Those 70ish girls… Our magical Sanderson Christmas Eve

In light of the wonderful family stories my cousin, Valerie, has written and shared on our blog, I decided this would be a good time to once again share with you, Our Magical Christmas Eve…I hope it warms your heart and inspires you to reflect on your own favorite childhood Christmas celebrations. I intended to include the poem in writing as well as the recording, but I couldn’t find it.

These pictures are captures from Aunt Irma Sanderson’s 8 mm recordings. They include Grandpa Sanderson wearing his cap with the flaps while picking up all the gifts and delivering them to the home where that year’s Christmas Eve gathering would be held. (BL) Grandma Sanderson is keeping an eye on all the grandchildren as they wait to eat. Our beloved Aunt Tet is pictured in the bottom center photo. My mother, Loretta, and Aunt Elna are preparing ham sandwiches on potato rolls in my family’s kitchen (BR).

Those 70ish girls…The Stock I came from, pt 5

The last child born on October 17, 1926 to ME and Mary SANDERSON was Elna Jeanette in Murdo, SD. She spent her early years on Horse Creek. She was talented from the start where she was drawn to studying music in school in Murdo.

The Sanderson girls in front of the Horse Creek cabin. L: Elna Loretta, Helen, and Ella.
L: Jeff, Helen, Loretta, Ella, and Wayne. The little girl standing next to Loretta is Elna

She also clerked in the family general store selling dry goods and even shoes. Everyone in the family had to work. All six children were expected to help out. In old photos of the family, Elna is obviously much younger than the other kids seen wearing her plaid school girl outfit flashing her lovely smile. Her older sisters carried her around as a baby and toddler. My Mom remembers little Elna seeing her mother baking a cake and declaring, “Not nut cake but coconut cake.” The older kids cheered her on for speaking clearly as a toddler.

L: Helen, Elna, Ella, and Loretta

On September 29, 1945 – the same year my Mother, Ella, got married – Elna married Gerald R. Miller of Draper, SD. They lived in Bell Gardens, California for a year before moving back to Jones County in 1947. Two daughters, Andrea and Stephanie and one son, Greg, were blessed with a devoted mother. Andrea was born the same year I was. My Mom gave me a short version of Elna’s middle name Jeanette- my middle name being Jean. Elna was a natural Mom and housekeeper. I remember the orange nasturtiums she grew out front of the darling house in Murdo. She loved her family and neighbors. She helped with many church events and family gatherings.

My memories of Aunt Elna are deeply intertwined with my Mom, her sister, because they were close and kept in touch often writing letters every day to their siblings. Aunt Elna’s letters were written in small cursive strokes and often she would write along the edges and tops so as to get in one more thought on paper or cards. My cousin, Bill, would be handed a letter from Elna as he sat visiting my folks in California sometimes. He had a tough time reading Aunt Elna’s small handwriting and as he struggled he would turn the letter around to read the edges. Frustrated, Bill would say, “I can read Aunt Elna’s letters except when she goes along the sides and writes up over the top, I’m through!”

I would stop by Aunt Elna and Uncle Jerry’s house during the two years we lived in Murdo and she was always at work washing floors on her hands and knees, or cleaning something or ironing . She was also a great cook and baker. Her house was always tidy. She would chat about local issues or people and ask what’s new from uptown. Sometimes I would get lucky and she would play the old upright piano with a modern popular song or oldies from WWII or a Broadway musical. She had a real ear for music and was a beautiful singer, too. She had even played with a band at Westover Hall as a young woman.

Aunt Elna loved being with family and especially liked going out for pie and coffee with her sister, Loretta, and taking Grandma SANDERSON along. They would talk and laugh and as a friend, Elsa Peck, told me, “Those SANDERSON girls would get together and talk and tell stories, then slap their knees erupting with loud laughter. They had the most fun.” Aunt Elna’s laugh was the best. If you heard her giggle then break into a full laugh, you’d want to join in. It was infectious.

