Memories of when Christmas came after Thanksgiving

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Lois Goerdt was born in Guttenberg in 1935 and grew up during a time when all Christmas shopping was done locally and the tree wasn't trimmed until Christmas Eve. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

Lifelong Guttenberg resident Lois Goerdt remembers a time when the tree wasn’t trimmed until Christmas Eve and all the Christmas gifts were purchased at local stores. 

Goerdt was born in her grandmother’s home on Weiland Street in August of 1935. She grew up in Guttenberg as one of 15 children and graduated from St. Mary’s High School in 1953. “On Saturdays we’d go over to the supermarket or to Butch Gilbertz’s meat market, where Toni’s Hair Co. is; that’s where we’d get our meat. On Fridays mom would send one of us to Kenny’s Fish Market, down over the river bank,” Goerdt recalls. “All the shopping was really done right here in Guttenberg. We didn’t get out of town.”

At Christmas time, Goerdt and many local children could be found with noses pressed against the windows of storefronts like Kuempel & Lake. “They had hardware and Christmas stuff in the windows, trees, Santas, things to drool over,” said Goerdt. “When you come from a family of 15, you know you’re not going to each get what you want.” Even so, Goerdt kept her eye on a large doll in the window at the drugstore, located in the current Osterhaus dental office. 

“They would put names in to win a big doll. Everyone wanted it, especially me,” remembers Goerdt. Of the nine girls in the family, chances were good that one would win – and one did. “I didn’t get it, but my sister Opal did. She shared – we had to share.”

During Goerdt’s childhood, most of the stores in Guttenberg were located on River Park Drive. Kann's, Schroeder Hardware, a corner dimestore, and Edna Scholz's Style Shop (in the current River Park Place storefront) were among them. The movie theater, owned by Kermit Dubbels and prior to that, Tillie and Bucky Harris, showed Christmas films. 

Lights and garlands decked the city’s downtown shopping district.  Menswear could be purchased at Cliff's Cash Toggery, groceries were available at Tujetsch Grocery where Tujetsch Insurance Agency is located today, and Paul Meier ran a meat market and general store in the current Esser’s building. River Park Drive boasted two restaurants, a corner cafe and a diner owned by the Mahowalds where students often met for ice cream and sandwiches after athletic games. Around the corner, where John’s TV stands today, was Nigg’s – a grocery store with a bar in the back.

There was no decorating of the Christmas tree before Thanksgiving – in fact, Goerdt and her siblings never even saw the tree until Christmas morning. “We’d come downstairs and that’s the first thing we’d see,” she told The Press. “If we each got something it was something to wear. We mostly got games and things we could all play with. 

“One year, I don’t know why, I wanted a drum. I would have been about five or six years old. My older brother Barney came upstairs on Christmas morning and was banging away at that drum to wake me up,” said Goerdt. She suspects the gift came from Kuempel & Lake, who carried the most Christmas toys at the time. “Later, we were playing with some friends and one of them sat on the drum and broke it,” she laughs. 

“When Christmas morning came, we were up at 4 a.m. We all had to get up at 4 because Christmas mass was at 5 a.m.,” Goerdt recalls. She and her family walked from their home on Bluff Street to St. Mary’s, no matter the weather. As a young girl and still today, Goerdt thinks the sight of the church is the best one at Christmas time. “Our church is the most beautiful thing you could ever see, especially at Christmas, when it’s dark and they have all the lights on. Seeing it on Christmas, it just went right through you.”

Guttenberg merchants will deck the halls this Sunday, Nov. 29, for Christmas shoppers supporting local businesses. For more information, see section B of this week's issue of The Guttenberg Press.

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