Christmases Past – Eileen Hoton: ‘My dad would decorate the tree Christmas Eve’

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX — After living in California for 30 years, Eileen Hoton, former co-owner of Hoton’s Bakery in Colfax, has returned.

Eileen and her late husband, Bob, operated Hoton’s Bakery in Colfax for about 20 years during the late 1950s, 1960s and much of the 1970s.

The Hotons took a job in Napa, California, at the Butter Cream Bakery when the building in Colfax was torn down and there was no place else in town to put the bakery.

Bob Hoton passed away nearly 20 years ago at the age 74.

Eileen, who is 90 years old and a resident at Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center, recalls that her dad always decorated the Christmas tree on Christmas Eve.

Eileen grew up in Altoona.

“We’d all go to bed on Christmas Eve. My dad would decorate the tree at night. He’d be real quiet about it. And when we’d wake up in the morning, there would be our tree — and presents. They’d buy something for each of us, or make something for us if they didn’t have the money. But they’d always make sure there was something under the tree. My dad could make anything. He’d make toys for all the boys,” she said.

Eileen also recalls Christmas programs.

“We always had programs (at school and church) to see what you could do. There were a lot of talented kids. Even when they’re poor and don’t have much, it’s amazing what they can do. You just make up your mind and do it,” Eileen said.

Eileen also recalls an incident involving a carp when she was growing up.

“We always walked down to the river. That was a long ways. And one time the kids came back with a carp. It was a big carp. They laid it on the ground and said, ‘Dad, we’re going to have fish.’ And he looked at it and said — ‘bury it.’ I can remember the looks on their faces. They’d carried it all that way, and he said, ‘bury it.’ We thought that was terrible. But he wasn’t going to cook a carp,” she said.

“There’s a lot of things that happen that will stand out. One of my brothers was a stinker. He liked to throw rocks. I remember one time, I don’t know what I did, but when I was outdoors, I had to keep ducking behind trees because he was throwing rocks at me. It took my grandmother to come out there and get him so he’d stop throwing rocks,” Eileen recalled.

Eileen Hoton’s maiden name was Willman, and she was named Eileen Matilda after her Grandmother Matilda.

“When the house was getting crowded (with more children) I went over to live with my grandmother. I can remember walking on paths where the snow was so deep, I couldn’t see over the snow. I was really close to my grandmother,” Eileen said.

Children

Bob and Eileen Hoton have five children.

Their daughter, Judy Pippenger, lives in Colfax, and she is delighted that her mother has returned.

“I remember when we lived in Eau Claire and went to a country school for two years. They’d put up a stage, and we’d put on a program at Christmas,” Pippenger recalled.

At that time, Eileen worked nights at Sacred Heart from three to eleven.

“Dad would make supper for us. Then he’d get up early in the morning and go to work at 3 a.m.,” Pippenger said.

“At one time, I think he worked for every bakery in Eau Claire,” Eileen said.

“We lived out in the country, and the kids were going to a country school. The previous bakery owner (in Colfax) was retiring and wanted to know if we would buy it,” Eileen continued.

The Hoton family moved to Colfax in 1956, and all of the children graduated from Colfax High School.

“We were here for the tornado. That was a whopper,” Eileen said.

“(Bob Hoton) was always a baker. His dad was a baker. They came from Hayward. It was a three-generation (occupation),” she said.

Bob Hoton was the first one drafted for World War II from Eau Claire who had children, Judy noted.

Judy has a brother and sister who are older than she and a brother and sister who are younger.

“(Eileen’s family) all went out to Portland and worked during the war. Mother worked in the shipyards while Dad was in the service. Her mother and father worked in the shipyards too,” Judy said.

Christmas candy

“Christmas was always a lot of fun because Dad made a lot of candy. He made coconut brittle. Peanut brittle. Almond bark. He had a famous Julekage. And a Stollen. And sandbakkels and rosettes. He was a good cook, too. He cooked and baked in the service,” Judy said.

