Monday, December 17, 2012

A Small Town Christmas: Many Wonderful Happenings

The Plummer Tree Lighting

I had a wonderful little hometown Christmas season afternoon and evening on Friday.   It was a soothing and joyful balm in the wake of the tragic and frightening news out of Connecticut earlier that day.

School Program

The K-3 school program in the afternoon was fun and cute. Mrs. Bernstein does such a nice job.  The kids all love her.  Her energy, charisma, zeal, and kindness come through from the stage!

Third Grade

John and a small group of other kids did a good job with their harmony part.  John did his speaking part loudly and clearly.

Even Stella had an unexpected speaking part; she was asked to step in for another child who was absent.  But, alas!  Stella had the second line of the program.  I was fashionably late, as usual, and so I came in the door just as she was finishing up.  I think I will have to ask Mrs. Bernstein never to give any of my kids parts near the beginning of the programs.  "Just a general notice for all future Abrahamsons near the beginning."

Giving Back

After the program, I got to play Santa!

I am so grateful for our little schools here, and for all the wonderful people who work to make them what they are.  Everyone gives 200%, and I know it's not always easy.  I try to do a little something for my kids' teachers each year, as a token of how very much I appreciate them. 

I spent my fall crocheting scarves.  It all started when I got a few things ready for the Nazareth Fancywork sale in mid September.  I had used some nicer yarns that Louisa had given me before she left for Italy, from her left-overs yarn stash.  Since I generally use only the cheapo basic yarns, crocheting with these other, fancier fibers was a new thing.  I discovered a sensory experience I had not imagined.  I found a sort of serenity in seeing all the colors and patterns run through my fingers.  I was soothed by the feel of all the different textures.  The soft yarns and the bumpy, stretchy knots in the crochet; the combination of smooth and rugged.  Plush and firm.  There's also the soothing, repetitive rhythms of the handiwork itself.  And the sense of accomplishment at finishing something.  The pride in creating something lovely.  It was all very healing for me.

Soon I found I was creating scarf after scarf with no particular end in mind.  It wasn't long before I came up with the idea of taking a box of scarves into the school from which the the teachers could each choose.  Well, really it started with a more vague idea of giving scarves as Christmas gifts.  But since I don't know the teachers well enough to have a sense of their style, and don't see how they dress except a couple times a year, I didn't want to choose the scarves for them.  I have four kids in school, so I figured I'd need a dozen or so scarves.  Enough for each homeroom teacher, plus a handful of extras in order to provide selection, so that each could find something he or she likes.

I easily reached a dozen.  But then I kept going.  And going.  I couldn't seem to stop.  I was having too much fun.  Soon I had enough scarves for the homeroom teachers and all the various teachers who have worked with my kids this year.  But that didn't suit the kids.  They kept wanting to add more and more people to the list.  I think that says something powerful about our school.  My children have so many people there that they love, and think of as their "special people."  They listed playground helpers, the "Grandmas" who come in to help, the library and special ed teachers, kitchen workers.  I don't think there was any school worker demographic that was not represented.  (Oh, that reminds me,...I still need to get one to our bus driver...).

I felt happy, but I sure look somber showing off my accomplishments

I would have loved to take a big, big box, filled with a hundred or more scarves, and put up a sign that said,

Everyone, Please choose a scarf!
Choose for yourself, or to use as a gift
Thank-you for all you do for our children.  

You are all a wonderful part of this place!  
Have a Merry Christmas!

But alas, time ran out and I had a mere 30-40 scarves.

I contacted all of my kids teachers, plus any school workers I've gotten to know when I need their help with school related things.  I felt a little bit sad, though, the whole time I was there, as the other teachers and workers came and went to see what all the excitement was.  I really, really would have loved to have enough for everyone!  I can't say enough how much I appreciate the fact that it takes every one of those people to keep a small school running.  And I'm thankful for how personal and caring everyone is.  They are like family, especially for my kids who have no extended family nearby.

But I'm getting ahead of myself a little bit.

After the school program, Sophie and I scuttled out to the van to grab the booty.  I had prepared a box, wrapped in Christmas wrapping, from which the scarves could tumble forth.   I had some homemade hot fudge ice cream topping for each of the homeroom teachers.  I arranged for the teachers to mosey into the teachers' lounge when they had the extra minutes in between their after-school responsibilities. 

It was great fun!  Sophie stayed for part of the time, until she had to go to her Honors Choir obligations.  I got to meet many of the teachers and workers who I previously knew only by name, those teachers who have not worked with my children, but who my children love and talk about.  Yes, those that my children consider special people, but for whom I did not have scarves enough.  (Sad sigh.)

