Long-time Valley residents remember childhood Christmases
For two life-time Carson Valley residents, the memories of Christmases past remain as vivid as the day they were stamped into their young, impressionable brains.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” said Howard Godecke, who was the second son born to Ester and Clarence Godecke in the ranch house at the Milky Way dairy farm off Heybourne Road in 1923. “We had lots of church activities around Christmas, in addition to the doings of our large family.”
Godecke said one of his fondest early memories was of Christmas Eve.
“That was when we lit the candles on the tree,” he said. “Only on Christmas Eve. There was no roughhousing that night, when the candles were lit.”
Christmas Eve had a ritual that to this day brings a twinkle to Godecke’s voice and eyes as he recounts it.
“We would always head to the old Lutheran church on Christmas Eve,” he said. “There, the little children would perform their songs or poems for Christmas and we would all sing Christmas carols.”
But it was the trip home with their father that held the spell over the Godecke brothers.
“After the service, we would return home, going past the Minden Creamery and the flour mill and up Heybourne road which was often deeply rutted from the rain or snow,” he said.
“Dad had an old touring Chevrolet with the skinny wheels, and as we drove up the road, it was with tremendous anticipation that we children would peer through the windshield, looking for the first glimpse of the farm house. Sometimes the road was slippery from snow or just the wet weather, and dad would be wrestling with that big wooden steering wheel, just trying to keep the car on the road and get us home safely. “
It wasn’t just the house that the Godecke children looked for, but specifically the lights in the window, indicating that Santa Claus had come and gone.
“We really had to be good, since Santa might or might not come, depending on how we behaved,” he said. “Lights on in the window meant the high point of the year was upon us. Santa had been and gone.”
It was later that Godecke solved the ruse.
“My mother would stay home while our father took us into town to church,” he said. “Back then, of course, we didn’t make the connection, but later on we figured out that mother stayed home to be Santa Claus.”
When two more children, sisters Elinor and Carolyn, were added to the family, the Godecke brothers had fun teasing them, and bringing them in on the Christmas Eve ritual.
“When we entered the warm house after being out in what could have been a blizzard, the smells of Christmas hit you – the candles burning, the acrid smell of the sulphur matches, the days and days of baking – it all melded together to make smells that even today I find exciting,” he said. “It was a wonderful time of the year and still is.”
Tomorrow, with warm anticipation, Godecke will once again travel to Milky Way to spend Christmas with sister Elinor’s son, Craig Witt, who operates the large, successful dairy farm that still holds and ever creates memories for the family.
Bea Jones, who was born in 1909 and grew up in Genoa, has also spent many a fondly-remembered Christmas in the Carson Valley.
Many Christmas Eves were spent at Aunt Jenny and Uncle Ed Fettic’s home. Ed, who owned a general store in Genoa, would close the store on Christmas Eve at 8 p.m. and bring wrapped gifts home for everyone. That night, neighbor Frank Walker would dress up as Santa Claus, ringing harness bells before entering the home, which was often full of relatives.
Christmas Day found the family at Grandma and Grandpa Fettic’s, but the road there was often muddy, and Jones recalled the sleigh that was often used to transport the family to their destination.
“We used a team of horses and the sleigh was black with red velvet inside,” she said.
The school programs also made an impression on young Beatrice. She recalled being in 1st grade in 1916 and attending a Christmas program that was held at the old courthouse in Genoa, which at the time housed the school.
“They had a program with a Christmas tree and I remember candy bags that were made out of a red cheese cloth and given to each child,” she said. “Then, Santa Claus would come by and it was Mr. Christensen, the stage driver. He had a real heavy coat, which is in the museum in Genoa now, and instead of his cap, he would put on a Santa hat and have bells on his harnesses.”
Later, Jones said, when she was in 7th grade, the schools in Mottsville and Genoa would have Christmas programs, and afterwards the families would go to the dance hall in Genoa to dance.
“They made cakes and cookies and sandwiches and coffee, and many times the children would fall asleep and be put in the coat room to sleep,” she said.
Because the Genoa church burned in the 1910 fire, Jones said her family’s Christmas celebrations centered around family.
“We always had a beautiful Christmas and still do,” she said.
In the early days of the towns of Minden and Gardnerville, residents were able to attend a night of holiday entertainment such as “Christmas with the Pixies,” in 1911, a “school children’s program” for 25 cents a person at the Valhalla Hall, proceeds going to buy playground equipment.
The weekly Record-Courier published the program for the musical play with a cast of characters, including Harry Winkelman as Prince Victor, Eddie Lampe as Kris Kringle, Edna Hellwinkel as Florable the Attendant, and a “chorus of pixies, tin soldiers and snow fairies.”
In 1915 the Lutheran church presented it’s annual program and over at the Valhalla Hall the Danish Society was stringing popcorn and making candy bags for the “good old-fashioned Christmas tree” loaded with presents for the town’s children.
In 1928, the Carson Valley Post of the American Legion with the women’s auxiliary, presented its “Christmas Tree Festivities” at the Gardnerville Masonic Hall. Everyone was invited to see the “old Santa, with robes of red trimmed with white,” and, as always, “each youngster will receive a gift.”
In 1937, the Legion Tree continued at the Gardnerville Legion Hall. Post 11 of the American Legion, self-proclaimed “ex-soldiers,” hosted the party. Once again, the focus was on the town’s children and a gift was given to each child. Coffee and doughnuts were served to the adults.
“This Valley has always been a wonderful place to celebrate the holidays,” Godecke said. “Even when I lived away from here, I always tried to get home for Christmas.”