Paul grew up on a dairy farm in southeastern Wisconsin. He has three younger sisters and one younger brother.
Past Christmas Memories on the Farm
Past Christmas memories on the farm are very nostalgic now that I am older.
My sister Patty and I came from a family of five siblings. Beatrice is the second oldest, Philip the fourth oldest, and Connie the youngest. Except for Beatrice and me who were born in the city in the 1940s, Patty, Philip, and Connie were born and grew up on the farm in the 50s and 60s.
We had wonderful Christmases when growing up. In this article, Patty reflects on Christmases from 1960 until 1965 with a few memories from the author.
Remembering Ma and Dad at Christmas
As Patty so beautifully writes, "How can we forget Mama and Daddy! Both came from the Depression Era when there was not much money. They bought the farm and raised five kids with very little outside income. Daddy worked in a foundry and farmed during the day. Ma did the cooking, taking care of kids, helping with milking and other barn chores as well as baking with ingredients on hand. Nothing fancy just wholesome food. At Christmas, they would splurge on a bag of oranges, a bag of mixed nuts, and a box of assorted chocolates. Shopping included going to the Salvation Army or buying second-hand through the Hi-Liter newspaper. Still, the dolls and used toys were like gold to us. Those early years were the ones we remember and treasure the most. If we kids gave gifts to parents, it would be a bottle of perfume for Mama and maybe some aftershave or a flashlight for Daddy."
Our Christmas Tree
Every year our Christmas tree was placed in the living room.
These are Patty's memories of our Christmas tree. "Every year when I was young, Christmas was very special because the whole family would be there Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. We waited patiently and on Christmas Eve, Daddy would bring the tree in, set it up in the living room, and we would all put ornaments on it. The treasured glass-blown German ones were the best.
The living room was very cold in our old farmhouse. We only opened the doors when we put up the tree and decorated it for Christmas. For the rest of the winter, the two doors were closed.
One year, our old farm neighbors, the Luedke's came over around Easter and lamented that they had never seen our tree. Mama immediately opened the two doors and proclaimed, 'You can see it now.'"
Our Christmas Presents
We always exchanged gifts at Christmas and also received a package from our maternal grandma. Patty shares three funny stories as follows.
"Philip got a road race set one year for Christmas. It had two cars that raced around in figure 8 or oval. We all loved to play it and the two house cats were also involved. Little Blackie would lay next to the track and bat the car off the track from time to time."
"One year, Paulie bought me a little plastic Indian doll - no more than four to six inches tall - that had a lever that opened and closed her mouth. It was so appropriate for me because I had a habit of opening and closing my mouth when I was happy."
"Grandma's package always arrived before Christmas. It was filled with homemade cookies, frosted pretzels, and a pair of mittens for Bea, Connie, Philip, and me. She spent many hours knitting these which I am sure we never fully appreciated. One year she got Philip and Paulie mixed up and Philip in grade school received a pen and pencil set and Paulie in high school got a toy bus."
The Christmas of 1959
Patty recalled her first Christmas to me in this way. "Another year I remember is the one when I was five where Mama had bought me a doll from the Salvation Army and hidden it in the bathroom linen closet above the steps. Snoopy me! I found it and asked Mama about it. She was really mad. 'You're nothing but a snoop. Well, I'm not giving it to you.' She was true to her word and Melody Fiesbeck the daughter of one of Daddy's friends got the doll. I learned a valuable lesson. Do not look into things that are not your business. You could have a bank statement or checkbook in front of me now and I would never look at it. I learned the lesson well."
Christmas of 1960
Christmas of 1960 is one of my most memorable. Since I now had one younger brother and three younger sisters, ma hatched the idea that it would be nice if I could play Santa to my siblings. Actually, I had no choice because ma had already purchased a Santa Claus suit complete with a cap, boots, and whiskers.
On Christmas Eve, dad led me up to the top of the old horse barn where presents were hidden. I can still remember seeing a sled but cannot recall what was in the boxes that dad told me to put into a gunny sack.