As I was hoping, the female teachers had fun wrapping around themselves many scarves at once to compare, or holding them up for each other, or setting them out to get a better look.  The male teachers were a little more mixed, choosing for their wives or themselves.  Some had definite ideas, and some looked at the box in confusion, wondering what would be a good choice.  Or in one case (I'm not telling who) even trying to remember what color coat his wife wears.  The difference between the men and women tickled me, because it so aptly fit the stereotypes.

At one point, when nobody was in the lounge "shopping" I stepped out into the hallway and, peaking around the corner, I saw a handful of teachers visiting outside their classroom doors, waiting for the buses in front of the school to pull away.  Waiting for that Friday afternoon moment to arrive, when they too could head for home.  They joked that they were worse than the kids.  And I smiled because they all had their scarves wrapped or flung around their necks. 

That's exactly what I wanted!  Not just a Christmas gift, but a bit of fun along with it.

I had the camera along, and had wanted to take pictures, but not once did I think to get it out.  Sadly, I am not much of a photographer.  My plan had been that Joe would be taking photos of all the fun, but Inge ended up spiking a fever just before it was time to leave home.   He stayed home with her and they both had to miss all the fun.  And I missed the opportunities to take photos.

It was great fun.  But the fun didn't stop when scarf giving was finished.

Clara and Sophie, along with the rest of the school Honors Choir, had been asked to sing at the Plummer Tree Lighting celebration, which was scheduled for the evening.  Fun activities had been scheduled throughout the evening, including the arrival of the Canadian Pacific holiday train.  Joe and I went out on a limb, and planned to partake of a rare family activity.   Inge's illness put a damper on the family aspect of it, but the rest of us could still enjoy the fun.  

Visiting Friends

During the school program, Donna and Sohpie and I had sat with our friends, the Roues.  Rachel Roue is Louisa's good friend, and between those two girls the families have become friends.  My John and Rachel's brother, Jonathan, are also classmates and great friends.  I think they perhaps make things a little challenging for their teachers.  They both have very active and curious minds, and a tendency to get distracted by their ideas and dreams of various creations, many of which are of Legos and Star Wars and Superheros.

After the program, Rachel offered to take my little ones to their home, since I was planning to be busy with the scarf thing.  I had not planned to go home in between the program and the evening activities, since Plummer is almost 20 miles away from our home.  But Rachel's family lives nearer Plummer, so it was a handy place for us to spend extra time.  I had no set plans for my family, but I had brought along a bag of snacks to use in lieu of supper.  Of course, in all the excitement, I didn't think to send that bag along with Rachel.

This all worked out very well for me.  I could relax and enjoy the scarf giving, and visiting with the teachers, without any distraction or commotion from my littles.  And Rachel and her mom were kind enough to find some food for my kids while they were there.  I joined them, too, for about an hour.  We got to visit in the comfort of their home.  It's always a treat to visit Rachel's family.  They are wonderful people and we are very blessed to have them in our lives!

Oh, and I got to meet Louisa's and Rachel's friend, Josh B.  Louisa went to prom with Josh, but I had not met him.  He was to spend the evening with Rachel at the Plummer festivities.

And speaking of festivities, ...

Learning to Dress for Winter Weather:  Duh!

I have lived in Minnesota for most of my adult life.  Those years not in Minnesota were spent in Wisconsin and the Chicago area.  Although not all of these years did I spend in as cold an area as that in which I live now, I did experience winter in each locality.  BUT, I still mess up on this winter thing.  And Friday night could have been a really big mess up, if not for the help of Rachel and her mom in winterizing us.

Because of a combination of having homeschooled for many years; trying to keep our family home-centered and not externally focused; and having spent much of the last 20 years either pregnant or with an infant; all these things have combined to equal a mom who is not in the habit of orchestrating outings.  It seems crazy, but I did not even consider that we'd be outside in the cold for much of the evening.  We were all in dress clothes.  John and Stella because they had to dress up for their program; and Donna and I, too, since... well..., that's how I was raised.  You dress up for programs and concerts as a way of showing honor and appreciation for the work the performers and directors put into the occasion. I chuckle when I compare the two ideas.  I may know how to dress for a concert or performance, but don't ask me to dress my kids for weather.  Can you tell I did not grow up in an area where we had winter?

John and Stella were not so badly off, since they had snow pants in their school bags.  They had their winter boots.  John had left his gloves in the classroom, but otherwise they had the capability of being dressed for the weather.   But Donna and I had nothing!  Dresses and tights and church shoes.

