The 2014 Christmas story in three parts
By T. Myers
Published by the Newberry Eagle Nov 15, Dec 1 and Dec 15 2014
When the snow started to fly in early November, the town started to batten down the hatches and brace for a hard winter. All of the old timers had predicted it would happen because the pine trees had so many cones on them. Birds were already gone south and no one had seen a deer or a bear for a month. Lulu sat, quietly sipping her cup of coffee in the late afternoon sun watching the town through the front window of the cafe. It seemed awfully quiet and for a few minutes while the rest of the day’s baking was still in the oven and no one was ready to come in for early supper, her time was her own.
Lulu heard the back door open in the kitchen and she turned to see her husband, the sheriff stop to hang his coat and hat on the big pegs inside the back door.
“Hi, honey,” the good natured man hollered out. “Where are you, Lulu?”
“I am right out here enjoying a little peace and quiet before the supper rush.”
“Where is Helga?” he asked. “Isn’t she here to help you today?”
“I sent her over to the general store to post a few letters and pick up our mail. I am waiting for the new Montgomery Ward catalogue,” Lulu answered. “Before we go up to Portland, I want a chance to pick out a few items we can look at when we get there. That big Log Cabin exhibit is going to have Christmas Decorations this year and the new Dining room chef at Wards is one of Mother’s old cooks and she says he is a miracle in the kitchen, so we need to have at least one meal at the Vaughn Street store and a trip across to the ‘world’s largest cabin’ for Lucelle to see.”
Lulu was picking up her cup and saucer to head into the kitchen when the front door burst open and the effervescent Helga burst into the dining room with her arms full of packages and letters.
“Here you go,” the friendly Norwegian woman said as she dumped everything onto the cash register counter and made her way back to the kitchen with the cup and saucer she took from Lulu’s hand.
“Did all of this mail come today?” Sheriff Johnny asked.
“That and more,” came the response from Helga who was somewhere out of sight in the storeroom, most likely donning her full apron. “I told Esther I would come back before supper and pick up the rest.”
“Gee whiz” Lulu said as she rifled through the pile. “Here is the catalogue!”
“What is all of this?” Johnny asked as he picked up small packages and shook each one.
“Careful, dear. Those might be some of the presents I have been ordering.”
Johnny picked up the biggest one with renewed interest and held it up as though weighing it on an imaginary scale. “This one is from I. Magnin. It is either for Lucelle or for you, but this one from the Maier and Frank store looks interesting.”
“Put them down, dear, unless you want to put them all in the office for me to look at later.”
“Happy to help, honey,” he said as he scooped up the bulk of the items and made his way back to Lulu’s office.
Lulu was wiping the counter when two couples walked in.
“Hello folks, be right with you,” Lulu said and within minutes the café was full of guests for the evening meal. By the time the chicken and dumplings and Helga’s famous beef stew had been dished up and the pie cabinet was empty, dinner service was over and it was time to close up for the night.
Johnny had long since departed for home and hearth and their daughter, so she and Helga tidied up for the next day, making plans for the morning crew for baking, soups and tomorrow’s specials. Lulu gave Helga a ride over to her little house and then she turned south to head for the ranch and a good night’s sleep. The snow was falling and the two windshield wipers were not keeping up with what was hitting the windshield. She could barely make out the edges of the road and she had to slow way down in order to make her way.
She figured that she had covered at least two miles when she saw some large bundles of something on the side of the road. She was going slow enough that when she approached the mass, a man stood up, waving his hands for help of some kind. Rolling to a stop, the rest of the bundles stood up to reveal a woman, two children and a scruffy looking dog. “Can you help us ma’am?”
“Get inside,” Lulu said and they piled through the door into the back of her automobile while the man got up front with Lulu. They closed the doors quickly to the cold weather outside. She asked, “What has happened to you?”
It was then that she heard a familiar accent, Scandinavian for sure. “Ve had us some trouble vith our vagon, miss. It went over the bank dere and we yust hoped dat somevone vould come dis vay so ve could get helped.”
“Where were you headed, sir,” Lulu asked the father figure.
