I'm going to write most of this part of the blog in spurts. That's the way life is. I like the way Ashley Garrett did it in her blog, baddestmotherever. She used bullets, so you could say, "Hey, Ashley, tell me about jumping out of the airplane," or, "Ashley, it's not normal to get all bent out of shape about pillows." See, I don't even have to go back and look because those things are memorable.
Whenever I try to write about me, I go back to my childhood, which was so full of wonderful stuff that I get carried away, so I've chosen to concentrate here on my childhood in the thirties. For me it was a great time to be a child.
(Cick on the pictures to enlarge them.)
- I was born in 1932, in Galesburg, Illinois, home of Knox College and Carl Sandburg's birthplace -- and the CB&Q roundhouse. I would be willing to bet that when I lived there, half the people in Galesburg had a name ending in 'son.' Mine was Christofferson.
- Families were working their way slowly out of the Depression that began in '29. Times were hard I'm sure, but hard for everybody. I never lacked for food, or clothing, or books, a roomy house to live in with great parents and two older sisters. I know that many people suffered as a result of the economy. I'm sure my parents struggled to give my sisters and me what we needed. When I say I was lucky, it can only mean they kept the struggle from us.
- Galesburg is a railroad town, and I can remember falling asleep to the mournful sound of a distant railroad whistle, and the chuga chuga hiss of the connecting rods working to slow down as a train came rolling into the station.
- I lived in the same house for the first eighteen years of my life, a two-story, 3-bedroom, 1-bath frame house on a corner lot, with an attic, a basement, a front porch, and a long brick walk from the back steps straight to my dad's upholstery shop.
- The front porch had a slatted swing hanging from the ceiling and two painted wooden chairs. In front were two bridal wreath bushes and on the corner of the lot was a rose bush. In the side yard, there was room enough to set up the croquet set on Sunday afternoons. That's another pink rose bush behind Alice. She was my big sister, always doing something or going somewhere. She was five years older than I.
|My Sister Alice|
- Childhood stories can be boring unless something story-worthy happens to you, and nothing did until my mother died of cancer when I was sixteen.
- Behind that white picket fence is more yard, an apple tree and a cherry tree. We were always careful to pick the cherries as soon as most of them were ripe. We left the rest for the birds. The apple tree was old and only produced enough for a pie or two. On the other side of the yard, next to my dad's shop, was a long grape arbor, with those sweet, purple Concord grapes. Can you smell the jam cooking, soon to be put in jars with a paraffin seal?
- Behind the grape arbor was a large oil drum that we used to burn trash. Leaves were raked to the edge of the street in the fall and burned with the accompanying marshmallows and hotdogs and stories in the dark. The whole town smelled like burning leaves in October, and there's nothing finer than sitting around a huge sweet-smelling bonfire, laughing with people you love. We had not yet heard the word 'smog.'
- There were other warnings though, not to try to open the lid on the cistern on the other side of the house and not to drink the water from the pump that was outside the back door. At the end of the pump's slanting water trough was a garbage can lid turned over on two bricks to catch water for the birds. On the platform beside the pump there was always a watering can to use for the flowers if rain didn't take care of them. There was also a faucet on the side of the house. I wished for two things when I was a child, at least only two that I remember -- a hose and a tricycle.
- Between the pump and the neighbor's garage was a huge maple tree with a smooth branch high enough for a great swing, which my dad made from heavy rope and a smooth wooden seat.
- High in that maple tree the squirrels waited for winter at our house, because my dad always put a wooden ledge outside the kitchen window for them. To the ledge he fastened a climbing board from the ground. Mom cracked walnuts and fed the squirrels nut pieces from her hand. It was fun to watch those squirrels stuff the pouches in their cheeks and take off down to the ground and up the tree in seconds. However, my mom wouldn't want those squirrels to get lazy, so she also left whole nuts for them. My sister learned not to cool fudge with nuts on the ledge.
- 'Hobos' learned about this kind woman, too. And I learned from each of them as he ate a well filled plate, sitting on the back steps, a tall glass of ice water beside him, and my mom watching from inside the screen door, arms crossed over her apron.
- We didn't have pets growing up. Both my mom and dad believed that cats belong in barns and dogs should be free to roam.
- I had the most carefree early childhood for a girl. When I wasn't in school, I was either reading or building something in my dad's shop -- or swinging. Playing in the attic was fun, too. There was a large antique trunk up there that had all kinds of good stuff in it; my mom's leftover teaching workbooks and games, puzzles, paper dolls, and lots of dress-up clothes. There were warnings in the attic, too. Don't go past the edge of the flooring, because you could fall through the ceiling.
