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Holiday Story Index : Christmas

Christmases Past by Kim Cole and Emmie Mayer (Stories of Madeline T. Lembke)

(This is one of a series of local histories complied and written by Arrowhead High School students under the direct of their teacher David Waltry. The Backroads series is the title of three books published by the students over between 1986 - 1989. Their project received an award from the Wisconsin State Historical Society in 1988. The story

    Sitting in her living room, surrounded by the scent of freshly baked cinnamon rolls, Mrs. Madeline Lembke told us stories of her many Christmases. We considered her an expert since she experienced 73 Christmases (Editor's Note: Madeline, nee Tempero, was born March 15, 1912), many of them at her grandmother's house in Lisbon. She began telling us about her festive holiday activities at Lisbon  Plank School District No. 1. She remembered:

    Every Christmas our teacher would present a program the night before our Christmas vacation. An elevated, specially constructed stage would be built in the front of the school room with kerosene lamps for illumination. There were three bracket lamps on each side of the school room and one in the front. The children would give their usual Christmas recitations, dialogues, sometimes a shot version of Dickens' "Christmas Carol", and sing familiar Christmas songs.

    A Christmas tree stood in the corner decorated with ornaments brought from home. I remember a dozen or so of my schoolmates and I formed a living Christmas tree. We wore crepe paper gowns and tinsel around our necks. It was scratchy! We all stood on chairs of various heights to form the tree. My mother always played the organ for the school programs. At the conclusion, Santa would come in through one of the entries with his bulging pack of gifts, candy and sometimes a popcorn ball for each child. I remember waiting patiently for his arrival.

    I remember one Christmas Eve when I was about seven years old. The Lisbon United Presbyterian Church always had a Christmas program on Christmas Eve. Cluster kerosene lamps furnished the light in the church building. There was a large decorated tree standing in the front of the church with gifts for everyone piled beneath it. They were passed out after the children had given their recitations (or spoke the piece, as some people used to say) and had sung their Christmas songs.

    That year my father took my two sisters, a cousin and me to the program. At that time, sleighs and horses were the mode of transportation during the winter months. Before we left for the program, my father buckled a string of sleigh bells on each of our driving horses, King and Prince, to make our ride more enjoyable. He also put a layer of clean straw into the bottom of the sleigh box and covered us with blankets so we were cozy and warm. As King and Prince trotted over the snowy road, the merry jingle of the sleigh bells was the only sound to be heard "All was calm, all was bright" as a gorgeous full moon and the twinkling stars shown down upon us. It truly was a 'Silent Night!'

    Later, I spent Christmas Eve at St. Albans Episcopal Church in Sussex. First, we would have a pageant given in the church under the direction of Mrs. James O'Connell with many of the parishioners taking part in it. I usually portrayed Mary. Mrs. Connell followed the Christmas story according to St. Luke from the King James Bible. The beautiful Christmas hymns and carols were sung by the choir in proper sequence during the pageant. After the pageant was concluded, everyone would go to the Guild Hall next door for the children's program. There was always a decorated tree on the platform and again after the children had concluded their program, a jovial Santa Claus appeared.

    Later that evening, we would return to the church which had been beautifully decorated with poinsettias and other flowers for the midnight service. Special Christmas music concluded a meaning Christmas Eve.

    At home after the program, we hung up our stockings and always left a note and something for Santa to eat. We hurried off to bed so we would be sure to be asleep when Santa Claus came to fill our stockings. Long before daylight, Mother would come upstairs to awaken us. We dressed hurriedly and took our positions prior to descending the stairs. As I was the youngest, I was first in line followed by my sisters, Ruth and Marion, our cousin Howard, and then our mother carrying a hand lamp to light our way. Our father would be waiting for us in the living room as he always liked to see our excitement when we emptied our stockings. One year I found a gold locket with my initial engraved upon it. I still have that locket with my grandparents' pictures in it.

    On Christmas Day, after we had finished breakfast, our father would bring in several large flat stones and put them in the oven to heat and Mother dressed us in our Christmas outfits. We often wore plaid dresses or something special.

    After midmorning chores, Father would drive up to the house with the sleigh. While he wrapped the stones in newspaper to put in the bottom of the sleigh to keep us warm, we would put on our warm coats, caps, mittens, scarves and overshoes so that we were all ready to go to Grandpa and Grandma Weaver's home for the day. Soon after we were there, Grandpa and Grandma Tempero and Aunt Marnie would arrive in their light bob sleigh and driving horse. When they came into the house, Grandpa Weaver would always say, " Merry Christmas, John!" and Grandpa Tempero would always reply, " The same to you, Fred!" We had such a small family that all the holidays were spent together, which was nice.

    While waiting for dinner, my sisters, my cousin and I spent our time looking at the closed parlor door, wishing it were open. Grandma kept the door shut until dinner to hide the surprise. For dinner, she would pull out her extension table the length of the room. Since I was the youngest, I had to sit under the wall phone. I was the only one to fit under it.

    The table was always laden with a bountiful Christmas dinner; a fowl of some kind, vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy. For dessert, there was a fruit cake made from our Great Grandmother Harriet Howard's recipe. We also had an English plum pudding which was served with a special sweet gravy. I learned how to make it from my Great Grandmother Elizabeth Weaver's recipe brought from England. We boiled it in a cloth bag for eight hours several weeks before Christmas and then steamed it several hours prior to Christmas.

    After our scrumptious dinner the double doors into the parlor were opened. There was the beautiful tree in the corner of the room. Grandma has decorated it with tinsel, ornaments and cornucopias. Many colored candles clipped to the branches were burning brightly.

    Then there were the gifts! Two gifts I remembered especially, a tinker toy and construction set; and when I was four, we got a wagon. Grandma Tempero always crocheted things for us. I remember the round dollies she made for my sisters and me. Mine was blue, one sister's was pink and the other's yellow with flowers inside.

    I really remember the Christmas that we received the large Flexible Flyer sled. My sisters and I spent many happy hours coasting down our neighbor's hills and the hill on Richmond Road, which didn't have much traffic so it was safe. It didn't take long to fly down those hills, but it sure took a long time to walk back up! Not only did we enjoy the Flexible Flyer for many years, but when we were older, we used to take one of the neighbor's children coasting, too. My children, and now my grandchildren had fun with that same sturdy sled which is 65 years old and still in running order.

    After all the gifts were distributed and opened, we played with our new games and toys and the grown folks visited.

    Every year we went home thinking Christmas couldn't be any more special...but it always was!

    Sussex had a community Christmas tree in 1927, a large evergreen from the lawn of Chester Lingelbach. A program was held on the evening of December 22ns to begin the week long celebration. The program began with an invocation followed by an address by the Rev. Charles Mann, followed by the singing of Christmas carols. The tree was lit each evening for the next week. (Waukesha Freeman, December 22, 1927)

The girls of the 7th and 8th grades, and the Girl Reserves of Sussex School went out singing Christmas carols at several homes  on Friday before Christmas. After enjoying several treats to eat, they went back to school and enjoyed some moving pictures. (Waukesha Freeman December 25, 1940, page 6)


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