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OTHER ITA SITES:
Book Review : Christmas in Dairyland
Description of the Book
Christmas in Dairyland is a collection of short, true stories about a little girl growing up on a small dairy farm in Wisconsin in the early 1960s. The book tells of life for a young girl and her family—her father, who did the farming; her mother who, despite being disabled by polio, took care of the house and cooking; and a much older brother and sister, both of whom worked and contributed their incomes to the family.
The stories recall preparations for Christmas at home, school, and church, how LeAnn learned about her Norwegian heritage and, most important, the love that pervaded this close-knit mid-20th century American family. As a bonus, Christmas in Dairyland includes tried and true recipes for many of the Norwegian heritage foods featured in the stories, including lefse (wafer-thin potato bread), Julekake (a rich Christmas bread), fattigman (a deep-fried sweet cookie), and a variety of traditional Christmas cookies. For the more adventurous, there is a recipe for lutefisk (cod that has been preserved in lye). Finally, the book includes instructions for making colorful candles using old crayons, paraffin, ice cubes, and milk cartons.
About the Book
This is a heartwarming book about a vanishing way of life. Small dairy farms, with around 30 milking cows, were plentiful when the author was growing up and they provided a warm and loving home for hundreds of thousands of families back then. There are few left today, as small farms have been abandoned, sold for development, or gobbled up by industrial-scale farming operations. Small dairy farms can no longer provide for a family’s financial needs. Even then it was a real struggle. But, though such families were often well below the poverty level in strictly financial terms, they were usually wealthy in love and family relationships, as these stories show.
One or more members of the family—the wife, a son, or daughter—usually had an outside job that contributed to the family income. And the farm usually provided sustenance—milk, beef, pork, chicken, corn, tomatoes, potatoes, and other produce, while mothers and daughters sewed and knitted to supplement clothing needs.. Most important, farm life developed close-knit, loving families that were strong on self-reliance, responsibility, and respect for hard work. My own wife grew up on such a farm and I have often heard her stories about the joys and difficulties—mostly joys—of growing up that way.
LeAnn R. Ralph’s stories tell of the excitement of making ornaments and decorating the Christmas tree in her school room each year (another bygone era) and at home. The annual expedition with her father to select the “just right” tree from the stand of red pine on their farm was one of many experiences that built a strong bond between father and daughter. Then there was the year that she and her older sister climbed a large pine to cut off the very top for their tree because all the other pines had grown so much.
LeAnn learned to make lefse from her mother and tells of the mouth-watering aroma of the freshly made, thin Norwegian bread as she came home from school. “By itself, lefse didn’t really taste like much, but once it was spread with butter, sprinkled with sugar and rolled into a log, I would have happily eaten nothing but lefse for breakfast, dinner and supper.” It made my mouth water just to read about it and I was happy to find LeAnn’s recipe for lefse (and other goodies) at the end of the book.
This is a good book for all ages, from pre-teens through octogenarian. The writing is clear, simple, and direct, easily read by young children, but not so simple as to put off adult readers. Children will connect with
LeAnn’s description of a young girl’s life on the farm, helping Dad with the chores, helping Mom wrap Christmas presents, yearning for a toboggan, and being surprised by her brother’s purchase of a saddle for her pony, Dusty. They’ll understand her attempts to get out of wearing boots, heavy coats, and mittens on warm winter days, “just because it might get cold.” And some will relate to LeAnn’s stark fear of having to stand up in front of all the people at church to sing a solo—memorized in Norwegian—of an old-country Christmas carol. Older folks will feast on the nostalgia, and may get tears in their eyes as they learn how that Norwegian carol affected one old woman in the congregation. People from all generations will enjoy the depiction of a close, loving family as it prepares for and enjoys Christmas in Dairyland.
About the reviewer: Boyd Sutton is president of Northwest Regional Writers and a member of the Yarnspinners critique group. He served for 11 years in the U.S. Army Infantry and Intelligence and wrote professionally as an analyst and manager with CIA for 27 years. He enjoys writing essays, fiction, and humor and has been published in local papers and magazines. Boyd won the Wisconsin Regional Writers' Assoc. Florence Lindemann Humor Contest in 2003. He is working on a spy novel and a nonfiction book addressing how Christian denominational doctrine (“Churchianity”) sometimes interferes with Christianity.
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