James Jerome Johnson Sr.

May 18, 2009 at 9:27 am (Johnson Roots) (, , )

James Jerome Johnson Sr. by you.

James Jerome Johnson Sr.

This is the son of John Sigford and Mary Ellen (Tufford) Johnson. (He is also Joe’s paternal grandfather.)

James Jerome Johnson Sr.
Born: July 13, 1918 in Kensal, North Dakota, USA
Died: September 12, 1984 in Portland, Oregon, USA

The following is an interview with the “Church Mouse” at Lifegate Baptist Church, where Jim was interviewed…

“What Christmas was Like when You were Growing Up”

Where did you live, Jim, when you were growing up?
I lived mostly up in Lougheed, Alberta, Canada where it was real cold in the winter time.

How many were in your family?
There were five boys all together besides my mother and dad.

What kind of home did you live in?
It was a 3-bedroom made mostly out of little rocks about the size of your fist that my father picked up off the farm. The foundation, the chimney, and the fireplace were made of them. My father built it in 1918.

Where did your father work?
He was a farmer.

When Christmas time came at your home, did you make or buy your Christmas gifts?
Most all the stuff that we got were mittens and stockings that my grandmother made for us. Very, very little was bought for us kids. We lived out of a town of a population of 150, about 2 miles from town. We had to walk to town to buy anything. It was 25-30-40 below zero and we wore a felt shoe in the winter time. They came to just about your knee and you put felt inside and you wore them just like a boot. You would also put on a couple pairs of stockings and they would keep you nice and warm as long as you kept walking. If you didn’t walk or keep your blood circulating, you could freeze to death.

Did your father have animals on the farm?
Yes, we had 16 horses and Mother milked 5 cows. We had pigs, too. On Christmas morning we had to tend the animals just like any other day. We had a wire from the house to the barn. In case a blizzard would come up, we would just grab ahold of that wire and follow it right down to the barn so we wouldn’t get lost. The barn was about 500 feet or better from the house.

Did you have a Christmas tree?
No, we never bothered. We just hung our stockings up at the fireplace. My grandmother made them. As I remember, when I was 5 or 6 years old, my grandmother was a husky Norwegian lady and during the summer time all she did for a pass-time was knit for Christmas. She’d knit mittens, stockings, and ear muffs. She and my grandfather had a section of land about 4 miles from our place and when we had Christmas we’d either go up to their place, or they would come to ours.

Did your mother make up the Christmas dinner or did your mother and grandmother do it together?
They combined their efforts. In those days we didn’t have the modern conveniences of today. We had a Model-T Ford that my Dad had and if it snowed too much, the wind would blow it out to the highway and into the ditch. We would go out and cut our wood in the summer time and shoot rabbits on Saturdays when I was home from school.

Did you walk to school?
Most of the time we walked. Sometimes we rode a horse and he was well enough trained that we would set him loose when we got to school and he would automatically go home. The school only had four stalls for horses and if someone came and beat you to it, then you wouldn’t have a place to put your horse, so we threw the reins over his neck and let the horse go home.

When Christmas came around, did your mother and grandmother start preparing for the dinner about a couple weeks before?
Yes, sooner than that. We started in October. The 1st of October my Dad always killed about five pigs, my grandfather would kill a beef and a yearling. Then we would switch back and forth and my grandmother would make headcheese, take the inner parts out and make her own sausage. She took everything out of the pig but the squeal. We had a smokehouse and cured our own hams and bacon. Of course,  with no refrigerator, we would cold-pack. They would take roasts and stew meat and put it in jars and put on sealers and boil the jars on the stove. Then we’d put them in the basement and use that for our summer meat. We ground a lot of our meat up and made our own sausage. My grandmother would make her own homemade wieners about 4-6 inches round and mixed pork, beef, spices, and onions in it and they were delicious.

Did you have the standard turkey or poultry for your Christmas dinner?
Oh, yes. We had, what you called two types of turkeys. Just before I started school, Mother and Dad had a bunch of turkeys that would go off in the brush and hide their nests. It was my job to go and see if I could find their nests so we could keep an eye on them. When they’d hatch we then could protect them because up there in Canada we had coyotes. In the summer time, when they would hatch, the hawks and crows were so bad the guinea hens would make an awful noise and many times would fly right at the hawk or crow to protect their chicks. The chickens would always come to the henhouse to pay their eggs, but the wild turkeys would hide their nests out in the straw barn. The roof, they would take and put poles 3 or 4 inches in diameter and lay them across, put straw on top, a layer of tar paper, and more straw on top. The straw would settle and stay.

Was there any specific thing you did on Christmas Day?
We just opened our presents. Christmas Eve was always at home and Christmas Day we’d go to our grandfolks or they would come over to our place. On Christmas Eve we opened our gifts, but those from our grandparents we opened on Christmas Day.

Were there any religious customs you participated in at that time?
My grandmother and grandfather belonged to the Lutheran Church. They both came from Norway. My mother, she was Baptist, always had the grace at our meals and when we went to bed we had an evening prayer. My dad wasn’t too much for religion, but he would go to church though. In fact, he played the violin and mandolin. I had one brother who played the accordion, another played the mouth organ and juice harp, and another brother, who now lives in Sweet Home, that played the guitar. We never had a piano in our house, but we’d get together and that’s what we would have for our own entertainment. Back in 1925-26 the radio was used a lot. We had the kind that had earphones. No electricity, we had gas lanterns and kerosene lamps. Our radio ran on what they called a B battery and an A battery. We’d sit around and listen to Amos ‘n Andy. We also got a station from Salt Lake City that used to come in pretty good and then on either Friday night or Saturday night the city up there had what they called old time music from 8 until midnight and we used to sit up and listen to that. We’d play our instruments at Christmas time sometimes, but we never took them to our grandparents home. Most Christmas days we’d lay down and have a snooze after dinner.

What special Christmas, as a youngster, do you recall most of all?
It was in 1924-25 and my dad bought me a little engine that ran by steam. The boiler was about as big as a 303 can. You put water in there and heated it with an alcohol burner. Back in those days we had steam engines for threshing. My dad was an engineer and separator man, my mother did the cooking on the cooker and he bought me one of those little engines no bigger than a tape recorder. It would run and get the steam up and the piston would go back and forth with an inch wheel. That’s about the best thing I ever got for Christmas. I was so happy to get it. Of course, I burned my hands a couple of times from the alcohol burner. We had a neighbor from England and he didn’t know much about threshing and he always got my dad to run his threshing machine for him. My mother and dad got so much pay a day. He’d run the separator and the engine and my mother did the cooking in the cook car. We had 15-20 farms that we lined up to thresh and my brothers and I would help. I came to Oregon about 1939.

Was it from your mother, being a Baptist, that you came to know the Lord?
Oh, yes. The summer before last I showed Luellen the creek that they baptised us in. Up there the weather is so cold that the water streams were awful cold and about the only time you could use the water for something like that was in July. There was an Angelican Church, Nazarene, Baptist, and another little one in that town and one Sunday in July everyone would take a picnic and go to this wide spot in the creek and have a picnic and baptize. All the churches did it at the same time.

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