As I was hustling the kids together, to get ready to return to Plummer from the Roues, it dawned on me how utterly unprepared we were!

Rachel's mom, Renee, offered some of Jonathan's extras for Donna, and a pair of gloves for John, which Rachel quickly gathered for us.  They offered to find extras for me, too, but I figured I could tough it out.  Mark, Rachel's dad encouraged Rachel to pull on some Carhartts.  She instead opted for several layers of coats and jackets.  Josh also didn't have much for winter wear, but he also opted to tough it out.  Let me just say that there were several times during the course of the evening, when I wished for some Carhartts to pull over my skirt and boots for my frozen toes.  And I'm sure Josh thought some of those same thoughts. The many people walking around town with their Arctic Cat bibs, gloves, boots, and neck gators looked toasty warm. 

I am very thankful, however, for the warm things my kids were able to use.

Next time, I hope I am neither ditzy enough to forget to prepare for winter weather; nor stubborn enough to refuse the kind offerings of friends.


When we got to Plummer, we found the line for Santa in Centennial Park in front of the gazebo.  My kids don't have much experience with the whole Santa thing.  We try to keep the focus on Jesus at Christmas.  I was never raised to believe in Santa, which at the time I felt was a great injustice.  I felt a little bit robbed at not being able to enjoy the magic of it all.  And although my husband was raised to believe in Santa, he made the decision that we would enjoy that man in a fictional kind of way in our home.  We honor St. Nicholas, by periodially reminding the kids of who he was and the things he did to care for others.  And Santa is not "off limits" in our home.  We simply don't put much focus on or energy into him.

A few of our kids have been to see Santa with other families.  But this was the first time either Joe or I had taken any of our kids to such an event.  John, Stella, and Donna got sit on Santa's lap and tell a little about what they want for Christmas.  John of course wants a DS (whatever that is, some game thing, right?).  I was quick to assure him teasingly that he had not been that good.  He smiled, because he knew that what I meant was, "We don't have that kind of money, my son.  I'm sorry.  But don't ever forget that I love you."

I was glad that Rachel took pictures of my kids.  Again, that dumb camera phobia came to plague me.  I'll try to remember to add them after she posts them.

Throughout this part of the evening, I couldn't help but think of my friend, Deb H. from highschool.  She often amused us classmates with her vocal imitations.  She frequently did her mother, who happened to be adamantly anti-Santa.  Perhaps Deb's best loved and remembered imitation was given one day when we were all joking about going to get our pictures taken with Santa.  Knowing how Deb's mom felt about the whole Santa thing, one of us asked what she would say.  I can still hear Deb's response to this day, and it ran through my head during the time my kids were in line to sit with Santa, "Deb, Deb!" spoken in Deb's funny Mom voice, "Who's that little red man your sitting on, Deb?"

The RLCC Plummer Honors Choir regaling the crowd


Our little local towns never cease to amaze me!  The city of Plummer has a very cool museum that I never even knew existed.  The Tri-River Pioneer museum was open Firday night from 6:00-9:00.  What a little gem of a place.  It features a hardware store, blacksmith shop, school room, kitchen, harness shop, gas station.  They have a fire truck and a pump wagon, over which Charlie Bishop was presiding, and about which he was teaching the kids.  He let the kids line up on each side to try out the pump mechanism. Up, down, up, down went those little bodies lined up on each side.

The Pump Wagon

It was fun to visit with many friends and neighbors.  It was so interesting to hear the older, long time residents talk about who had donated this piece or that piece, and how they used the various things in the old days.  In the harness shop, along the wall, hung two large leather nettings.  I was curious about these, so Rachel asked one of the older men who she knew.  They are fly nets.  They were laid across the backs of the horses to keep the flies from bothering. 

I didn't make it into the hardware store, but I could see through the window that one of the area ladies was dressed in period costume visiting with and gently teaching all who came in.  We'll definitely have to get over there sometime when Joe's parents are around.  I don't know what the regular hours are, though.  Or if they have regular hours.  But I'm sure I can find out.

The museum was a nice place to come in out of the cold.  They served coffee and hot chocolate, and cookies and goodies.   Just as with Santa, this was free to visitors, with the request for a free will donation of non-perishable food items.

Christmas Train

Until last year, I'd never heard of the Canadian Pacific holiday train, but what a fun concept.  Starting in 1999, in Canada, and being added in the US in 2001, CP has sponsored holiday trains to raise awareness of and food for local community food shelves.  For three weeks each December, the trains run throughout the CP routes, with scheduled stops in the communities along the line.  The communities are encouraged to use the occasion as an opportunity to collect money and food items for their local food shelves.  Plummer did this with the Santa visit and the "little lunch" in the museum.  The local businesses also pitched in with a $1000 donation.