As I opened the outside door and then walked into the dining room, I let out a boisterous "Ho, ho, ho," as I shook sleigh bells. My younger brother of almost four and youngest sister of 19 months who had just woken up were in awe as they sat next to the big register in the dining room. My oldest sister of 13 had a very big smile. Patty was not there but as she later told me,
"I heard such a commotion downstairs that I rose from my bed with visions of reindeer dancing in my little head. I crept halfway down the stairs and peeked below and there stood Santa. He was dressed in red from his head to his foot. I could take no more or this. I ran to his room and looked through the darkness but no Paulie! I'd have to tell him in the morning. I crept back to the stairs. I never dared go down to see the Great Giver of Gifts. I only watched the scene unfold like a movie with Santa pulling toys from his sack. Finally, I hurried back to bed very thrilled that I had seen him. Christmas morning, I ran downstairs and I said, 'Yes, I did see Santa. I tried to wake Paulie up but he wasn't in bed.' Daddy then said, 'Oh, Paulie went out to the brand to feed the reindeer.' This made perfect sense to me. My older brother thought to feed Santa's reindeer."
Christmas of 1962
Patty related to me an interesting story that probably happened during the Christmas of 1962. As Patty remembers, "Mama told us the old tale of on Christmas Eve the animals would talk at midnight. One Christmas, Connie wanted to see if the cows would really talk. We waited until a few minutes before midnight and then bundled up and walked in the chilly night with the snow crunching beneath our feet. The barn was warm with the breath of the cows. We walked around watching and waiting and no talking occurred among the cows. Disappointed, we hurried back to the house and the wonderful smell of the Christmas tree."
Christmas of 1963
Christmas of 1963 was one of our worst on the farm. Dad had lost his job at the foundry in Waukesha and my parents were both heavily in debt. Therefore, it shouldn't have been a surprise when dad told me about the cattle auction he was going to have on December 30. After we made a trip to Mukwonago, I saw the auction bill posted in a hardware store. Selling the cows was the only way ma and dad could pay off their creditors.
Patty who was ten years younger than me viewed the Christmas of that year as she later told me.
"When Patty was about nine, she and her other siblings were excited about all the presents they had hoped to get. Mama was sad because there was very little money to even buy a small gift for each child. We made all preparations for the big day - cleaning, baking, and getting the tree. I cannot remember what gifts we got that year. As days passed, mama got madder and madder. She had sold our very small flock of chickens to a neighbor who lived up the road. He was a shady character and my older sister and I didn't want to be near him. He took the chickens home before Christmas with a promise to pay mama for them soon. Finally, he came over in January with the money. Mama exploded in anger and shouted, 'I needed that money for Christmas. You ruined our Christmas."
Christmas of 1965
How can Patty forget the Christmas of 1965 as she recalled to me!
"I remember best the year 1965 when I had emergency appendix surgery and got out Burlington Hospital on Christmas Eve. My sister Bea was baking cookies and listening to the Beatles. It felt so good to be home after a week in the hospital. I think that year Daddy and Bea went across the creek and walked the horses - Shortcake and Lily - home through the town of Honey Creek because the creek had frozen and Daddy could no longer carry hay to the other side without getting wet. He would walk on the rocks at the crossing but it froze somewhat so it was slippery and unsafe. I believe we all got paint-by-number sets with oil paints. Beatrice had a scene to paint and I had a horse's head. We all loved our gifts."
One of the few things the author remembers is visiting Patty in the hospital and fainting. Patty knew I fainted because I saw her in a hospital bed, white as a ghost, with iv tubing in her arm. He also remembers doing a lot of college study during this Christmas vacation.
A Perfect Ending to Christmas Day
Connie remembers that Christmas Day ended with our family gathered in the living room (after central heating was put in around 1966) watching television. The Christmas tree cast a gentle glow. It would be "It's a Wonderful Life," followed by "The Bells of St. Mary's." Life was good.
© 2020 Paul Richard Kuehn