Later on in life Elna liked helping at the family’s Range Country Lodging. She would help sweep sidewalks and polish windows. The staff there had to stop her one day trying to sweep outside as winds gusted to around 50 mph.

Elna was always dressed smartly and had her hair done in a manner that complimented her face and blue eyes. There’s a photo of her in a sleeveless white top worn with a pencil thin skirt. I remember thinking how cool she looked and young. She seemed to like wearing bright colors as I recall. I mentioned how she worked hard and kept her household running smoothly but she also knew how to relax and I can see her now, sitting calmly lounged in a chair with one arm resting up around the chair back or stretched on the couch telling we kids to please keep the noise down since she needed to rest.

L: Wayne, Loretta, Ella, Helen, Jeff, and Elna at a family picnic in the Miller’s backyard.
The beautiful Aunt Elna at her home in Murdo
Aunt Elna looking pensive. I think this is a beautiful capture.

We were all lucky to have Aunt Elna in our lives growing up. As a role model, you couldn’t ask for a stronger, more feminine, kinder example to follow. All the SANDERSON girls were beautiful but more than that, they made you feel important and even as a kid you were included. Elna spoke to me like I was one of the adults and I talked to her like a friend, not just my aunt. She joked around with us and we laughed a lot. How much we miss her, the last born of the SANDERSONS, but one of the best. Thanks for the music and laughter, Aunt Elna, but mostly thanks for being you.

Aunt Elna and cousin, Billy. You can almost hear her infectious laughter
Me with Aunt Elna at Old Town near Murdo
Spaghetti dinner at the home of sister, Loretta. Not sure who the man on the end is… the others from left are: Bill Francis, Elsa Peck, Jerry Miller, Loretta, and Elna. Harold Peck possibly took the picture.
L: Elna, Helen, Jeff and Wayne.
At my parent’s home. Gus Gustafson, Stephanie Miller Davis, me, Andrea Miller Sheehan, Aunt Elna

Those 70ish girls…The Stock I came From, pt 4

Aunt Loretta often said, “Enough about me, how did you like my last movie?”

If someone ever made a movie about Aunt Loretta, it would be hilarious and emotionally take you up then drop you down pretty hard, but you would love every minute.

In California in the 40’s
Fun in the snow while visiting the Black Hills in South Dakota

She talked to me like I was an adult, when I was about 7 or 8 years old, and we had traveled from PA to Murdo, SD to have a Sanderson reunion. I kept playing with the many cousins running wild through the small town and enjoying meeting all my relatives. I would ask her if we were “allowed” to do this or that, constantly asking for adult permission, and she got a bit agitated at my persistence.
“Do you always have to ask if you’re ‘allowed’ to do anything?” she asked sternly.

Matron of honor at Margie and Wayne Esmay’s Wedding
With Murdo friends, from Left, Harriet Parish, Marce Lillibridge, Florence Murphy, Marge Bork, Evelyn Johnson, and Aunt Loretta

That shut me up for a while. Two weeks later, when we got home to the suburbs of Pittsburgh, I asked my Mom about all the aunts’ and uncles’ names and tried to get their kids connected with the right relative. When it came to discussing Aunt Loretta, I blurted out, “Ohhh, the mean one!”
My 8 year old self was wrong. Loretta was just honest and treated you like an adult, something which I was not used to at all. She made you own up.
Another time she told me that being an only child was different. She said my parents had to pour all their hopes, dreams and work of parenting into just one kid. They had to give me all their love and attention. Not necessarily spoiling me, because they were careful about that and we didn’t have much money, but just giving the one child 100%.
One sizzling hot summer day in  Murdo, she was lying in bed with just a 1950’s style bra on and shorts looking through movie magazines. As kids do, some of us piled in to look at the movie star’s photos with her and she said something about her next movie coming out. She also said her next husband would be sweet and kind. As a kid, I had never seen my Mom, first of all, lying in bed in the middle of the day in her bra and secondly talking about movie stars and movies while lounging in bed. And getting married again. What? This was fascinating and daring stuff.
Loretta gave cousin Andrea and me our first paid jobs while in junior high,  cleaning her motel rooms during the summer. She was particular about how the rooms were cleaned and trained us exactly in what she wanted done each morning. Then later, she took us to Mack’s Cafe for homemade giant cinnamon rolls as a reward for working. I think Andrea and I liked those rolls better than the cash we got working.
I hold many wonderful memories about her in my heart and psyche. Too many to share.
~The time she wore her red satin petticoat over her dress at a fashion show party to show off, her delicious lemon bars and cooking, her fake yelling at you finger pointing and saying, “Just wait. Grandpa will have to deal with your  behavior!”  Leaving a dirty diaper under her roommate’s pillow after her sweet roommate complained about dirty cloth diapers being left around their shared wartime apartment just to get back at her. On and on…
All we cousins loved her and her straightforward ways. She was a character and a true standout.
Darn, wish I had some of those cinnamon rolls right now. Thanks, Aunt Loretta.

