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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — What do you do when your serious-minded middle child stubbornly refuses to believe in Santa Claus?
Answer: you take him for a walk in France on Christmas Eve.
Vergene Viets, age 94 and a resident at the Colfax Health and Rehabilitation Center who grew up on a farm in the Town of Otter Creek, recalls one very special Christmas in France while her husband, Hollis, was serving in the United States Air Force.
“We started out on the walk, my husband and I and the younger boys. Our older boy had it all schemed out that he was going to go back and get his gloves,” Vergene said.
“Up until then, our middle son had never believed in Santa Claus. My oldest son went back, to ‘get his gloves.’ He had this all set up. There was a train set all set up under the bed in his room, and all he had to do was bring it out,” she said.
“So, we went for our walk, and while we were out on our walk, there was Santa Claus, on a sleigh, going around as we walked around the block,” Vergene said.
“When we got back home, this boy who had never believed in Santa Claus — and while we were out on our walk, there was Santa Claus on a sleigh, going around as we walked around the block — then we came home, and his train had been set up,” she said.
“Before that, he hadn’t believed in Santa Claus. But Santa Claus was in his sleigh being hauled around, and his train set was waiting for him. And after that, he thought, ‘Well, there IS a Santa Claus!’ He was about seven then. That seven-year old HAD to start believing in Santa Claus when his train was set up when we came home,” Vergene said with a laugh.
“We had a lot of fun. My sisters, neither one of them, had their children believing in Santa Claus. To me, that’s the best memory we had, to have them believe in Santa Claus,” Vergene said.
Vergene’s sisters are Genevieve (Penny) Noer and JaVerna Morrill. Vergene, Penny and JaVerna are the daughters of August and Edna (Heintz) Erickson. Their family included brothers David Erickson and Alvin Erickson.
Vergene and Hollis Viets were married in June of 1945.
Although Vergene could not recall the exact year when they went to France, their youngest son was quite little at the time, she said.
Vergene was born March 3, 1924.
Even though her middle son had started to believe in Santa Claus while they lived in France, that did not mean the boy was going to completely trust Santa Claus.
“One year, we got up in the morning, and my middle one, his present from Santa Claus was a bicycle. It was out on the porch. He couldn’t see it,” Vergene recalled.
“The other two boys got their presents. And my middle one said, ‘You might know the old goat wouldn’t leave me anything.’ There was nothing for him under the tree, but his bicycle was out on the porch,” she said.
“I had a lively life (with those three boys),” Vergene said.
“That was the most fun was the kids believing in Santa Claus. They never regretted it. My kids thought it was fun,” Vergene said.
Vergene asked if the Colfax Messenger reporter had believed in Santa Claus. [Oh, yes, most definitely.When I was a very little girl, my mother always sent me out to the barn to help Dad with the chores on Christmas Eve. One year, I came in early, and there was my older sister, carrying gifts down the steps from upstairs. And just like that — I knew there was no Santa Claus. My sister had been busted.]
“Well,” Vergene continued after hearing the story of the big sister busted in the act of being Santa Claus, “I thought we HAD to believe in Santa Claus.”
“I don’t believe it was anything wrong. It was just so much fun to have the kids believe in Santa Claus,” Vergene continued.
Vergene and her husband, Hollis, were in France for three years. Hollis Viets was a mechanic in the United States Air Force.
“When my husband was in the military, they always used to have a party on Christmas Eve, the men did. And Hollie came home that one year with his tie cut off. One of the guys thought it was really funny to go around with a scissors and cut off everybody’s tie. That’s one thing I remember,” Vergene said.
On the farm
Vergene grew up on the Erickson family farm in the Town of Otter Creek.
After Hollis Viets was discharged from the military, the couple returned to the Colfax area to live on the family farm.
When she was growing up, Vergene recalled going out to cut a Christmas tree.
“An old Jack pine, in earlier years when I was little,” Vergene said.
“One time we had some candles we used on the Christmas tree. But we used those one year and didn’t use them again. You lit ‘em, and it was too dangerous for a fire,” she recalled.
