I could hear the howling of the wind as it blew so hard that no one could see the barn from the house. The below zero temperatures made it almost impossible for Mother to keep the woodstove filled with wood to heat the house. I remember being wrapped in a cozy quilt while sitting close to the heat. Little did I know that this would be the last winter our family would spend in South Dakota.
We lived about 30 miles from Springfield and 20 from Avon and our church was out in the middle of nowhere. The church was always difficult to heat and the roads impassable during the winter months, so it was closed during that time.
I did not attend Sunday School during the winter months and didn’t learn the Christmas carols that most children did. There never was a Christmas program during the Christmas season, and I really don’t recall presents or any mention of Santa Claus. My parents were struggling just to survive and to raise a family, so there was no mention of Santa Claus or presents at our home.
In the spring of 1939, Dad again planted barley and corn and Mother optimistically planted a huge vegetable garden with the hope that there would be a bountiful harvest after several years of few crops. The clouds held no rain but rather dust and dirt blown by the wind. Later the grasshoppers arrived. Dad did not get an ear of corn and the grasshoppers ate all the vegetables in the garden.
That summer, Dad and his best friend, Ernie Gretchmann journeyed to Wisconsin where each rented a farm.
On October 1, 1939, I said goodbye to my schoolmates. I watched as the livestock, machinery, furniture, and all our belongings were loaded onto a freight train in Avon, South Dakota. Three days later I stood on the street at Darien, Wisconsin, and watched the cattle exit the freight train. They were filled with excitement and went running and jumping wildly down the main street. They were happy to be free. Soon they were herded down the road to the newly rented farm.
Dad took me to school the following Monday morning, and I met my teacher, Mrs. Giese. She introduced me to the other children. Surprise, I was the only student enrolled in second grade.
After the introductions, Mrs. Giese sat down at the piano and asked, “What shall we sing this morning?” The students had favorite songs, and they all sang with such joy and enthusiasm that I was overwhelmed. We never sang in my previous school and this was exciting and amazing. Each morning we sang songs from the well-worn, battered old copies of “The Golden Book of Favorite Songs.”
Shortly after Thanksgiving, Mrs. Giese announced that everyone would be participating in the Christmas program on the evening of the last day right before Christmas vacation. She announced, “we will make invitations for you to take home to your parents. We will sing Christmas songs, do some skits and have a traditional Manger scene.”
One of the older boys yelled out, “I get to be Joseph!” Another yelled, “You were Joseph last year, it’s my turn!” I was confused, I had no idea who Joseph was, but I soon found out.
A week before the Christmas program I arrived at school and saw a wire strung from wall to wall. Heavy drapes were hung on the wires and they touched the floor. A platform had been built for the students to stand on while performing. Being a shy country girl who had never been involved in this type of activity before, I was curious and excited.
Students asked if Santa Claus was coming. Mrs. Giese replied that, “he might, if you are all good.” Someone next to me whispered, “He always brings presents.” I was anxious to meet this Santa Claus.
The school was packed that evening with many people. Later in the evening Santa arrived with sleigh bells ringing and presents for the students. Each student got a brown bag with an apple, peanuts in the shell and colorful hard Christmas candy. Oh, what a treat!
On that very first Christmas in Wisconsin we had a decorated Christmas tree in the house that Father had cut from our own 10-acre woodlot. Mother decorated it with tinsel and candies. On Christmas morning there were presents for my brother and for me under the tree. Yes, even Santa Claus had found were I lived.