Aunt Loretta didn’t make the movies, but she is on the cover of her daughter’s book.

Those 70ish girls…The trip down south went south

It all started out as planned…

Kip and I decided to go to San Antonio for a couple of days. There is a company there that has a showroom displaying RV furniture. Since at some point we plan to become fulltime RVers, we thought it would be a good idea to actually go where we can see what kind of selections the different manufacturers have to offer. We want the very best don’t ya know.

We loaded Nellie and Rylie into the Jeep and got an early start. When we were a little over halfway, we found a nice big field where the dogs could run. They are still youngsters so we try to wear them out that way. They love it and can really cover the ground.

When we got to New Braunfels, we stopped at a little café for lunch where we enjoyed some delicious sandwiches in their outside courtyard. The day was going great! A couple of hours later, got to the showroom where we were helped by a very nice lady who gave us all the time we needed and answered all of our questions.

We told her we must have a double recliner with a center piece that when folded up, the whole couch is flat…See picture. The arms have to be wide and cushioned. We want the dogs to be comfortable. We also need the lounge type rather than one that has a footstool design…See picture.

The nice lady didn’t have exactly what we wanted and we didn’t feel the types of leather she showed us would be durable enough for the dogs. She handed us some information on things she could special order and then showed us the door. We were glad we had gotten an early start because she said they were closing earlier than planned that day…hmm.

Next, we went to find a motel room for the night. We didn’t need anything fancy so we stopped at a motel 6. Kip went in and came right back out. “They aren’t dog friendly.” he said.

Next we went to a Fairfield by Marriot. It looked nicer, anyway. Kip came right back out. “Weren’t they dog friendly?” I asked. “Not really,” he said as he got back into the Jeep. “They wanted $75.00 per dog for the night.”

“Good grief!” I said. “How much did they want for people?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I didn’t get that far.”

We got stuck in traffic while driving to a Super 8. This time Kip called ahead and found out they did accept dogs and it was only $40 per night, per dog. When I went inside, the place didn’t look so good to me. When I asked the person if I could see the room, she said, “no!”

Down the street a little ways was a La Quinta so we went there. We were hoping that stop #4 would be more accommodating than Motel 6 and Motel 8 had been. It had not even been a deposit they wanted. It was what they charged extra per night for dogs. I told Kip we should have said they’ve only chewed up a couple of towels and a TV remote. He said to be sure and tell them we wouldn’t go a cent over $1000.00 per night per dog.

We were in luck. We got the room and it only cost us $10.00 extra per dog. We were exhausted! Kip walked to Chili’s and got two salads to go. We had also stopped at this wonderful German bakery in New Braunfels and loaded up on Bear Claws and other delectable pastries. We had last been there 35 years before. We took son, Craig, to Sea World for spring break when he was 11. (When we stopped at the bakery, Craig let the van door hit against something and put a dent in it.)