“Ve vere trying to git to Nord La Pine to find our cousin,” he answered. All of the family was huddled together closely while the mother rubbed on the little hands. Lulu could hear her speaking softly to the youngsters and even the small dog was answering to her voice.
“Are you expected?”
“Ve wrote a letter a few Veeks ago, but did not hear back,” the man said. “Ve had to move after the fire got our house and ve packed vat ve could and loaded the vagon. After a month, ven ve are yust about to our destination, we lost our ability to see the road and vent over the edge. Mother grabbed a couple of quilts and ve tried to call for each other until ve all found each other and ve vere yust making a plan about vat to do next ven ve saw your automobile coming. Ve are very grateful that you stopped.”
“For now we are going to my home and we will sort everything out tomorrow when it is light. There is plenty of room for you and we are not much farther,” Lulu drove the rest of the way while the father excitedly explained that they were safe for the night.
Sheriff Johnny and Little Lucelle greeted Lulu as she drove up to the front door. Lulu noticed that the man reacted strongly to the Sheriff’s hat and Johnny’s jacket. Everyone was ushered inside to the main hall while Johnny put the car in the garage. Lulu’s daughter took the girl and boy by the hand and led them up to a second floor bedroom and Lulu directed the man and his wife to a large bedroom on the main floor. After she told the family to get settled and clean up and use the indoor facilities, she explained that they needed to come to the dining room for a light supper.
A few minutes later, the neatly dressed family appeared at the dining room door and waited to be seated at the long table. There were introductions for the entire Tranna family and for Lulu’s staff and family members as they piled into the room to meet the strangers.
“Do we know your cousin,” Sheriff Johnny asked the father as they sat down to a bowl of steaming soup.
“She is Helga Bakke.”
Lulu and Johnny reacted in surprise. “Helga Bakke is our dear friend and she works right in our café! She never mentioned that she was expecting to have family for the holidays, let alone that you would be coming at all!
The man spoke a few sentences to his wife. “Ve wrote to her in English. Does she read English?”
“I have no idea if she reads at all,” Lulu answered. “I better look through that pile of letters I brought from the café, Johnny.”
He excused himself from the table and fetched the bundle of mail from Lulu’s satchel. Lulu started to go through the envelopes and she spotted one that she extracted from the pile.
“It looks like Helga did not sort through the mail when she brought it over to me this afternoon. Is this your letter?”
“That is it!” Mr. Tranna said. His wife tugged on his arm and said something softly. “It looks like Helga has no idea ve need her help. Vat are ve gonna’ do now?”
“We will eat our supper, get a good night’s rest and tomorrow we will start to get things in order.” Johnny assured the family in English.
“Kan du snukka Norsk?” the wife asked.
“No, not really, but tomorrow Helga can help you”, Lulu answered.
Lulu knew from experience that this was going to be part of something interesting. Her mind was going over the possibilities of what was likely to happen with Helga. Chuckling as she climbed the stairs, she realized that Helga was in for more of a surprise than she could ever imagine.
Thanksgiving was just around the corner and Lulu knew the season would be very interesting. Indeed!
End of part one. Look for the next part of the story in the December first issue.
Christmas Story 2014
By T. Myers
Within the first two days of the week following Thanksgiving, Lulu had moved her friend Helga Bakke and her relatives, the Tranna family into a bigger home just down the street from Lulu’s Café.
Helga was in heaven running around speaking Norwegian to her cousin Julia and the children, Inga and Ingvald. All three of them were working alongside their beloved Helga in the café and the foursome were working on a Scandinavian Christmas Feast that would run every day at the café starting the week before Christmas.
Hrvald, the father, went to the school to see if he could help in the classrooms. Since no one had been able to get past the odd spelling, Hrvald was now Harold and it turns out that he was a choir instructor and violin or piano teacher. He was organizing the children to sing carols at the Christmas Concert and he signed up a few pupils for music lessons at church the first Sunday!
Lulu loved the fact that Helga was buzzing around like a mother hen looking after her new flock and the flock was busy, busy, busy! The children would wait until the first of the year to go to school, since they were so advanced in their studies. She had a good library and the two children were borrowing and reading books like it was a lending library! Even the local children from school had started to drift into the café every afternoon for a cookie or some other treat just so they could ‘take a look at the new kids.
