Thursday, October 27, 2011

Greetings of old

Since my bachelor uncle passed away in August, family members have been cleaning out the old farmhouse, homesteaded by my great-grandfather in White Lake, South Dakota.

The farmhouse is a museum in itself, containing rich treasures of the past. My grandparents and my uncle threw away very little. It's all still there!

Although lamenting the large task that it is to go through everything, I was the recent recipient of pieces of history and stories through a very large box packed full of hundreds of old letters, Christmas cards, and assorted greeting cards, wedding and birth announcements, and photos that haven't seen the light of day in years.

I am told there are more boxes of the same, and I am itching to get my hands on them. Everyone else seems glad to let me have at it.

Anyway, as I opened greeting cards from the 1950s yesterday, it struck me how wonderfully cute and innocent they all were, and the stark differences between cards of then and now.

No obscene cards in the bunch, no off-color jokes. Just ridiculously sweet with corny, sappy verse. Absolutely delightful.

Many of the cards are embellished with glitter, ribbon, and other decorations that you don't see anymore.

This one featured fluffy, tickly feathers on the angel's wing,
and glitter on the stars.

On a birthday card, a woman is holding a plastic rolling pin on her  arm.
Real plastic!

This little charmer has a real black net veil.
Believe it or not, it is a birthday card.
Another thing that struck me was the sheer volume of letters back and forth from aunts, cousins and friends.

Letter writing was expected and an almost everyday occurrence. Either a message was scribbled and dropped in the mailbox at the end of the farmhouse driveway, or a newsy letter from Aunt Hattie would be received. My Grandma even noted the date it was received and the date she answered it.

But think:  No e-mail, texting, Facebook, or phone calls. Long distance was very expensive, and it wasn't until the 1960s when they even had a dial phone on the farm. No instant messages. Rarely even a typewriter to make the job a bit easier.

No, letters were scrawled on sheets of linen lined paper, sometimes pages and pages long. I have saved the ones from my great-aunts and -uncles because after I put them in chronological order, I'm convinced there's a story that weaves itself together. 

I can hardly wait for the next batch to arrive. Stay tuned!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thrift shopping

How many of you like a bargain? Okay, okay, I see all of you are raising your hands.

So how many of you love to snoop around in thrift shops?  If you have never done so, you just don't know what you might be missing.

Forget garage sales.  You have to drive around to find them, park two or three blocks away, and then discover all they have are dirty children's clothes, odds and ends of dishes, small appliances that may or may not work, or puzzles with pieces missing.

But at most thrift shops, donated items are cleaned, tested, and tend to be in sets, like dinnerware or kitchen canisters. Really gross stuff gets rejected as this gives a good thrift store a bad name.

My friend and I ventured to the charming town of Cambridge, Minnesota, one day last week. This was a half-way meeting point for both of us, she from St. Cloud and me from Lindstrom.  Our purpose in meeting was to catch up on our lives as we don't get a chance to visit very often, and to treat ourselves to lunch and a good visit.

We accomplished our goal with a two-hour lunch at Hermann's Bakery and Cafe on Main Street that was absolutely wonderful. A cozy table by the window outlined with lace curtains and looking out on Main Street decorated with yellow autumn mum plants provided the ambiance for a yummy spinach salad, freshly baked cinnamon bread, and creamy Chai tea.

But our minds during lunch were fixed on the view directly across the street: the Shalom Thrift Shop, which beckoned as we ate and demanded our attention. Neither of us were about to resist.

Like most thrift shops, it is staffed totally with volunteers. One of the nicest thrift stores I have seen, it's more like a department store - neat, clean, spacious aisles, well organized, and with professional-looking displays.

The shop started in 1981 with a ladies' church group offering free clothing in a parsonage basement one day a week to those in need. It quickly grew from the basement to a grocery store parking lot, to space in an entire house, to a shoe store, to its present location, an old Ben Franklin store on Main Street.

All items were spotless. Dishes sparkled, clothes were clean, books were categorized, and Halloween costumes and decorations were prominently featured.

There was even a quiet library sitting area where you could take a break and peruse the books on the shelf before making the decision to purchase a book.  Hmmm, a paperback for 35 cents? Or a hard cover book for a dollar?

Greeting cards were ten cents each. Again, categorized by occasion and neatly lined up with matching envelopes.

Entertaining as it was, and notwithstanding the wonderful time spent with my dear friend, I approached the checkout line with a full cart. A tissue holder in a southwestern design for our home in Arizona, a cake pan, a pair of slacks, a book, a Tupperware picnic set, a wooden salad serving set, three boxes of hardware for our Arizona bedroom, and nightlight bulbs.

Grand total?  Seventeen dollars!

The real value, however, came from realizing that my purchases were a vehicle for helping someone in need in the local community. All donated, with pleasant volunteer staff that sort, clean, fix, stock, and ring up a sale, that $17 might go into a gas tank for someone searching for a job, buy a clean blanket, pay for bus fare, or furnish a child with school lunches.

Next time you see a thrift store, check it out. Bargains abound for you, and benefit a neighbor as a bonus.

Spending an afternoon with a friend?  Diane and I can attest to the fun an afternoon of thrift shopping can provide.

Monday, October 3, 2011


Last evening, I had the most wonderful experience when I attended a breathtaking performance of the beautiful musical, Kristina från Duvemåla (Kristina from Duvemåla), held at a local church with local talent.

You would think you were at St. Paul's Ordway Theatre, or Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, or London's Albert Hall. Or even in Stockholm. It was that good.

The musical is based on Vilhelm Moberg's epic, The Emigrants, a suite of four novels written to commemorate the arrival of Swedes to the Chisago Lakes area of Minnesota. The novels' main characters are peasant farmers, Karl Oskar, his wife, Kristina; Karl Oskar's brother, Robert; and a friend, Ulrika.

Famine, rocky soil, and religious persecution brought them from their home, Duvemåla, in Småland, a province in southern Sweden. Landing in New York after a 10-week voyage, they slowly made their way by boat to Stillwater, Minnesota, and then up the St. Croix River to the landing at Taylors Falls, and finally on foot to Lindstrom, Minnesota where they settled, enjoying rich soil to farm.

The musical, written by former ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus (Swedish lyrics) and Benny Andersson (music), is magnificent and emotional. Last evening's performance did them proud.

In 1996, my mother and I were fortunate to attend a performance of musical selections from Kristina, with Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson in attendance with members of the original cast.

This was offered at our local high school during the Swedish Jubilee year and was one of many events held to celebrate our area's Swedish heritage and the arrival of many Swedish immigrants to Lindstrom in 1856.

Last night's performance was another commemoration. It also brought to mind loving memories of my Swedish grandmother, Ragnhild, who emigrated from Gavle, Sweden to New York in 1912.

And with my grandmother came her Swedish customs and culture, passed on to our generation to appreciate. How rich we are in our Swedish heritage, and how fortunate I am to live in this area where it is celebrated.

Tack så mycket (thank you) to Trinity Lutheran Church in Lindstrom, Minnesota, and to our very own talented local musicians for bringing us this historic and emotional remembrance in such beautiful form.