Monday, December 5, 2011

Stealing Christmas

This is the fourth in a series of posts written by my brother, Tom, in celebration of Christmas.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Christmas Dinner
Great-Grandpa, August Vonderheide, is at the head of the table.
Christmas Eve was always celebrated at my grandparents' house. They were rich, so we thought. We didn't realize that after a lifetime of raising children through the depression and the war, they were really "empty nesters" and for the first time in their lives they actually had some disposable income. My grandparents had 25 grandchildren who all arrived within the space of about 12 years. So when you added in parents and a few guests, about 40 of us would sit down to a Christmas banquet all at one long table in their finished basement. Grandpa sat at one end and Grandma at the other.

Grandpa's Sleigh
Grandpa was a lifetime subscriber to Popular Mechanics and his hobby was building stuff in his expansive workshop. Everything that Grandpa built was big, heavy-duty and slightly ahead of it's time.  By the time I was 10, Grandpa had built an outdoor Chirstmas display that was life-size and clearly over the top. The older cousins with our Dads would arrive on site just after Thanksgiving to begin unpacking and assembling the displays that filled most of the front and side yard of their corner lot. Music was piped outdoors from the elaborate stereo phonograph player inside the house, and visitors could view illuminated displays of Charles Dickens era carolers to Santa's sleigh and reindeer packed with presents to the manger scene under a full-sized stable.

The grandchildren in Grandpa's Manger
One day someone stole that baby Jesus right out of his crib ten days before Christmas! Not one to be outsmarted, Grandpa went to work and constructed a pressure-sensitive alarm linked to the floor boards of the stable around the crib. The alarm was then wired to the outdoor speakers, Popular Mechanics to the rescue once again. Anyone who would set foot within the stable would activate the alarm and be quickly caught. I am sure Grandpa went to sleep that night with the smug satisfaction that the new baby Jesus was well-protected.

In a simpler time before car alarms and home security sirens, in the soft quiet of a snowy December night, I am sure the neighborhood for several blocks in all directions awoke with a start when the wet and drifting snow piled into the stable and activated the loud speaker sirens at 3:00 AM.  Suffice it to say that even the fire department responded.

My grandparents have long passed, but their 25 grandchildren all live with families and traditions of their own.  We are all grateful for the fond Christmas memories and the love that they showed each one of us.  One of my favorite memories will always be Grandpa's determination to keep Christ in Christmas.


  1. wow! 25 grandkids!! That is an amazing long table.

  2. Patty Scardina VolzDecember 5, 2011 at 11:24 AM

    WOW what impresses me more than you will ever know is being at ONE TABLE !!!! Ask Fred Breving why.....if you all are curious....b/c of never making it to the "big" table to this day I try to have as many people at one table as possible! since our house was over 200 yrs old, had it not been set with a Fireplace in the way my Formal Living Room (waste) would have been another 17 ft more added to make my now 27 ft dining room a DINING HALL !!!! Oh well ! p.s. It didn't even help to "KNOW" the builder ! lol !

  3. Another great holiday story! Love em all! :-)))

  4. What a blessing to come from such a large family with such great traditions! Liz V.

  5. Love this series. The photos are among my favorites. Thanks for sharing.

  6. What a beautiful story. You are blessed to have relatives with such wonderful memories and stories.

    Hope you and your family have a Blessed Christmas
    Betty Arnett

  7. Smart man! And funny. The snow setting the alarm off. I'm sure people laughed about it later. What great memories to have and what talent!

  8. Great Story and pictures. Which one was you?


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