- It was understood that every Wednesday at 8:30 pm I was allowed to go out to my dad's shop and listen with him to Mr. District Attorney on the radio.
- In a large glass-fronted bookcase in the living room was the complete set of The Book of Knowledge. Also Peter Pan, Beatrix Potter books, small copies of King Lear, Evangeline, a few of The Bobsey Twins books, Peck's Bad Boy, and some other scripts, and a small German Bible, lined the shelves among others. I still have some of them. I spent many a cold or rainy day looking through all of The Book of Knowledge ten volumes. I learned alphabetical order there, about indexes and tables of contents, and probably learned to read, because I can't remember a time when I couldn't read. I was fascinated at the order of them all.
- Opposite the bookcase was an upright piano with a lot of music, especially from the twenties. My mom played the piano and my dad played the violin.
- Magazines came every month, Colliers, Life, the Saturday Evening Post, McCall's - with stories! The Daily Register Mail newspaper came every day and on Sundays we went to Nelson's store to buy the Chicago Tribune - which had the 'funny papers' in color: Brenda Starr and her long eyelashes, Dagwood asleep on the couch, Little Orphan Annie in her bright red dress, Red Ryder and his side-kick Little Beaver, and Dick Tracy with that sharp-angled nose and his girlfriend Tess.
- We didn't have neighbors with children and I was the youngest in our family, so I played alone most of the time. My parents were 42 when I was born, so as my mom said many times, before I knew what it meant, I was like Topsy in Uncle Tom's Cabin, I just growed. Luckily, I managed to escape some of Topsy's other characteristics.
- Dad made this wagon for one of my sisters, but I made the horse. In this picture, you can see my dad's shop, the Model T -- yes, that's the sound the horn made -- and a row of rhubarb. I was about eight. This was what my summers were like. I thrived in all that dirt, and then played in the bathtub before bedtime. The area where I'm driving my horse and buggy became a big Victory Garden in the spring.
|Dad is making me smile.|
- When the iceman came he pulled a 50-pound block of ice from his wagon with large tongs and threw it over his shoulder, which was covered with a rubber apron. When the icebox got low on ice in the summer before his usual delivery, I would pull the wagon down to an ice house about a block away and get a 25-pound block to tide us over. I think I was in high school before we had a refrigerator.
- Old Mr. Purdue came with his wagon, too, filled with vegetables. His horse always had blinders on, and Mr. Purdue would jump out of the wagon and throw a heavy iron hobble up on the grass to keep the horse from roaming. I can still see in my mind that huge white horse, high stepping slowly in place. He must have been magnificent in his day.
Old Lady Me
- I'm all dressed up in my 'old lady clothes' here and behind me is a long row of irises. The clothes were in that attic trunk and one piece was a rayon pajama top. I can remember the smell. It was crinkly, orange and white stripes, and somewhat melted from the attic heat, probably toxic, but I didn't let that stop me - five years old.
- I took expression lessons at about five, too -- you know -- had to learn poems by heart and say them with expression. "I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, and what can be the use of him is more than I can see." Are you laughing yet?
- Five here, too, but dressed up for a pageant at Knox College where my sister was a sophomore. I was the little girl in the pageant who died on our way across the prairie after coming to the new world. I don't remember the first part of the pageant, but they covered my face with a blanket and I had to be carried on a stretcher and then ride in a wooden wagon drawn by a horse in the finale. My sister said I had a great time. All that attention! My mom and sister made my dress and pantaloons, and I wore hideous shoes that tied at the ankles.
- Louise was the best big sister ever. When I was about six she went off to nurses' training in Chicago. When I knew she was coming home for a weekend, I couldn't wait, and I know it wasn't only because she always had something for me in her suitcase, but she always did. She came on the train and Dad and I would meet her.
|Alice, Louise, and Mary Ann|
The Christofferson Girls
- That lilac bush behind us grew up with us. We always took pictures in front of it, usually on Easter Sunday. It was a little bit taller every year, finally surpassing us all. Under my bedroom window another lilac bush grew tall.
- In the spring we could smell lilacs everywhere. I can remember burying my face in bouquets of them. Lillies of the valley planted along the side of the house had a more delicate smell -- good for May baskets, with violets and buttercups and Queen Anne's lace from the 'empty lot' across the street. Picking flowers there was an adventure because the lot was filled with those grasshoppers that spit tobacco juice.
Root Beer and Holy Rollers
- That empty lot was across from the front of our house, so we could sit on the porch and observe all the activity there. Some summers a rootbeer stand would be put up on the corner of the lot, so we got to 'people watch,' and drink that sweet, A&W tart brew from those heavy, frost-covered glass mugs. I still like it, with Hersheys chocolate syrup -- or with dippers of ice cream, called a Brown Cow.
