By Kelsie Hoitomt
FOREST — Simple and extravagant are two words to describe exactly what Christmas was like growing up for Allen and Karen (Fox) Wienke.
The Wienke family lived a sweet, but very simple lifestyle on the family farm north of Forest and the Fox family had more luxuries living in Clear Lake.
“We were always too busy with chores and taking care of the animals to really celebrate Christmas,” said Allen. “We would come inside long enough to grab something to eat and then it was back outside again.”
Allen is one of four children to Erhart and Katherine Wienke. As for Karen, she was born to Kenneth and Helen Fox with one older sister and a younger sister and brother.
In the Fox household, there was a well decorated tree with lights and icicles on it and always presents underneath it.
Before presents could be opened, the Foxs ate their meal of oyster stew on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day it was occasionally lutefisk.
“Baking was a big deal,” said Karen. “My mother baked so many cookies and had them out for an open house at the old creamery that my dad used to manage.”
One thing that Allen and Karen did have in common in their childhood was Christmas programs at church and school.
Allen attended St. John’s Lutheran Church and Karen went to the First Lutheran Church in Clear Lake. Both remember reciting some type of poem or scripture while standing on the make-shift stage in front of their families.
Being a part of the Christmas programs at church is something that carried on into adulthood for Karen as she became a Sunday school teacher. The Fox family was also the musical entertainment at services as well.
One of Allen’s Christmas memories as a child came from a day at the old Woodland Grade School along side two of his friends, Edgar and Ray.
“We thought it was a good idea to go into the woods surrounding the school and find a great big tree for our classroom so Ray brought his horse that would drag this 10 foot tall tree. Well as Ray was pulling it, the horse spooked and took off, Ray fell to the ground, the tree hit him in the face on the way by,” laughed Allen. “So needless to say the tree was not salvageable, so we ended up going back and cutting down a smaller tree.”
Another memory that sticks out quite vividly for Allen happened while in the bathroom at school when he was about 10 years old.
“I had just got my first billfold for Christmas and inside of it was my first five dollar bill, which was a lot back then. I was standing in the bathroom and grabbed my wallet to admire this five dollar bill once more when I dropped everything,” said Allen.
Unfortunately for Allen, the billfold and money was long gone since what fell into the toilet went into a big hole, which was later flushed out into a sewer drain and never seen again.
Grade school brought a great deal of excitement and adventures in the winter months for both Allen and Karen.
There were several small ponds that surrounded the Woodland School and for Karen, the actual Clear Lake was a place within walking distance she could go to.
“My ankles just never seemed to let me ice skate, but there was a perfect hill next to the school that I would toboggan down,” shared Allen.
Aside from school, church and home, a special pastime for Karen was going shopping in the cities with her mother and siblings before Christmas Day. The day was always spent at Dayton’s with a possible trip to the Golden Rule.
To this day, Karen still makes the trip to Macy’s (Dayton’s) to visit the “8th Floor Auditorium” where the store comes to life with animated elves, snowmen, reindeer, etc.
“It was something I used to love to see as a girl and now its something I do with my own children and my grandchildren,” said Karen. “We’ve seen scenes from The Nutcracker, The 12 Days of Christmas and A Christmas Carol.”
Today, the holiday season is celebrated with their two children, Tim and Heather who have given Allen and Karen seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“Our grandchildren come over and decorate the tree for us and we make gingerbread and sugar cookies all in the same day,” shared Karen.
The tradition now days is to have the family spend Christmas Day together at Allen and Karen’s home on the farm in Forest and that is what is on the agenda for this year as well.