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Published December 24, 2013, 04:36 PM

Marilyn Hagerty's column becomes annual reminder of Christmas past

It was a Friday about 40 years ago when the features editor at the Herald sat down to write her usual column. Christmas was coming and so was her deadline. “I was rushing around getting ready for Christmas,” Marilyn Hagerty said recently. “I would whip that off.”

By: Tu-Uyen Tran, Grand Forks Herald

It was a Friday about 40 years ago when the features editor at the Herald sat down to write her usual column.

Christmas was coming and so was her deadline.

“I was rushing around getting ready for Christmas,” Marilyn Hagerty said recently. “I would whip that off.”

Then she had second thoughts, she said, wondering if it was good enough. “I thought I can’t print that, that’s too personal.”

But it was too late to write a new column.

The Herald has run this same column every Christmas Eve since then, as demanded by readers.

Hagerty said even in July when people see her they’ll ask if the column will run this year. She said many more ask about it around Christmas time.

“It was one of the best received things I feel I’ve ever written for the Herald,” she said.

The column is about memories of the Christmas that she shared with her family when she was a child in Pierre, S.D. It was the Great Depression and, like many first-generation immigrants, her Danish parents were impoverished. There’s a brief mention in her column about that, which younger readers may not realize.

The shaving brush that she and her siblings got their dad was made in Japan. That meant “it was really cheap,” she said, but her dad liked it anyway.

But the theme of family, childhood and home still strikes a chord with a nostalgic public. “I think it just stirs the memory. On Christmas Eve your thoughts go back to your mom and your dad and your house.”

Those that ask about the columns are often people with their own families, she said.

“I think that night becomes more precious to them when they see their children dress up like Mary in the church pageant,” she said. “It’s just kind of a precious, holy night.”

It’s a precious, holy night to her as well, filled with both fond memories and sad ones.

“When my husband died, the first Christmas night I thought they’re going to sing ‘Silent Night’ and he won’t be there,” she said, of former Herald editor Jack Hagerty’s death in 1997. “To me there’s something just magical about Christmas Eve and the singing of ‘Silent Night’ and the stars and the people.”

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