Helga popped out of the kitchen followed by Julia. “Taste these Peppar Krakkors, Miss Lulu!” Helga said excitedly.
“What are they called?” Lulu asked as she took a flat brown wafer off of the platter.
“Peppar Krakkors,” repeated her friend. “They are highly seasoned spice cookies that are very good with tea and you can use them when you have the sniffles to clear the air passages. I like them with tea and they make good dippers.”
Lulu took her first bite and let the cinnamon, cardamom, allspice and black pepper hit her senses. She picked out a molasses note and honey? “These are delicious, ladies!”
Both of the women smiled.
“Wait until an hour from now when the spice cake is baked and the Spritz cookies are decorated and out on the counter,” Helga spoke excitedly. “Julia is the best baker I know and your customers will love the special treats for the holidays.”
“Miss Lulu,” Julia ventured in her broken English. “Do you like lutefisk and lefse?”
“I do indeed, Julia.”
“Gud, then,” was all she said and Julia returned to the kitchen.
“She is very happy to be here with us, Miss Lulu.”
“You two are working well together and everything here is going much smoother with the extra help. I think that when Ingvald starts working out at the ranch with the stock, his sister will surely miss him. He will have two of the Finley boys to work with so that will be good that he makes some new friends.”
“Inga is good to work in the kitchen. She loves being by her mother and she is helpful in translating when Julia needs to read a recipe. Did I tell you she is back there making a deep dish apple pie and a coach house pie with chicken and mushrooms?” Helga asked. Lulu’s eyes lit up when she heard about the coach house pie- a favorite of hers since childhood. “The woman is fast. I enjoy her so much and she is creative! She even wants to fry up doughnuts if we can figure it out.”
“Before you go back there, tell me more about what happened to their house and how it burned down.”
“They were sleeping and the back of the house caught fire. Hrvald said he heard the crackling of the flames because the wind was blowing the smoke east of them. He woke up the kids and they started pulling things out of the house through the front door and got most of the family possessions out while Hrvald threw water on the flames. The wind shifted and the fire took over. When the neighbors came to help, the family was in the barn ready to load up their wagon. They gave their livestock to the neighbors to take care of. A couple of people took the chickens and they closed up their barn and moved into town until they could come to me.”
“Are they planning to stay?”
Helga shrugged her shoulders. “I hope so, but they own that land and Alturas is growing so I cannot say.”
Lulu watched the reality of what seemed to be family indecision cross Helga’s face and as Helga picked up a few of the customer’s dishes and returned to the kitchen, Lulu heard herself saying that Helga should tell them that they have permanent jobs.
Helga set down her dishes and raced over to hug Lulu. “I will tell them.”
Lulu was sure of her feelings about the Trannas and she knew that Helga was the best thing since canned milk to come into her life, so she poured herself a cup of coffee and sat on the stool behind the counter to do her morning inventory when her husband came through the front door.
“Hello, Lulu,” Sheriff Justice said ebulliently. “What’s for lunch?”
“Oxtail soup and biscuits?” Lulu said. “There is pot roast, too and fresh sweet potato pie?”
“How can I decide? Johnny asked. “Both are favorites. Are you serving a big dinner tonight, honey?”
“We are using up the leftovers from Sunday so there is chicken and something for dinner.”
“Pot roast it is!”
Lulu went into the kitchen to tell Helga to get Johnny’s lunch and came back to a half dozen folks coming in for the mid-day meal. The café hummed with activity the rest of the day. All of the baked goods were sold out when the school kids who came in emptied the cookie tray. Lulu checked on dinner and determined she was in good hands and decided that she would leave for the ranch.
The drive home was pleasant enough. Snow was building up on the forest floor and it was beautiful to see. Lulu parked the Ford by the back door and she was greeted by her little daughter who seemed to be waiting for mom to arrive.
“Mother, look at this,” Lucelle said as she held up a long paper chain of green and red. It was draped over her small shoulders and her little arms held it out on each side- as though she was the tree to be decorated.
