Riding in The Back Seat: Christmas and Other Small Town Memories


St. Olaf Lutheran Church

This time of year when I am Christmas shopping I often think of a favorite childhood holiday candy. Growing up in the small town of Devils Lake, ND, our family belonged to St. Olaf Lutheran Church. We participated in the Sunday School Christmas program and after the program was finished we gathered in the church basement and were given small brown paper bags of Christmas candy to take home. All bundled up in our coats and boots and hats, I remember clutching my bag in my mittened hands and walking out into the frigid night air and snow and icy streets.  During the short ride home, sitting with my sister Julie in the back seat I would open up the bag and look for my favorite candy, which, if I remember right, was bell shaped with chocolate on the outside and medium soft white minty stuff on the inside. I don’t remember what they were called, but.I always keep an eye open for them during the holidays to no avail.

Riding in the back seat in the dark winter night after the Christmas program with my bag of candy is just one of many fond car riding memories I have from growing up in Devils Lake. Before my younger brothers came along, it was just the four of us riding in the car from places like church. We always sat in the same spots. My parents in the front – Dad driving, Mom in the passenger seat – and my sister Julie and I in the back – Julie behind my Dad and me behind my Mom.


We had a number of different cars growing up, including one similar to this – a blue Pontiac although outs was a four-door.

We would go for drives on summer nights and on the weekends – my Mom sometimes admonishing my Dad for driving too fast – around our small town and and in the neighboring countryside, including the nearby lakes. Almost every Sunday we would drive to my maternal grandparents house for afternoon dinner (aka known as lunch in some parts with dinner being supper), in nearby teeny, tiny Oberon, where we had a choice of taking two routes, one being around a park called Sullys Hill, a national game preserve that was home to a herd of buffaloes. During much of the year it was often dark when we drove back and from the safety of the back seat I liked looking at the black sky and twinkling stars and the occasional appearance of the Northern Lights. No electronic toys or in vehicle movies meant you concentrated on the outdoors and the people surrounding you. Although my Dad did enjoy listening to Johnny Cash when we drove to Manitoba, Canada, for summer drive-in-speakerscamping trips. Even as a young kid I enjoyed the Cash tunes as we crossed the U.S. border into Canada. Summer also meant going to outdoor drive-in movie theater, Julie and I often in our summer PJs in the backseat, eating popcorn and watching our Dad hook up the speaker on our car window..Some summer suppers were enjoyed at one of several drive-in restaurants, where after eating our burgers and fries I would silently say a prayer in the back seat that we would also make a visit to the local Dairy Queen for an ice cream cone of a Dilly bar.


The Barrel drive-in restaurant in Devils Lake, N.D. I worked there as a car-hop in my teens.

Looking back that back seat felt so safe and comfortable and, well, like home, and it’s now  associated with an abundance of fond memories. It’s where I didn’t have a care in the world. My job, my role was so simple then. Just get in the back seat, always the same place. No decisions to make. Everything was taken care of, and the good times rolled.



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