by April Scheinoha
Moving can be tough, especially if one is leaving behind everything one has ever known. Such was the case for Marlys Stenberg in 1962, when she, her husband and two children moved to International Falls.
Sometimes, though, fate intervenes. Within a year of moving, the Stenberg family met the Ronnie and Sandra Anderson family. Like Elmer and Marlys, the latter couple also had connections to the Grygla and Thief River Falls area.
“Soon, family game nights, ice fishing expeditions, outings to the county fair and frequent drop-bys with bags of Sandra’s mouth-watering homemade fried cake donuts were regular occurrences. A lifelong friendship was forged between our families,” wrote Elmer and Marlys’ daughter, Sandra Birdsall, in an email to The Times.
That friendship has extended to other members of Marlys’ family. Birdsall soon realized the extent of that friendship. In 1980, she and her husband, Brent, welcomed baby Stephanie, the first Stenberg grandchild. “Soon after Stephanie’s birth, a large package arrived, containing a lovely handmade crocheted blanket and a personalized knitted stocking, compliments of the nimble fingers and creative talents of Sandra Anderson,” wrote Birdsall. “Shortly thereafter, Sandra decided that my parents needed Grandpa and Grandma stockings, as did my husband and I, my brother, and his new bride.”
Two years later, Birdsall’s daughter Amy was born in Sierra Leone, West Africa. A blanket and personalized stocking arrived via Elmer and Marlys, who visited Sierra Leone in time for Christmas.
Two more children joined Birdsall’s family. “Once again, special shipping arrangements were arranged to send the personalized items with Grandpa and Grandma for another Christmas celebrated in West Africa,” Birdsall wrote.
Soon, Birdsall’s brother, John Stenberg, added to the number of Stenberg grandkids. “Stockings and blankets for John’s four children were promptly designed and created between 1989 and 2000,” wrote Birdsall. “For a number of years, we celebrated Christmas with the entire extended family at the Big Falls hunting shack, with Sandra’s stockings hanging festively from the antlers of assorted bucks harvested from the surrounding forests.”
The children grew, and more people joined the Stenberg clan. “To our amazement, each new son- and daughter-in-law was presented with a personalized stocking created by Sandra,” wrote Birdsall. “It came to be an anticipated thrill, each in-law secretly waiting for the box to arrive, containing proof of their official induction into the Stenberg Christmas Stocking Hall of Fame. His/her name would now be proudly displayed through the ages with all the rest, hanging in a colorful parade down the mantle.”
In October, John’s family added a daughter-in-law, Kaitlynn. She already has her stocking.
Sometimes after sons- and daughters-in-law arrive, babies arrive. “Sandra’s increasingly arthritic fingers have continued to furiously crank out blankets and stockings for each of our eight grandchildren who have arrived the past five years,” Birdsall wrote.
Marlys, her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren appreciate the gifts crafted with love by their friend. “All in all, Sandra has so far knitted 27 personalized stockings and crocheted 16 baby blankets for our extended family. Because our children are scattered, our grandchildren have not even met Sandra personally; yet, she keeps giving and giving, knitting and crocheting …and mailing and mailing,” Birdsall wrote.
Sandra, who is divorced, has now returned to Thief River Falls to be closer to her siblings. Her friend Marlys now lives in Monticello. Elmer passed away in October.
The Stenberg clan has happy memories of their time with the Anderson clan in International Falls, and Birdsall noted that Sandra’s gifts to the family will live on for generations.
“Sandra, we hope you’ll be pleasantly surprised by this article and our public words of effusive thanks,” wrote Birdsall. “However, please be forewarned: We have an Alaskan grandbaby due in May!”
There is also another surprise in store for Sandra – if she hasn’t already received it.