“Did you make that chain all by yourself?” Lulu asked her girl. Proudly shaking her head yes, Lucelle turned to go into the kitchen. Lulu followed and she saw that the glue pot and colored bits of paper were scattered across the kitchen floor and the counters and she saw that her hurricane of a daughter had managed to take over the kitchen- as usual!
“If I keep making these, the tree will be covered!”
“If you keep making these, there will be no dinner! Let’s clean up and help make supper, okay?”
Little Lucelle immediately went to work to clean up her mess and wash up so she could help set the table and help mom and cook do their work.
“You are a good girl, Lucelle,” mother said. Lulu watched her daughter help and was amazed to hear her little girl singing. The voice was clear and bright and on key. Pitch perfect? Absolutely.
“Do you enjoy singing, Lucelle?” Lulu asked.
“It is my most favorite thing to do past riding horses and helping cook.”
“How do you feel about singing with some of the older children in the Christmas Pageant?”
“Really? Uncle Harold is the choir teacher and he said the school students were singing.”
“But, Uncle Hrvald is going to be excited when he hears your voice so tomorrow; you are coming into town with me. You can try out for a part in the pageant.”
“Oh, Mother!” Lucelle rushed in for a big hug. The rest of the evening she sang every Christmas song she knew and by bedtime, she was exhausted.
The Trannas were sitting in the café before it opened eating their breakfast when Lulu and Lucelle arrived.
“Would you be willing to give a listen to my little lady here?” Lulu asked Hrvald.
Lucelle stood up tall next to Hrvald and Julia and sang a pretty rendition of Away in a manger. The song ended with applause from Helga, Inga, Ingvald and Mr. and Mrs. Tranna.
“Vere did you learn to sing like that?” Mr. Tranna asked.
“I listen at Church and home and copy the songs in my head,” Lucelle explained.
“I tink ve have our Littlest Angel for the pageant,” Mr. Tranna said happily. “You vill have to practice vith the others after school, but you vill be a lovely addition to the program, Lucelle!”
End of Part Two. See the last installment in the December 15th issue of the Newberry Eagle.
A new family, Hrvald Tranna and his wife Julia have moved to La Pine and with Christmas fast approaching, they are getting into the heart of La Pine, making new friends while they contribute to the community. After finding out that Hrvald is a musician of some note, the pageant is centering its efforts on his leadership and the local talent. In the days leading up to the program….anything can happen and it probably will! When a new stranger threatens to ruin the Christmas Pageant, Lulu tries her hand to save the day. What will happen? Read the final chapter to find out…
By T. Myers
Helga was soaking the dried lutefisk in lye water preparing it for cooking for Christmas Eve. She had made the Norwegian meatballs out of pork, veal and beef and the creamy sauce was a concoction of heavy cream, dill, salt and pepper. Helga’s pickled herring was a favorite in December and she had put up big jars for the Christmas dinner.
“You know that everything must be white for the dinner, don’t you, Lulu?” Helga asked while she peeled a big pile of potatoes for boiling.
“I did not know that- but I admit I always wondered why the lack of color was so evident.”
“It is Old Norse mythology. The Goddess Freya is the goddess of food and she is the ice queen, so we make everything look cold as ice and taste warm as a good meal should be.”
“What about the pickles and beets?”
“That is the exception to the rule. We gotta have the pickle to cut the butter we pour on everything or put in the gravy or roll up in the potato Lefse. A good pickle clears the palette.”
“What about all of the cookies you bake?” Lulu wanted to know.
“You see that everything is dusted with powdered sugar to make them clean like the new fallen snow?”
“Oh,” Lulu responded. “So, pile them high and dust them with snow for the banquet table.”
“That is right. And when we add the plate of fish or the meatballs we sprinkle them with dill weed and use a little sage or thyme to give them flavor. White pepper, too when we have it!”
“This is going to be so incredible. There are so many Scandinavians here in town and they will really enjoy having traditional foods for Christmas. You and Julia are doing a great job!” Lulu was finishing her comment when Hrvald Tranna and her daughter Lulu Justice walked through the café door.
“How was practice, Lucelle?” Mother asked.
“I got to sing loud and I like it, Mother. Daddy will be very proud when he hears my angel voice.”
