By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — For Eunice Freeberg, when the lefse sign appeared in the yard when she was growing up, that meant Christmas would soon be here.
Eunice,whose maiden name was Lee, grew up on a farm in the Ridgeland/Highway 64 area one-and-three-quarters miles from Plainview School and graduated from Colfax High School in 1950.
She married Daniel Freeberg in August of 1953 at the Hay River Lutheran Church. Dan passed away in November of 2010.
“I can remember that I hated to see that lefse sign go up in the yard because I knew it was so much work for (my mother). She would spend all day at it. Dad would help. He would peel the potatoes. He was a big help in the kitchen. He couldn’t do much outside,” Eunice said.
“They grew some of the potatoes, but not enough to make all of the lefse she baked. She’d get orders ahead of time, and she’d have to get them ready. She’d have them stacked, and then we’d brush them to get the flour off,” she recalled.
When Eunice was a growing up, her dad had built a new barn.
“He had just gotten done with it, and he was up in hay mow, and he fell down through the hay chute. I can remember that so clearly. I remember when they carried Dad in the house. He broke his hip. He was never the same after that. He had hip problems all the time. Nowadays they would do surgery right away. But they didn’t have all of that. No physical therapy. He had a barn full of hay, and it was a long way down,” she said.
Baking vast quantities of lefse was a family effort.
“Dad helped my mother roll it out. It was teamwork. She would get orders. Then she had breast surgery. I thought that would be the end of her baking. But she had good luck. Her arms didn’t swell like they do for a lot of women. I wonder if it was because she used her arms so much?” Eunice said.
“Finally Dad rigged up a gas burner so she could bake two at one time. Then she was really in business,” she said.
“They had a little area off the kitchen, and they finally made that into a ‘lefse room’ so she could get it mixed up. A lot of the mess stayed in that little room. You get a lot of flour around when you bake lefse. It’s kind of messy,” Eunice said, but she could not recall how much her mother sold the lefse for — just that she sold quite a lot of it.
“We had a nice place in the country. We had an ice skating rink across the road. The neighbors would get together, and we’d have a good time,” she said.
“Mother made rosettes and fattigman, too. And sandbakkels. Several different kinds of cookies. And fruitcake. I’m still the one who likes fruitcake. The rest don’t seem to care much about it. We would store the (Christmas baking) out on the porch where it was cool. We never lacked for anything. I can’t say we ever went hungry,” Eunice said.
“In those days, we had Christmas programs, picnics, different get-togethers. It was different than it is now,” Eunice said.
“The Christmas programs were a big deal (in the one room schools). You had your best dress to wear. And you really had a good time,”she recalled.
“I remember once I had to try to sing ‘White Christmas’ by myself as a solo. I am not a soloist. But all the parents worked together. They all worked so well together in those days. I remember my dad would take us to school. They were all such a part of the school. My dad was on the school board for a while,” Eunice said.
“We usually had new Christmas dresses. My mother made a lot of our clothes. We always got our bag of candy after the program. Christmas was quite a deal,” she said, adding, “We started practicing pretty early in school for the Christmas program. Before Thanksgiving. We had a one-room school, and it would be packed.”
“We opened our presents on Christmas Eve. It was the old tradition. We would go to church on Christmas morning. Church was one thing we always had to do. We always went. There was no question about that,” Eunice said.
“At home, we didn’t get the gifts that the kids get nowadays. It was all more inexpensive gifts. But we were satisfied. We always had a nice Christmas,” she said.
Eunice has one sister, Elaine Amble, and she also had a foster brother.
“My folks took in a welfare kid. So it was just me and my sister and him. We got him when he was three. He lived with us until he grew up. Then he joined the Air Force. He passed away last winter. He was like a brother to us,” she said.
At around the time her foster brother arrived, Eunice was away from home for a little while.
“He didn’t know who I was. He wasn’t quite sure that I belonged there,” Eunice recalled with a smile.
“My mother had patience. After Dad broke his hip, I used to ride with the pastor to Confirmation class, and he would mention how much work he thought it all was for my mother … she was a hard worker,” she said.
“Grandma Ralstad lived right across the marsh from where we lived. We used to get together sometimes. Grandma Ralstad would always talk Norwegian when she came over. I don’t know if it was just because us kids were there or if she would have otherwise, too. I remember my mother talking back and forth with Grandma Ralstad. People visited a lot back then,” Eunice said.
“I remember the neighbors we would have over. Sunday afternoons was an open house. Now it’s not like that at all,” she said.
Eunice recalls that she and her sister would milk the cows and that they had 13 or 14 cows.
“Lots of times, me and my sister would do the milking alone,” she said.
“We’d put the milk cans in cold water to keep the milk cold. You had to make do with what you had. But we never lacked anything,” Eunice said.
“Mother sewed a lot. She made clothes, and she made quilts.”
Eunice also learned to sew and carried on the tradition from her mother.
“I’m going to start a quilt for my granddaughter soon,” she noted.
“I remember, too, that we would put leaves in the table so the table was longer. We’d have threshers come. Anytime we had a crew, we’d have to have the leaves put in the table. Lots of hard work. But lots of good times too. The thresher dinners were big dinners. They always put out everything they had for that. They knew the threshers worked hard,” Eunice said.
“I remember helping to unload hay wagons too,” she said.
“And my mother wove rugs. She did that for years. Mother also put a sign up on the yard that she wove rugs,” Eunice said.
Any item that was fabric, after it had outlived its useful life as a garment or a bedspread, it was torn into strips, sewn together and wound up into balls to make rugs, she noted.
“Nothing ever went to waste. It ended up in a ball for rugs. And they wore so well. You could use them for a long time before they wore out,” Eunice said.
Eunice worked in purchasing at UW-Stout for about 15 years. Before that, she worked in the village clerk’s office in Colfax and at the school district.
Dan worked at the Colfax Farmers Store, for Roberts Wholesale in Eau Claire, and also owned and operated Dan’s Radio and TV in Colfax.
Dan graduated from Colfax High School in 1950. After graduation, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. and served in Korea.