Christmas sans lefse
I have celebrated Christmas every year of my life by spreading butter and sugar on lefse, rolling it up and biting into this delicious Norwegian delicacy. It is an important tradition that brings back memories of childhood and the tales about our ancestors who lived in Norway for centuries. The immigrants brought these food traditions, as well as numerous other traditions, with them to Minnesota where we dutifully and thankfully continue to practice them. It has been reported that some Norwegian Americans get teary-eyed while consuming lefse by the handful. I can’t say that that has ever happened to me – although I could say that about lutefisk (the lye that the fish is soaked in does tend to water the eyes).
In 2003 I did not get to eat lefse. One of my daughters and her family lived in New Jersey. Because of work schedules they never get to spend Christmas in Minnesota. So, I decided to go there for Christmas – while the boys were still little. It was my job to prepare the Christmas Eve dinner – reminiscent of our traditional family dinner. I wanted the little boys to experience the tradition of a Norwegian meal since they had lived most of their lives in “Italian” country eating lots of pasta and pizza. So I came prepared with a large package of lefse. My daughter was the minister of music for the church so her entire day had been spent playing organ, directing choirs and singing herself at the multiple services. When she arrived home at 8 p.m. I had the dinner ready, the table set with the piping hot food. I called the family to the table, we sat, said grace – and the boys looked over the food offerings. “Where is the lefse?” asked Anders. “Well, I set it right next to you,” I replied. “There is only an empty plate next to me.” The family dog, Belle, had been following me around all afternoon – but was now nowhere to be seen. I rushed out of the room – and there under the Christmas tree was Belle, gobbling the last of the lefse.
I have to back up a bit in order to share a bit of history about Belle. She and I have never gotten on very well. I first met Belle back in the summer of 1998 when I was visiting. My daughter and I were going to travel into New York City to attend a Broadway play. She was ready and waiting for me downstairs – and called up to me to ask that I bring down her diamond earrings that were in a white leather box on her bureau. I brought the box down with me – and just then the phone rang. I set the box on the table, answered the phone, rushed out to my daughter in the waiting car – and forgot all about the earrings, as had she.
When we again thought about the earrings it was too late to return for them. But when we returned that evening the box was gone. My son-in-law mentioned a metal box that he found the dog chewing on out in the yard. We found the box – opened it – the earrings were gone. I went to find Belle, checked her ears – but she was not wearing the earrings. The next several days were spent searching the backyard that Belle was confined to. Neighbors came to help, combing every inch of the property. This was all my fault (or nearly all) for setting the box on the table. The next day I drove into Sparta and rented a metal detector in hopes that there was enough metal on the earrings to cause the detector to respond. No such luck. The last day of my stay was coming to an end. My plane was leaving in the late afternoon. I returned the metal detector then made one last-time search of the backyard. It was noon and the sun was shining directly down over the backyard. As I again searched the same area that I had searched countless times before – something sparkled in the grass. I screamed and fell to my knees, scooping up the diamonds. Belle came leaping over to me. Workmen, who were installing an outdoor swimming pool next door, heard my scream and leaped over the five-foot fence to come to my rescue. I had to explain to them that the dog was not attacking me, but rather, I had just found diamonds.
I renamed Belle, “Diamond Belle” but could not really forgive her for stealing my daughter’s diamonds. And now, she had stolen the lefse. My attitude toward Belle was far from “Christian” on this the birth date of Christianity.
Later that evening when the dishes were done and placed back into the cupboard, the family again joined together in the living room where the tree stood decorated in all its glory. The presents were passed out and enjoyed by all. Diamond Belle came over to the sofa where I sat, climbed up, gently laid her head on my lap and looked up at me with her soulful eyes. In that moment I forgot all her past transgressions and realized that “a girl’s got to have her diamonds” – and sometimes her lefse too.