Anyway, we were settled in and comfy in our nice room. We were very tired so we retired early. I was almost asleep when Nellie heard a car door slam and barked. We had just gotten her to quiet down when the people next to us slammed the door to their room. We finally turned all the lights on and turned the TV to a movie channel. The noise from the television muffled the other sounds that were upsetting her. A while later I asked Kip if he thought we could turn the lights out. He said he thought the lights were soothing to her.

I watched Christmas movies all night and was almost relieved when the dogs woke up at 4 am and wanted to go out. I will say the free serve-yourself breakfast did somewhat offset the dog fees.

We will be working diligently to find suitable furniture for the motorhome. We’ve ordered leather samples from 2 online companies that ship for free.

We just love, love, love RV travel…

Those 70ish girls…The Stock I Came From. Pt 3

When I was a little girl, we visited Aunt Helen and Uncle Bob and their four kids in Michigan just once. We only saw them once in a while because we lived in Pennsylvania pretty far from their house, and had only been to Murdo, South Dakota for a few SANDERSON family reunions together during the summer. But after seeing Aunt Helen a few times and noticing how pretty she was, I decided to name my new dark haired doll Helen in her honor. To me that was the perfect name.

Me with my Mom and the doll I named after my beautiful Aunt Helen


Aunt Helen was the fourth child born to Grandma and Grandpa SANDERSON and the last to be born before the family moved to a little log cabin on Horse Creek about 7 miles outside of Murdo. Her brother Jeff’s birth had been difficult so her dad, my Grandpa, drove his wife a very long distance in a wagon/carriage to Mitchell Hospital when the time came. Helen was named Mary Helen but was called Helen so as not to be confused having her mother’s first name.

Helen was the baby of the family when this picture was taken with brothers Wayne and Jeff, and sister, Ella.

It was a tough life on the farm there. Even though the family had a Model A, Grandpa later bought a Model T which made the two miles on dirt roads then the 5 miles on gravel roads easier. Aunt Helen later wrote that she was always happy growing up even in tough times. She dressed the farm kittens like her babies and loved playing house, even though she had chores and worked hard as did the entire family. The kids road a horse three miles to school and did not like leaving their horse all day in the barn at school with no food. There were 12 students in the country school in eight grades.

The Osborn family in later years

The Osborn family also attended school with the SANDERSONS and only had bread with cocoa junk on their bread sandwiches. That was a mixture of sugar, cocoa and whole milk which would soak into the homemade bread. The Osborn family was poor. They had 13 children. Helen felt lucky to have sardine sandwiches at school for lunch. A tin of sardines cost 4 cents and she recalled that some were canned in mustard or tomato sauce and were tasty.

The Sanderson sisters…from left, Helen, Elna, Ella, and Loretta

Helen recalls that her Dad, ME SANDERSON was strict. If their Mom, Mary, couldn’t handle the kids, she would say in a low voice, “I will have to tell your Dad.” One time ME put her on top of a tall cupboard to discipline Helen. Or to show the other kids who was boss.

Helen was a dark haired, slim girl in high school. Later she went to business school out in Rapid City after my Mom, Ella, gave her the money to attend. She eventually met her future husband Bob who graduated from School of Mines and he got a job in Michigan with the auto manufacturer, Chevrolet. They left the day after getting married and drove with another couple all the way to Michigan from South Dakota. They raised their four children there in Michigan. One summer my parents bought a car from Bob and Helen. The two families met in Murdo so my parents could drive it home later. They were so proud to have gotten a relatively new car from Bob and Helen.

Later in life, when Bob had passed away, Helen went to live near a daughter in South Dakota once again. She regularly wrote beautiful letters to her brothers and sisters with a neat flowing cursive handwriting. I remember my mother read those letters over and over and kept many of them. Aunt Helen was always happy as long as the sun shone. And she was always beautiful inside and out.

Uncle Bob Haverberg around the time he and Aunt Helen were married
From Left: The ever stylish sisters, Helen, Ella, and Loretta

Those 70ish girls…Thanksgiving wishes for you

Baba baked some bread since she couldn’t find any in her kitchen. She decided the Pilgrims had the right idea, sitting down with their new friends, the Wampanoag Tribe in the New World and shared food, conversation and thankfulness.

