Visiting the Apps' home before Christmas is an experience

Jerry Apps
Jerry Apps' wife Ruth’s creativity comes bubbling forth, especially at Christmas time.

My mother-in-law, Ella Olson, was one of the most creative people I had ever met. She and my father-in-law, Otto Olson, lived on a farm west of Westby. She did all the work that farm women did, but she also found time to express her creativity. Especially at Christmas time. She had little Christmas displays all around their home.

My wife, Ruth, inherited a goodly measure of my mother-laws’ creativity. Our home is decorated for fall, for thanksgiving, for winter, for spring, for summer. But especially for Christmas. Ruth has a collection of snowmen, from tiny little ones to big stuffed ones that she displays.

“Because I can keep the snowmen displayed well after Christmas,” she says.

Ruth’s collection of Santas is also quite remarkable—from tiny little ones only an inch or so tall, to those able to sit up in a chair. And not to forget the Scandinavian gnomes. Some so homely they are cute. Daughter Sue and daughter-in-law, Natasha help arrange the displays.

Her most special collection are angels. She inherited these from her mother and she has added to the collection as the years go by. And the nativity scene collection is quite remarkable with wise men, angels and, of course, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus in a little straw manager.

The center piece of it all, is our home-grown Christmas tree, decorated with story-remembering ornaments. Our Christmas tree is really a history tree, as Ruth lists the events of the past year in a little book made from match boxes that are hung on the tree each year.

Visiting our home before Christmas is an experience. For the family, memories come flooding back as the kids (they are far from kids) and grandkids visit each of the displays and talk about them.

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: Ruth’s creativity comes bubbling forth, especially at Christmas time.

Jerry Apps

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work, go to