Memories of Christmas shared by Jim and Evelyn Pickerign

By Kelsie Hoitomt

WILSON — Nestled on the hill side in their old farm house just outside of Wilson is Jim and Evelyn Pickerign.

This time of year, people who drive by or stop in to visit will be greeted by a display of Christmas lights with Santa and his reindeer and an inflated snowman.

 There is no shortage of Christmas cheer in the Pickerign house as there have always been decorations strung outside with extension cords zig-zagging everywhere.

Inside is no different with lighted trees, strings of lights hanging around the windows and various Christmas themed knick knacks displayed in every room.

Christmas in the 1930’s was quite different however. Jim was born in 1934 in Elmwood, where his mother delivered him inside their home along with the help of a local doctor.

There were 12 children in the Pickerign family with Jim falling in the middle.

He spent a good ten years of his life in the Buttermilk Coulee valley around the Elmwood/Eau Galle area.

Jim was treated real special by one of his teachers, Bessy Trainor and her husband George. They never had children so they would take him to the cities and buy him bibs.

That was one gift Jim remembers from his early childhood otherwise his family did not celebrate the holidays much until they moved to Wheeler in the early 1940’s.

It was then that  Jim really remembers Christmas being celebrated.

It was there that the home was decorated with “daisy chains” that hung from the ceiling and connected at the top of the tree.

The paper chains had to be cut out of a book and colored, which took hours and several days, but it was a good activity for the kids.

The tree was cut down and put in the house on Christmas Eve. The kids would go to bed with an empty tree and then on Christmas Day they would wake to it decorated with some presents underneath.

They were given sleds, that were real wood then like the toboggans and they cost less than one dollar. That was their outdoor activity that usually ended in some type of bruise or bump.

They had very little with no electricity, which meant no refrigerators or freezers. They farmed and grew their own meat, which was butchered by the two oldest sons who worked at a packing plant in Eau Claire.

They processed their own food and then stored what they could in the root cellar.

Jim remembers living on lard sandwiches until the WPA (Work Progress Administration) came through to build roads.

His mother traded eggs for peanut butter, which was a real treat for the kids.

They were the only kids at Otter Creek school to have peanut butter sandwiches so they were “really living”.

Jim participated in several Christmas programs while at Otter Creek. He was always good at memorizing the lines the teacher gave him.

The kids sang songs and acted out plays about the Nativity scene or Scrooge or something with Santa Claus. Once they were done, the teacher gave them a bag filled with candy and some peanuts.

Living in Wheeler meant that the closest place to shop was Menomonie. At that time, there was a Montgomery Ward in town, a Sears, and other random places like the drug store or dime store.

In those years, all the stores closed by 5:00 or 6:00 p.m. That meant no gas, no hardware store or groceries unless it was an emergency.

If that was the case, the Constable, there were no “police” then, would open up the place you needed.

What couldn’t be bought at the store was ordered by a catalog. People would pick out what they wanted from places like Montgomery Ward or Spiegle and the order was mailed along with a check or money order.

Menomonie was the place to be for the Christmas season as it was glowing with lights and decorations for everyone to enjoy. That is where Santa could be visited as well for the young kids.

The kids were always home for Christmas. When dad said you had to be home, they all listened. And when he said you all had to be at a program, they all went.

The Pickerigns’ all gathered together at home with a chicken dinner on the table. Then after Christmas, they would travel to a relative’s place for a big get together the day(s) following.

That location changed every year with a different family member hosting.

Not too far away was Miss Evelyn. She was born and raised in Menomonie with five other siblings.

She spent the first three years of her life on a farm east of Menomonie, which was rented from the WPA for $8 a month. They then moved to a farm north of town on F.

Evelyn attend the Roach school house, which was a one room school about two miles from the farm that held grades first through eight.

The kids put on programs for their parents there, on top of their make shift stage. Each student was given a special part or line to say and then they sang Christmas songs.

The programs were only at school since the family didn’t attended church during the holiday, only on Sundays.

Christmas Eve was spent at home, doing chores around the farm and decorating the tree inside. They dyed popcorn and strung it on thick string and then made paper chains for their decorations.

They had electricity all through her childhood so the family was treated to actual Christmas lights as well. Back then the bulbs were much bigger however.

After chores and decorating, the kids would be shooed off to bed for the night and they would listen for Santa to come.

Evelyn said she believed in Santa Claus until she was about nine years old when her cousin revealed the truth to her.

On Christmas morning, the kids would run down stairs to open their present under the tree. They each got one present, wrapped in newspaper.

It was usually a doll that Evelyn received. She had clothes made for it from her grandmother, who also sewed her own clothing.

In those days, skirts and blouses were made from a patterned flour sack.

They would spend the holiday with different relatives, going house to house throughout the years.

Her father was always up for visiting, not just during the holidays, so on Sundays after the chores were done, the family would go out and spend the day with others.

When Evelyn was 17 years old, she moved out of the house and married Jim, who was 21 at the time.

Jim had left school when he was 16 and then was drafted when he was 18. He spent time over seas before moving back to work in Waukesha at Federal Windows.

After marrying in October of 1956, they moved to Waukesha together and started a family.

Their first of four children were born there with two more being born at St. Mary’s hospital in Minnesota a few years later.

As parents, Jim and Evelyn celebrated Christmas colorfully with a decorated tree, lights and ornaments throughout the house.

There was no such thing as a window cling then, but there were paper cut outs of Christmas characters that could be taped to windows and around the house.

They did not have outside decorations during that time because of the risk of them being stolen and they had a little yard.

That was the case for only a few years as they eventually moved back to Wisconsin to the Spring Valley area around 1969.

By 1973 with kids ages 16 to five, they moved to their current home outside of Wilson.

Their tradition was to celebrate on Christmas Day. The kids would run down stairs and open their presents from Santa, which was usually Tonka Trucks, model cars, Barbie dolls, accessories or hand-held electronics like Simon.

Evelyn would do the majority of the wrapping, but once in a while the kids would find a present wrapped in newspaper and black electrical tape that they knew was from their dad.

Later in the day after the big meal, the other presents from family were opened as there were always people over to visit.

Christmas was casual and centered around family and friends. The adults would put the toys together so the kids could play.

As they played, the adults entertained themselves with card games like 31 or the board game Aggravation.

Their oldest son made a hand made wooden Aggravation board that was big enough for eight people so they could play partners amongst the cousins, aunts, uncles, kids, etc.

That board has been the center of many laughs with stories shared and memories relived around it throughout the holidays.

When they were not inside the house celebrating, the family would pack into a vehicle and drive around the neighborhood and fellow towns to admire the Christmas lights and decorations.

As their four children grew up and started families of their own, the Christmas tradition remained the same.

The kids would come back home with their spouses and children, presents would be opened and a big meal would be shared.

The only difference over the years has been that the holiday is celebrated on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas day.

Over the recent years, they have been at home where Evelyn cooks her traditional meal that is shared with whoever wishes to drop by and visit with her and Jim.

They have their four children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren that flutter in and out between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.