For 92-year-old Shirley Kistner, the secret to longevity is Oil of Olay, Vikings football and sequined Santa stockings.
Despite having a social calendar that’s busier than most millennials’ and a salon regimen that rivals any beauty queen, Kistner still manages to sew a one-of-a-kind Christmas stocking for each new member of her family — more than 100 to date.
For 37 years, Kistner has individually stitched and decorated felt stockings, one for each of her six children and their spouses, her 29 grandchildren, her “thirty-something” great-grandkids and one great-great grandson. She’s even made a few extras.
Each felt stocking has an array of beads, sparkly sequins and whimsical trinkets. They are emblazoned with traditional Santas, sleds and Christmas trees. First names are ornately scribed at the top.
Kistner usually starts making the stockings at the start of the Vikings’ season and works on them as she watches games.
“The more we’re losing, the faster my fingers work,” she said.
With the Vikings posting a winning record, Kistner has spent more time cheering on Teddy Bridgewater than sewing the finishing touches onto Santa’s beard. Now she’s under the gun to complete a stocking for the newest baby girl in the family by Christmas Day.
“I’ve been sewing sequins like mad. Usually I’m not rushed like this,” she said. “I’m about to swear, but nobody would hear me anyway, so I’m laughing about it.”
In 1977, Kistner bought her first kit from a craft store in Texas to make stockings for her grandkids.
Grandson Chris Perkins received one of the first stockings, but it was damaged by water when the family’s basement flooded. Kistner made him a new one.
Perkins reluctantly admitted to his grandma recently that he also lost his three sons’ stockings — the result of a breakup with their mother 10 years ago.
“I was so afraid to tell her,” Perkins said. “She puts so much work into them.”
Upon learning this news, Kistner vowed to complete new stockings for each of the sons. These will be kept safe. Perkins said he plans to get a fireproof, waterproof lockbox to store them.
“They mean so much to everyone,” he said.
No stocking the same
These days, Kistner orders Bucilla brand felt applique stocking kits — “$19.95 each if you buy two” — from Herrschners, a Wisconsin craft company. The kits generally specify 100 steps or more, but Kistner never follows the directions exactly and has never made the same stocking twice.
“Sometimes there’s too much going on, like too many candy canes,” she said. “If Santa Claus has an empty bag, I’ll add a toy or whatever.”
Kistner said she plans to make stockings as long as there are new members in the family — or as long as her hands let her.
“I’m slowing down and not able to work as fast as I used to, so that upsets me,” she said. “I have trouble threading a needle now because of my eyes.”
The intricate sequins and beads and the slippery cotton floss are a challenge for Kistner. She battles macular degeneration, which causes blurred or reduced vision.
Despite these challenges, “Shirley doesn’t slow down,” said her daughter-in-law Jody Kolars.
Born and raised in Hopkins, Kistner now lives in an assisted-living apartment in Minnetonka. She keeps a busy schedule of lunch dates, hair and nail appointments and shopping at Macy’s.
“My car just automatically goes to Ridgedale,” she said. ‘I can’t take my money with me, so I might as well spend it.”
Kistner gets her hair washed and set twice a week and her nails polished twice a month. Sometimes she adds nail art like flowers and gems “just for fun.”
Her secret for great skin?
“I use a lot of Oil of Olay,” she said. “I’m bathed in Oil of Olay.”
Kistner said one of her favorite things to do is to go out to eat with one of her kids or grandkids, then stop for pulltabs and her drink of choice: a gin and tonic with two olives and a lime.
Her Christmas wish
To laugh and sing are other secrets to a good life, Kistner said.
“I wake up singing in the morning, because I’m 92 and I’m just living on borrowed time,” she said.
At a recent Christmas party, Kistner had a good laugh when her name was announced by the emcee as someone who’d died this year.
“I got more hugs from people after who said, ‘I’m so glad you’re still here,’ ” she said.
Though it wasn’t funny at the time, Kistner also laughs about the time she almost got arrested at a Vikings game.
As a 25-year season-ticket holder with seats in the end zone, Kistner said her view of the game was obstructed by a couple of women who wanted to see Ragnar, the Vikings mascot.
“I tapped them on the shoulder and asked them to go back to their seats so I could see the game,” Kistner said. “Next thing I know, two police officers told me I was arrested for third-degree assault and they hauled me out.”
After police interviewed Kistner, the charges were dropped and they told her she could go back to her seat. But Kistner was too mortified and couldn’t muster the courage to see a game for several weeks.
When she finally returned to a game, the other fans seated in her section had given Kistner the nickname “Ma Barker,” after the famous gangster.
While Kistner plans to burn the midnight oil to complete this year’s stockings, she claims there’s nothing she wants or needs in her stocking this Christmas.
Nothing, of course, except for a winning Vikings team — or at the very least, a chance to see them play again.
“I pray every night,” Kistner said. “Good Lord let me live long enough to get to the first Vikings game in the new stadium.”