“Christmas Eve was quite important. Santa Claus would come during the night. We all believed in Santa Claus. We had more fun with the Santa Claus deal,” Vergene said.
Vergene also remembered Christmas programs when she was growing up.
“And my boys were in Christmas programs. My middle boy was one that, when they had the children’s programs, he always had to be the master of ceremonies because he was a talker,” she said.
Vergene also recalled a very special doll she had received when she was a little girl.
“My dad was president of the PTA. My dad was quite a talker. Maybe that’s where I got it from. We used to have Christmas parties at the school, and then of course, Dad had to be Santa Claus,” she said.
“I can remember that one year. I didn’t know he was Santa Claus. I remember that one year, I got a doll. It was a real cute doll. And after I got the doll, I observed the doll had an exotropia — a wall eye. The doll had that. And I had that! I had to go to the doctor for a long time. It turned out all right. I didn’t have to have it operated on. But that doll had a wall eye, just like I did. It was really a surprise to get a doll that had the same impediment that I had,” Vergene said.
Vergene recalled, too, that her mother did quite a lot of Christmas baking.
“But I never did. I never worked in the kitchen, when I was growing up. I worked in the kitchen after I was married. I washed dishes for my mother, but I didn’t help with the baking,” Vergene said.
“We usually didn’t go to church on Christmas Eve, because that was family time. But we always went to church on Christmas Day,” she said.
After the Viets family left France, they came back to the United States and went to Virginia.
“We were in so many different states,” Vergene said.
“We started out, our first one was born in Indiana. Then we had one born in Illinois, and the last one was born in New Mexico,” she said.
“We lived right across from the hospital in Roswell, New Mexico, and when it was time for my youngest one to be born, it was about 3 o’clock in the morning, so I got up to do some ironing. I knew it was about time. I finally went to wake up my husband, and he said, ‘No. It isn’t time yet. I’m not going to go to the hospital with you now,’” Vergene said.
“We lived across the street. In walking distance, it wasn’t more than a half a block to the hospital. So I said, ‘Well, if you’re not going to go with me, I’ll go by myself.’ But then he did get up and go with me to the hospital. That baby was born at seven o’clock in the morning. And I was trying to get him up at five. The baby was anxious to get into this world,” she said.
“We lived in a lot of places. We always wanted to go overseas somewhere. We always wanted to do that. It came time he was supposed to be getting out [of the military]. And then the orders came through that he was supposed to go to France. We were so tickled. We wanted to go overseas, and here the orders came after we were already planning to go home that he was to go to France. So we went to France. That was a great thing,” Vergene said.
“It’s funny how I met Hollie. My memory song is ‘Blueberry Hill.’ He came out one day to the farm. I’d never seen him before. I didn’t know him. I knew his brother, because his brother worked for my dad, but I didn’t know Hollie before that,” Vergene said.
“He came out and wanted to go picking blueberries. I said to Mom, ‘Can I go with him?’ And she said, ‘Well, I don’t care.’ So I went picking blueberries with him. And I gave him all that I had picked. And that was the first time I knew him when we went picking blueberries. And from there, it developed into marrying him,” Vergene said.
“Hollie would come out picking blueberries for his mother. Then I’d go with him. And I’d give him my blueberries. We’d go picking blueberries when he wasn’t there. I’d go picking, and so would my mother, so we had quite a few already,” Vergene said.
“I always picked a lot of strawberries, too. My mother had a lot of strawberries. We’d come home on furlough, on leave, and I’d help my mother pick strawberries,” Vergene said.
“I liked the farm life, and I liked being raised on a farm,” she said.
Vergene said she always helped with chores on the farm.
“Every morning and every night. And after morning chores, we’d have to go get ready for school and then walk to school. It was about a quarter of a mile,” she said.
“I enjoyed being raised on the farm. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I think maybe at the time, we wished we could have been like those leisurely kids in Colfax. But when I think back on it, it was fine,” Vergene said.
“France was quite an experience. We got to go to Paris. We had a fun life being in the military. I would advise anybody to be in the military, to be in the Air Force,” she said.