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Wonderful memories – Three share their Christmases past

By Staff | Dec 21, 2007

ESTHERVILLE–It was a wonder that Orville Sampson family’s Christmas tree never burned.

Between the popcorn strung around the tree and the candles used to light it, that would have been a modern insurance underwriter’s worst nightmare. But popcorn strung around the tree and candles to light it were just the way things were done back then when the REA was a distant dream and kerosene lanterns were the order of the day on the Sampson farm six miles north of Armstrong. It was the depth of the Great Depression, the Dirty Thirties. At a time when town folks led a hand-to-mouth existence, living on a farm was a good alternative. At least you had some idea where your next meal had to come from, even if you had to pull a carrot or a teat or cut off a chicken’s head.

Christmas presents were at a premium, too.

“We were lucky if we got one thing,” Sampson said.

Christmas dinner might consist of a chicken or a duck. There were phones for calling neighbors, but no electricity.

“We were taught to be very thrifty in those times,” Sampson said. “Our enjoyment was just a sled and to coast down the hills.”

“We cut down our own trees,” recalled Florence Gathercole. “I remember carrying water. We had a cave and that’s where we kept our groceries.”

Christmas ornaments, for Florence’s family, might include acorns hung from the tree.

Gathercole remembers one winter when the neighbors came to get the children from the school in a bobsled because the snow was so deep. It was a blinding blizzard, but the horses knew their way home.

Orville remembers the deep snow too, up to 10 feet along both sides of the road.

Helen Bryant remembers mashing potatoes by hand and carrying cobs in from the hog yard for the cookstove. Hot water came from a reservoir on the end of the stove.

“These kids could never live in those days, not the modern ones,” Bryant said.

Contact Michael Tidemann at (712) 362-2622 or mtidemann@esthervilledailynews.com and visit our photo sharing Web site at cu.esthervilledailynews.com