For those of you not along a CP line, what exactly happens when the train comes?  Read along to experience it second hand.

Seemingly the entire community is assembled in Pummer's Tri-River Pioneer Museum.  Some sitting at the tables enjoying their snacks.  Others trying to maintain a tight hold on excited and rambunctious children.  Others are wandering the museum displays.  Many are milling about visiting friends and neighbors.  The honors choir has assembled outside, and is leading visitors in singing Christmas and holiday carols.  A joyful and friendly cacophony.

Then the call goes out!  The train is within two miles of town!

The timbre of the gathering changes markedly.  There is an audible shift in the level of excitement.  Parents gather their children.  There is a rush to get coats and hats and gloves back on.  The crowd starts to flow toward the doors of the museum.  This becomes a bit chaotic, as everyone jostles for position and kids slither through the crowd in ways parents cannot.

But eventually everyone gets outside and parents are reunited with those children who have slithered ahead.  The train crossing is just a block or so from the museum, so the excited mass moves that way.  Nobody will get into town from this direction tonight.  The street is filled with people.  As we near the crossing, the adults make room for the kids near the front.  Everyone is friendly and happy, encouraging parents with small children to make their way forward.  The train, ablaze with lights and color is rumbling nearer.  The crowd squeezes closer.

(This was all quite a bit to take in on a first visit, so readers who shared the occasion will have to forgive any misrepresentation in my description, and please, add your own version in the comments.)

I see the train a-comin'

The train chuffs into town.  There is a feeling of excitement and anticipation.  The lights.  The sounds.  The holiday cheer and excitement.  The train comes to a stop before the surging crowd.  Christmas music pours from the train.  In a moment, Santa issues forth and the little ones press toward him.  He hands out candy canes to each of them.

I notice, as the train pulled to a stop, what appears to be a large silver screen on the boxcar that is situated directly across the roadway, immediately in front of the crowd.  Earlier in the evening, I had learned that this is to be the first time the train has a scheduled stop in Plummer.  A question that I heard repeated often was, "Are they going to perform?"  I did not know what to expect.  Do they project some sort of show onto the silver surface mounted on this strategically placed boxcar?

My kids and I were with Rachel and Josh most of the evening, since Jonathan and John wanted to enjoy the festivities together.  I have to insert here that much of the time Josh and I, being both of more reserved natures, were left together.  The younger ones ran around enjoying the fun and playing with all their school friends.  Rachel did her Rachel thing, which means visiting with and hugging everyone.  Rachel worked for several summers with the Oklee Community Rec, so children of all ages know and love her.  She is also a favorite of the parents too.  Having just graduated last spring, Rachel has friends among the high school kids and other young adults.  Even the older people seem to want to hug her and ask how things are.  I was continually impressed with how many people's lives Rachel has touched.  And I myself felt a special fondness for this dear young woman many times throughout the evening, as I realized that these two young people, Josh and Rachel, had no embarrassment or awkwardness at all, spending their evening hanging out with me, a comparably old lady, and her crazy kids. 
Rachel and Josh

As the train pulls into town, Rachel explains that until it's fully stopped, the people must stay back a ways, but later everyone can come right up to the stage.  Hmmm.  Stage?  Curioser and curioser.

Then suddenly, the large silver surface about which I had wondered, seems to drop from the side of the boxcar.  Several other things occur simultaneously.  Pink and purple fog issues from the boxcar, and the music grows in intensity.

What had previously appeared to be a silver wall falls opened to become a stage.  The ClayTones appear, rocking to a familiar holiday tune.  They will entertain us for about half an hour, jamming away to their own rock and country renditions of various Christmas and holiday songs, and some original numbers, as well.

The ClayTones

In between musical sets, different speakers come forth for a brief statement encouraging support for the local food shelf.

The crowd is huddled cozily together and we keep each other warm, both with the close proximity of the many bodies, and the dancing and swaying in which we all participate as the band gets us going.  

At one point during the performance, the announcer mentions that those with tickets into Thief River Falls can board the passenger car.  Apparently, those who desire it can purchase a ride between legs of the route.  How fun!

When the performance is done the train pulls out again, slowly gathering speed.  The crowd turns away and drifts into the night.  Rachel and I have a hard time pulling John and Jonathan away until the train is completely passed.  They don't want the night to end.

It was an afternoon and evening full of of fun and excitement, neighbors and friends, holiday cheer and good will.  It was filled to overflowing with the goodness of small town life.

No comments: