At home with Lawrence Welk
by Jim Liston
Lawrence Welk sat at the organ in his paneled study and let his fingers wander over the keys.
“It’s a nice way to relax,” he said. He drifted into “White Christmas.”
“‘White Christmas.’ That’s something you had plenty of in North Dakota. What are your Christmases like in California?”
“A lot warmer!” he laughed, switching off the organ. “One of the nice things about my life here is that I have more time with my family. Nearly every Christmas in the old days, the band would have an engagement away from home and I couldn’t be with the family. Now we’re all together. We start the day by going to church and then we have Jerry Burke, our organist, over for dinner because he’s a bachelor and doesn’t have any relatives out here. And if there are any new band members who aren’t married and are away from home, we ask them to join us because Christmas is a family celebration. My daughter Shirley and her husband bring their children, and the Lennon family drops in. We really have a lively time of it, singing, dancing, and talking.”
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“What was Christmas like in North Dakota?”
“Well, it can get pretty cold there — 30 and 40 below. We never had to worry about a white Christmas — snow drifted above the windows. We heated the house with coal and wood stoves, but we were snug and warm..
“The real celebration of Christmas was at church. We often had to shovel a path from the house to the barn to get the horses hitched. It was three miles to Strasburg, so we’d heat rocks on the stove and put them in the sleigh to keep our feet warm. It wasn’t easy getting through the drifts and sometimes it snowed so hard we could hardly see. But we went every Sunday — my folks never thought weather was an excuse for missing Mass.
“There were all kinds of cakes and cookies at Christmas. There were get-togethers with other families in the neighborhood. My father would play his accordion and everybody danced and sang. I guess that’s why I love music; I really like to see people having a good time.”