“Bob was so good at the Christmas baking. All the cakes. And the candy,” Eileen Hoton said.

“All five of us worked in the shop at one time or another. I was the one who stayed the longest. I was 23 when I left and got married,” Judy said.

Wedding cakes

It was after Bob and Eileen bought the bakery in Colfax that Eileen learned how to decorate wedding cakes.

“I don’t think there was a church around here that we didn’t deliver wedding cakes,” Judy said.

Eileen Hoton said she had never taken any kind of classes to learn how to decorate wedding cakes. Her husband showed her how to pipe icing — and that was it. Eileen used her talent and artistic ability to make a variety of wedding cakes.

“He baked the cakes, and I decorated them,” Eileen said, noting that wedding cakes were her specialty after they moved to California and started working at the Butter Cream Bakery.

Eileen has a ring binder full of cake pictures.

It was a case of being “in right place at the right time” that brought Bob and Eileen out to California.

“Dad stopped at the Last Chance bar in Eau Claire. (The bar owner’s) sister was looking for a baker. They owned the Butter Cream Bakery in California. They called Mom and Dad and then came here to visit my folks and then found a place for them to live. That was really a nice bakery. You had to take a number (to be waited on),” Judy said.

Bowling

At the time Hoton’s Bakery operated in Colfax, the business also sponsored a bowling team in Menomonie.

Recently a logo that had been used on the bowling shirts surfaced, and it is now on display in Eileen’s room at Colfax Health and Rehab.

Deliveries

Hoton’s Bakery delivered baked goods to a variety of customers.

“I remember winter when we had the bakery in Colfax. We’d bake for the school in Elk Mound. And then we’d have to deliver in the snow. I remember the time I went in the ditch. I had to wait for a truck to come to get me out. That was quite a ways to have to go in the snow,” Eileen said.

“They delivered to Elk Mound. To Colfax (schools). To the nursing home. The Whitetail. Deepwood used to take a lot of baking too. The only way they could get it was for her to deliver it. She used to take bread and buns. Peanut squares too. It was angel food cake frosted all the way around and rolled in crushed peanuts. They took those a lot at Colfax. I remember working on those for hours,” Judy said.

Many former bakery customers — as well as friends and neighbors — have stopped in to see Eileen since she has been at Colfax Health and Rehab, Judy noted.

Not the same

“That’s what I missed when they left (for California) — everybody being home and being together for Christmas. My two daughters always looked forward to Christmas because (Eileen) made things for them. One Christmas she made a lamp that was a nightlight. She made Santa Clauses. She made soldiers. One year she made embroidered dishtowels (for all the grandchildren). She’s made Christmas ornaments, too,” Judy said.

“They’d rather have something she made than money or something we bought. She’d get done with one Christmas project, and then she’d start on the next one right away. She would sit down with my younger sister and they’d decide what the next project should be. My sister helped her, but she did most of it herself,” Judy continued.

Eileen says she has always enjoyed making things — whether it’s baking or decorating cakes or working on a craft project or making dolls.

The dolls have been particularly popular with Eileen’s children and grandchildren.

To make the dolls, Eileen even poured the porcelain herself. When the porcelain was set, Eileen would paint the faces and would attach the moveable arms and legs. Then she would make clothing for the dolls.

Eileen began making the dolls when she lived in California.

“She used to make all of our clothes for school, too,” Judy noted.

“The porcelain would look like milk when we were ready to pour it. It’s good porcelain. It’s heavy,” Eileen said.

“When they were done in the kiln, you had to paint them, their faces, and put on hair and make clothes for them and attach the arms and legs,” she explained.

Judy has four of the dolls. All of the granddaughters have Eileen’s dolls too — and of course, Eileen has kept some of the dolls for herself.

“I never really thought anything of it. When I wanted to make something, I would figure out to do it, and I would make it,” Eileen said.