“She is a natural singer, Miss Lulu,” Hrvald told Lulu. “She vill be the hit of the evening if she keeps up her practicing.”
“What about the rest of the people in the program?”
“The Lechner boys are singing a duet, the Finley children vill be performing a short dance with songs about giving gifts to the babe in the manger and the choir has a long list carols and people vill be able to sing along and the churches are working to create a living manger and we vill go out to sing the last song around the manger after the program. That Mrs. Merkle is a gud pianist and she likes to do it so everything is about ready!”
“Sounds like this town will be very lucky this year. Not to change the subject, but what have you decided about staying in La Pine and settling down hereabouts?”
“Julia loves being close to Helga, the kids love the school teacher and if ve can sell the land in California, ve both want to stay here.”
Lulu stood up to give Hrvald a hug, “That is great news Harold. Now let’s go to the kitchen to see what kind of trouble the women can get into with the next baking project.
Little Lucelle sat down at the table with a cookie and soon she was joined by the Tranna children and immediately a Christmas song burst forth with the young voices joining to raise the volume like they were raising the feeling of goodwill. Soon the customers were joining in and the entire café was full of music. Hrvald grabbed the guitar from behind the door and the afternoon turned into a caroling party. The children filed into the dining room, the front door opened and more folks came in to hear the concert.
A dark man who was clothed in all black came in and sat at the counter. He ordered a cup of coffee and sat quietly, listening to the chorus. He sat even after most of the folks had filed out of the café.
“Is there anything else I can get for you, sir?” Lulu asked.
“I would like to get a room and dinner somewhere her in town.”
“We have the hotel and of course dinner is served right here in about one hour from now. Tonight it is beefsteak with potatoes and corn pudding. The hotel is around the corner to the left.”
“What was all of that singing about?” The stranger asked.
“Most of the folks who were in here are performing in the Christmas Eve Pageant in a few days.”
“Does the minister allow people who do not belong to the church sing?”
“You misunderstand, sir. This is a community pageant for everyone, so of course any of the people who would like to sing are welcome to do so. Hrvald Tranna is the choir director and he has been working hard to rehearse the group to make it a good performance.”
“I don’t like it, myself,” said the dark man. “A church’s pastor is the leader and should be in charge of the singing of Christmas Hymns.”
“Will there be anything else?” Lulu asked the man.
“No thank you, Miss.”
“You can pay me when you are ready, then.”
“Are you the proprietor?”
“Yes, I am,” answered Lulu.
“It figures!” the man said and he put a twenty-five cent piece on the counter and turned to leave.
The next morning, it was all over town that the new minister had arrived and he was going through everything at the little community church office and his brusque behavior had made Betty, the old church secretary leave in tears over a comment he made about how she should have stopped the pageant rehearsals for the year.
Hrvald was sitting at the counter nodding his head back and forth in disbelief by the time Lulu returned from Bend.
“What is happening?” Lulu asked and Helga, Julia and Hrvald let loose with a series of statements about their disappointment about cancelling the Christmas Pageant.
“The new minister, Enos Applebaum, has told all of the ministers that it is not appropriate to have a community Choir Pageant for Christmas Eve. He told them all of the congregants should be attending church and praying. Any singing should be in churches, not outside or by a manger.” Helga retorted.
Julia added, “We should be able to sing out pageant, Miss Lulu.”
“The people have worked very hard nearly every day and they are ready to perform,” Hrvald said. “We need to let people enjoy the evening and after that they need to enjoy the feast and the midnight service.”
“He was in here yesterday,” Lulu explained. “He did not seem friendly, at all. Let me talk with John and I will let you know what we will do.”
“Tanks, Miss Lulu,” Hrvald said.
Lulu went into the back room where the phone was attached to the wall. She was glad to have it available. The operator took a long time getting the Sheriff on the line but when Johnny answered, Lulu explained what had happened and her husband assured her that he would help handle the matter.
“Please wait at the café for me and I will fill you in when I return to La Pine this evening,” Johnny told her. “I will stop by Applebaum’s church and find out what he is up to.”
Several hours later, Sheriff Justice opened the café door and strode in with heavy step. “He is a real pickle”
“What does he expect to have happen?” Lulu asked.
