small dairy farm in Manitowoc County. They made sure that each Christmas was one of excitement as they blessed us with individual gifts and ones we could share with brothers and sisters. Attending midnight mass was traditional and generally was followed with the opening of some gifts and a late evening or early morning meal.
Going to Grandpa and Grandma’s house on each side of the family was always a highlight. I remember one Christmas at my paternal grandparents’ house when I was about 8 or 9 years old. Uncle Eddie said he would give me a nickel if I would sing “Jingle Bells” by myself in front of family and relatives. Not big money, but I took him up on the deal. Funny thing, to this date I have never made another nickel for my singing.
In 1941 as we gathered at our maternal grandparents’ home, general conversations centered around the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 and what impact the war would have on military drafting of relatives. At that time I was 10 years old.
As a teenager I recall volunteering to travel with uncle Pauly to visit his farm boss, who lived nine miles away in the village of Francis Creek. Uncle Pauly did not have a car or driver’s license due to his epileptic symptoms, so we hitched up a farm draft horse to a two-runner sleigh. Bundled up in coats made of bearskin and wrapped in blankets, we made it in time for Christmas dinner. After a scrumptious meal we gave a few sleigh rides to children in the village and then had to head back to the farm for evening chores. That blistering cold experience was enough for me.
While in military basic training in 1953, I was not able to get home for Christmas, so I opted for a furlough in April when my mother was expecting her eighth and final child. When I got home I was not only surprised to have another brother added to our family but also had my parents coax me to open the living room door, which was generally the entrance to an unheated room. Much to my amazement, there stood a fully decorated tree, which they insisted would stay there until I was able to see it on my April return. I still treasure my parents for planning that Christmas.
In 1955 I was serving my final year of military service in Germany. Our ambulance medical unit was informed that we would be delivering presents and a ham dinner to an area orphanage. That indeed was a heartwarming and gratifying experience. Each orphan also received a pair of mittens and toys. Their singing Christmas carols in German was their way of showing appreciation to the soldiers who took time to make their Christmas a bit merrier.
As an exchange student to Peru in 1962 and 1963, I lived with a Peruvian farm family that shared their Christmas with me. Their emphasis was not so much on material things but rather on the spirit of Christmas. It meant attendance at church and going home to share a few gifts with family members.
Now, more than 50 years later, in reading over my diary I kept during my stay, I noted that I gave a Badger Breeders pocket knife to my host father, perfume and a homemade apron to my host mother, and a yo-yo and jacks to the two children. In return I opened a present from them that contained a neatly handcrafted billfold, which I still have today.
Now, after seeing three offspring leave home to raise their own families, it is a joy to kick back and observe all of them when they come to Grandpa and Grandma’s for a Christmas celebration. They too are building memories to share in years to come.