- One year workers came and put up a long building on the lot, and when they were done people started coming and going all dressed up, hats on their heads and Bibles under their arms. We heard a lot of hymn singing. so I wanted to go over there to see what was going on, but Mom wouldn't let me. She laughed and said they were probably holy rollers, and of course I had to have that explained to me. We were Lutherans, Augustana Synod - the more lenient Lutherans. I wonder if Mom ever read Flannery O'Connor.
Some Family History
|Dad at About Thirty|
Always the Hat!
- I think my father would like to hear me compare him to Geppetto, the wood carver who made Pinocchio. Like my father, Geppetto wanted a son. I was the last child in my family, expected to be John Christofferson, but instead, Mary Ann was born, with two older sisters. Even in the clothes my dad wore daily, he looked a little like the Disney Geppetto, without the beard. He wore long johns in the winter, and overalls and heavy shoes all year, because his shop had a cement floor. My dad was always in a joking, happy mood, and it would have suited his sense of imagination that a boy made out of wood could become real.
- I don't know if he knew the story about Pinocchio, but it would have tapped his sense of humor--and he loved stories, in fact he loved to tell stories.For background about my dad, he grew up the oldest of three boys in a Norwegian family. His parents had emigrated from Norway to the United States and settled in Minnesota in the late eighteen hundreds. They met
- My dad went to college at Grinnell in Iowa for three and a half years -- no degree. That puzzled me, and since my dad liked to joke about the pranks they pulled at Grinnell, I thought he probably played one too many and got kicked out of school, so I sent an email to the Alumni Office there. Luckily the Grinnell alumni records went that far back. The person I emailed wasn't able to tell me grades, but she found he left in good standing, majored in physics and minored in chemistry, played the violin in the orchestra and the clarinet in the band. She sent me copies of pages in the yearbook where she found his pictures. I wish I knew more about those days, what his parents said about him dropping out of school, why he decided to leave. I have some pictures of his college years.
Friends at Grinnell -- 1908?
- As for the fate of all the brothers, Torval had a boarding house in Minnesota, and my Uncle Halbert became a professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, with a PhD from Columbia University. I guess my dad just didn’t want to be a doctor. When he left school, he worked for the Prudential Insurance Company, and when he and my mom married in 1917, they moved to Galesburg, Illinois.
- The depression that began in 1929 meant he lost his job with Prudential and had to find work. Being an upholsterer was an accidental choice, but he liked being self-employed. I know he had to teach himself, but he was adept with his hands, as was his father, who was a blacksmith. I can't really imagine what those depression years were like for my parents, but he worked hard, and we never really wanted for anything reasonable, including the 'when you go to college,' never 'if you go to college.'
- My dad, Chris (only my mom called him Clarence,) shaved with a straight razor, which he sharpened on a strop that hung beside the sink in the bathroom, and he used shaving soap in a cup with a brush in the cabinet above the sink. He had all his teeth and never went to a dentist or a doctor that I know of.
- My mother died of cancer in 1949. I will write about her, but this part of history is about my dad. In 1954. he married Peg, who was such a good and kind person. I was very happy for my dad--surprised--but happy. In this picture he's about sixty-two. He didn't wear a suit very often, but when he did, usually a vest and a hat were necessary items, along with a white shirt and a tie. I see Peg's influence here -- no vest, and he looks very 'today.'.
- My dad read a lot, newspapers and magazines and once in a while a book. He was interested in religion, all religions. He had a leather rocking chair next to the radio in the living room. That's where he always sat when he was in the house and he didn't mind if I got in the chair with him. He would just go right on reading. Then later he would say, "Well, I think I'll hit the sack."
- He liked tobacco; rolled his own cigarettes, used snuff and chewing tobacco, smoked a pipe and an occasional cigar. I never saw him with a cold or the flu. He had a cough, but it was probably from smoking. He must have had his eyes tested, because he always wore glasses. When he was seventy, he died very suddenly of a heart attack on Christmas Day, 1959. I loved him.
- I know, I get carried away reminiscing about my dad, but those are good memories. Recently I was standing beside the vice on the work bench in our basement, making that hallowe'en noisemaker, and as I stood there, I became aware that the feeling I experience in that setting is one of contentment. I belong there. In front of a tool bench I am more comfortable than at any other place. I know what I'm doing. Like my dad, I can fix things. I wonder if he knew what a wonderful gift he gave me.
What do you remember? May baskets -- porch swings -- iceboxes -- attics -- empty lots -- taking lessons -- snow -- summer vacation -- anything from your childhood -- your dad and mom -- your siblings -- Christmas -- school -- friends