May you all enjoy time with others during this holiday and celebrate your blessings no matter how small by giving thanks and sharing what you have. If you have little or nothing at all to share, then try sharing kindness – it’s free and gives back so much in return.

Baba with homemade bred

Those 70ish Girls…Thanksgiving with Baba & Yram

Baba snagged a TeeVee gig. She convinced the producers that she had cooking expertise. Her TeeVee show has yet to air because most of it ended up on the cutting room floor. I don’t know what that means, but I’ve heard lots of bigshot TeeVee execs say that…Tiny (This is not Yram.)

Yram has to copy everything I do. She does not have cuuking expertise. I’ve been working hard with my producer, Bozo, and he thinks I’m just a few Thanksgivings away from being the next Julie Child. (Only I don’t talk funny.) This is Baba…TaTa, Wyram.

Happy Thanksgiving from Baba and Yram…If you want our recipes you can call Baba at 999-999-9999 or Yram at 555-555-5555.

WE ARE VERY THANKFULL FOR YOU!

Those 70ish girls…The stock I came from, pt 2

Uncle Jeff was born a couple years after my Mom. The doctor had to break his arm delivering him breach since he was a chubby big baby. He was named Melvin but as I wrote earlier, his nickname of JEFF stuck.

Jeff was a handsome young schoolboy

He was a lover of family, his town, his country and sports, as well as fishing and hunting. He joined the Marines as a young man shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked. His mother, my Grandma Mary, who rarely left her home in Murdo, SD, made the trip to California to see her Jeff. She traveled alone by train and was hoping to get there before Jeff was shipped out. Her daughters, Ella and Loretta, met her at the train station and had to break the news that Jeff and already left. Her daughters said that Grandma wouldn’t look at the ocean the whole time she was in California because it took her Jeff away.

This picture of Grandma and my mother was taken when Grandma visited California. Her sad expression was no doubt because she missed seeing her son before he shipped out.

Jeff worked up to being a Staff Sergeant, and the only one in his family who served in WWII. Any time we visited my Mom’s home town, he was there to help us find a place to stay, and take us to lunch or to come visit and chat for hours. We were eating at the Star Cafe with him one summer visit. We all sat talking and when our food came, he asked if anyone wanted some of his French fries because he had about “a thousand fries” and couldn’t eat them all. He loved to kid around and have fun. He hung out with his brother, Wayne, since they were always good friends as well as good brothers. Jeff was the one who, as a young boy, unknowingly walked past the rattler first  before the snake struck out at Wayne.

Uncle Wayne, on the left, and Uncle Jeff often had coffee together at a local Murdo Cafe.


Everyone liked JEFF who owned SANDERSONS General Store for years and later worked for the rural utility company. He voluntarily managed Murdo’s youth baseball program for 12 years. He was man of the year in South Dakota one year as a senior. Quite an honor. And I cannot forget about his jeep that he used to haul hundreds of kids to different baseball games. The old Willis Jeep was towed out to the cemetery during his funeral procession. He loved his old jeep which now sits at Murdo Auto Museum. He would like that.

Me visiting the Jeep at the Pioneer Auto Museum

As I said before, Uncle Jeff was dedicated to family and community. He lived next door to Grandma and Grandpa and More often than not, he spent his noon hour visiting with them in their home.

Those 70ish girls…A dog tale

I really am a good dog. Just look into my eyes. Dogs as young I am, usually aren’t so wise.

My first home was an old rug my momma found somewhere. She was frail and sick, yet 6 pups she had to bear.

She didn’t have much milk and the smallest 3 soon died. It was only by the grace of God that 3 of us survived.

One day when I woke up, I found myself alone. I didn’t know where Momma and the other pups had gone.

I saw a man run towards me with a rope tied to a stick. He tried to catch me with it, but I was much too quick.

When he was out of sight again, I began to roam. I couldn’t find the rug that we had called our home.

