VAUGHN, MONTANA – One of his most memorable Christmases of his youth didn’t happen in his hometown of Vaughn, but in Beaver Crossing, Nebraska, where Joyce Wohlgemuth went at the age of five or six to visit his mother’s family.
“Everybody went out to the bandstand, and Santa Claus came in a real fancy sleigh with two white horses on it and had a bag of candy and treats for all the kids, and there was quite a few,” he recalls. What I remember was the band playing and everyone singing Christmas Carols and they lit a tree.”
But he also has many Christmas memories form Vaughn, where his family moved in 1921 when Wohlgemuth was two years old.
There was usually a Christmas program at school, and always a Christmas night dance, either in Vaughn or in Fort Shaw or Sun River. The Sunnyside Mercantile, the stone store owned by his parents, George and Marrieta, was also a focal point.
“They had this Christmas party, I think it was in ’27, ’28. A lot of people came in and moved the counters and danced. That was kind of a habit in the old store.”
Wohlgemuth also remembers the Christmas of 1932. That was the year that electricity came to Vaughn, and electric lights went up on his family Christmas tree. What was a delight for the children was also a relief for his mother, who always dreaded a fire from the old-fashioned candles that were used to decorate the tree.
As a young child, he always believed in Santa Claus, but “I am Santa Claus now,” says Wohlgemuth, who has five granddaughters and one great-granddaughter.
Wohlgemuth still has his favorite Christmas presents, and electric train and a gravel conveyor and dump truck. “It was all made out of steel. It was built, not like the stuff they make now.”
Ice skating remains an important part of Wohlgemuth’s holiday memories. “During the holidays, and the balance of the winter, we did a lot of skating. All of us would go down to the Sun River and skate. We skated all the way down to Campbell Dam.”
Bonfires would be built, and children and adults would skate until 10 or 11 at night, then skate home. Crack the whip; fox and geese and hockey were the popular skating games.
“We used to try to jump barrels like the old-timers used too, but that didn’t go over so good.”
Another memorable Christmas for Wohlgemuth was while he was in the service at the end of World War II.
“The war was over, and I was in Bamberg, Germany. I went over to church this night and did I get the blues.” He returned to his quarters and went to bed, but a group of his fellow soldiers made him get up, dragged him to a party and “shook the blues out of me.”
Religion has always been an important part of Christmas for Wohlgemuth, whose family used to go to midnight services at a Methodist church in Great Falls on Christmas Eve. This is one aspect of Christmas that too many people have forgotten, he says. “It’s the birth of Christ and I think they should pay more attention to that.”