“He expects the other men of faith to cowtow,-that is what he expects!”
“Does that mean we cannot have the pageant?” Lulu asked.
“He was having a meet and greet with four other of the local pastors and I believe he must have put the fear of God into them because they were all quietly listening to his tirade about what is proper Christian behavior!”
“Oh, Johnny, this will make Lucelle so sad. And all of the others. You should have heard them in here yesterday. They sounded good enough to be a record or something.”
Let’s eat and then on the way home we can put our heads together so we can come up with a solution that will work for everyone- even Mr. Scrooge!”
Lulu never understood the pinecone express but by the time she got home that night, the staff and cook knew all about the problem.
Cook stepped forward into the foyer and stated, “We should do what we used to do and have the Christmas Eve celebration right out in the big barn and serve dinner out here, too.”
The caretaking couple added that they could decorate and set up the barn for a beautiful night of carols and banqueting. And Lucelle had come downstairs to give her opinion, “We could make the side coral into the manger and Mr. Harold could make the pageant happen outside and there is room for everyone.”
“Is this going to work?”
Johnny smiled and answered, “We always loved our Christmases on the ranch. It will be like old times!”
Lulu hit the café with a plan of action first thing in the morning. While she was gathering up the mayor’s wife, the rest of the women’s club ladies and heading to the church to talk with Reverend Sutton, she caught up with the Tranna children to take notes to all of the business men:
You are invited to a private party
At the home of Lulu and Johnny Justice at the Beale Ranch
On Christmas Eve at 5 PM.
The Christmas Pageant will be led by newcomer Hrvald Tranna with the Community Choir
Following the Norwegian Christmas Feast and manger caroling.
The public is welcome and encouraged to attend.
“Tell them to post the note in the window and tell everyone,” she told the kids. “I will get ahold of your papa and he can let the choir people know the change in plans.”
By the end of the day, the gloomy minister was back at the lunch counter, silent, brooding and looking very angry.
“How can I help you, sir?” lulu asked him after handing him a menu card.
“I will have the chicken soup and bread, Miss.”
“Right away, Mr. Applebaum!” Lulu said as she turned towards the kitchen with his order.
“You are the one behind this sinful concert aren’t you?” the dark pastor asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“You are working to turn the community against God and the churches.”
“I am working to get the hardworking community a place to celebrate the things they like about Christmas. When people work as hard as the people of La Pine do, they deserve to celebrate with food and festivities and no one should take that away from them. As for turning folks against God? A good pastor leads his congregation with love and respect- just as he would have them pay him respect that would be due to him.”
“How dare you….”
“I dare to tell anyone who tries to hurt this community what I feel, because it is my community…”
“And you think that a woman can decide what is best for La Pine?”
“This is one woman who knows what this community loves and needs- along with dozens of other hard working people who live here- just ask!”
The dark man was turning red as he stood and turned to leave. Lulu watched him and listened to the door slam. But, she was smiling. At the same time she was hoping she had given the new pastor something to think about.
Two days later the barn was ready, the food was ready and the people were coming down the ranch road to enjoy a night of good times and celebration.
“Come together, everyone, it’s time for our blessing,” Reverend Sutton called. After the blessing the choir and townsfolk ate a feast like no other- including a fishlike Jell-O substance that was called lutefisk, made tolerable with the hot butter that drenched it and the potato lefse that it was rolled in!
By the time the choir took the stage and little Lucelle sang joy to the World at the top of her lungs, Lulu noticed a dark figure in the back of the crowd. By the time Lucelle hit the halfway point of the song and people were joining in, the man, Pastor Applebaum, had removed his dark hat and was singing along. Lulu took a deep breath and nudged Johnny who seemed well aware of the presence of the new minister.
“It looks like there is hope for our new Pastor,” Johnny said.
Lulu just nodded yes and went back to listening to the program. She looked at the crowd of her friends from town and heard the voices sing joyfully and knew that La Pine would have a memorable Christmas. The faces of Helga and her family were beaming. The singers were full of light and energy and everything about the evening was full of love.
“Merry Christmas, John” she whispered. “Merry Christmas.”
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