I hardly ever bark, but my tummy growls sometimes. Where were all the scraps that momma always finds?

When I finally fell asleep, I began to dream. I saw a little boy fishing by a stream.

He said hello my friend. I have a cup to dip. I’ll fill it up with water and you can take a sip.

He shared a bite of food and offered me another. He said he’d never seen a dog gulp down peanut butter.

When my dream was over, I woke up with a start. That little boy was there and I saw inside his heart.

He took me in his arms and I gave his face a lick. He said Just like peanut butter together we will stick.

So if you see a dog like me living on the street, please give him some water and a little bite to eat.

If you sometimes feel that you’re not so good at friending. You’ll soon find out a dog’s love is never ever ending.

In honor of Calamity Jane, Frank, Angel, Baby Jane, Sadie, McKenzie, Pixie, Pattie, Sammie, Obie, Missie, Cyndie, Lillie Dale, and a little kitty named Dollie…Who all gave us unconditional love.

A few special friends

We now have 2 new friends….Nellie and Rylie

Those 70ish girls…The stock I came from, pt 1

I’ve often heard people say that “he” or “she” came from good stock. It’s a simple way of saying they came from a respectable family with qualities that others admire. I learned the most about the stock I came from through antecdotes my mother told me. I wish I had listened more closely or asked more questions, but one thing I know for sure is that I came from good stock. I’m writing a series of stories centered around things my mother told me about her family as they navigated through hard times and good times.

The Sandersons: TL: Wayne, Mary, Ella and M. E. , BL: Loretta, Jeff (Melvin), and Helen. (Elna, who was the youngest by 6 years was not yet born.)

Uncle Wayne was one of my Murdo Uncles and the oldest in Grandma and Grandpa’s family.  It was said of him that during the tough US Depression and the Dirty ‘30’s he kept the family of eight alive and fed, working on the farm, trapping pesky birds and animals that plagued farm crops which  earned  money from the state and also working jobs on the side to help the family. During this time, he survived a rattlesnake bite. His dad, my grandpa, cut a slit near the bite and sucked the venom out. I don’t think they advise doing that anymore.

Wayne later started his own dirt moving business.

Wayne Sanderson’s first dirt moving equipment (1946) L. to R. is M.E. Sanderson, his sisters Tet and Melitha and M.E.’s wife, Mary

He bought a home and raised his own family while still living next door to his parents and helping others. He lost an eye as a young married man. I didn’t know him well but my Mom always spoke of him with great love and respect. He was my hero when I was about 8 and he bought me a black pair of cowgirl boots, the first pair I ever had. This happened during a summer Murdo trip we made from Pennsylvania. It was a highlight to my childhood.

Here I am with my Murdo cousins. I was so proud of the cowboy boots Uncle Wayne bought for me.

Next in age from the six SANDERSON kids, came my Mom, Ella.

The little boy in this picture is Wayne. Mary Sanderson is holding baby, Ella and M.E. is to her right. The older couple are Grandma’s parents who were visiting from Iowa.

She also worked hard and learned to cook from her sweet Mother, Mary Sanderson. She told many stories of growing up poor during tough times. She remembered being kicked into a barbed wire fence by a horse when young, crying when the family feared Wayne might die from the rattlesnake bite, being ill with pneumonia and missing so much school, she went back a grade to be with her younger brother Jeff. The two were close and were nicknamed Mutt and Jeff after a popular comic strip.  I learned how to make pies from my Mom and try to be kind and forgiving.

Mom often said not to discuss religion or how much money you have with other people. She didn’t know what it was like to go into town until later. The kids pretty much just stayed on the farm and each one had chores. During high school she worked as a babysitter, a cook and a maid to pay for boarding so she could stay in town. Later she worked at the family’s general store.


She always liked nice clothing and shoes.  She went to California to work in the aircraft industry during WWII. She was always slim and beautiful with a big smile.

At a family gathering in Pennsylvania. My parents are on the right and I’m sitting on the floor. I think I have the little boy’s toy and he has my doll.