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North Plains History: Christmas Eve at Dale & Jerry's

Melvin and wreaths - CopyFrom Melvin Van Domelen
This is the second of many fun and interesting history articles we will be sharing written by local historian and 4th generation area resident Melvin Van Domelen. We sincerely thank Melvin for his wonderful historical accounts and for his passion for keeping our rich history alive today.

Christmas is just around the corner, and this seemed to bring back food memories to me of Christmas times past. There was the decorating of our farmhouse a week beforehand. A spindly tree from the woods. Red and Green paper streamers strung from the corner of our living room through a light fixture in the ceiling. Cedar boughs behind every picture and an evergreen garland around the old Seth Thomas clock on the fireplace mantle (see photo left). Seth Thomas Clock

Another highlight was the Christmas program put on by our one-room school. This school still stands at Mountaindale. There was the hike in the woods with my brother and our two daughters to find the perfect tree on a snowy day.

And later, the wreath-making activity when our daughters and granddaughters worked in my shop. A fire burning in the stove, Christmas music on the radio, singing and laughter. My wife bringing us coffee and cookies, all this along with the smell of evergreens. To me, this was Christmas, a lot of good memories of the past. I would like to zero in on Christmas eves our family spend with my brother and his wife, Jerry. My wife, Mary Ellen, and I married in 1957 and lived in a very small house on my brother’s place. The location was just across the garden from my brother’s home.

We moved into this house just before Christmas in time to put up a decorated tree. My brother, Dale, and his wife Jerry invited us over on Christmas Eve for a drink, conversation, and to inspect their tree. That evening started a tradition that lasted 19 years without a miss.
It started with just the four of us and Jerry’s two children. Over the following years this Christmas Eve gathering would attract 25 or more people. Weddings and births increased the turnout. Jerry’s children, Steve, and Linda both married and had children. Mary and I added two more. A son, David, was born to Dale and Jerry. Some people from the neighborhood were always included. Folks were coming and going all evening long. Dale and I had both built new homes by the 1960’s. 

Jerry would set out a grand all-you-can-eat buffet. My favorite was her rolled chocolate log cake. A ham that had been grown on their farm was served. Bake beans and little smokies in crock pots. The little serving knife with green peas in the handle stuck in the cheese ball. Homemade pastries, and children running around with olives stuck on their fingers. Can you just see it?

The water supply for my brother’s farm was a pipe from a spring back in the hills. This waterline was left by John Nyland after he removed his sawmill from up the valley. My sister, Betty Jean, was here one Christmas Eve with her family. When she was asked for and given a glass of water there was a small fish swimming in it. We all had a good laugh over that.

One year my wife had found a little used bicycle with training wheels for our daughter Vanessa to learn to ride on. This bike needed a paint job, so Dale and I painted it on the afternoon of December 24th in his basement. When it came time to give some gifts to the children that evening, we were amazed to find that the paint had dried. We would often refer to this as a Christmas miracle.

My brother usually wore his faded, almost orange, tank top shirt. He loved that shirt and had it for years. He really enjoyed this Christmas Eve gathering and was always the perfect host. Dale left us in 1977 and this put an end to this Christmas tradition as we knew it. This was something that was hard for me to let go.

The next year on Christmas Eve, after my family had gone to bed, I walked up to my brother’s backyard. I went across the fields on a night that was as clear as it could be. And I stood outside at midnight and relived the past over and over in my mind. Now, I can honestly say that I spent twenty years at Dale and Jerry’s on Christmas Eve.

Now, this holiday is just around the corner. Have a good Christmas season, and above all, make memories. Memories, you know, last forever!