From page 4: Growing up in Devils Lake

Staff Writer
Devils Lake Journal
Robert Pfleiger

Chrismas Past

The days are getting shorter, the weather is getting colder and store aisles are packed with Christmas items.

OK, so it’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but you have to at least think about Christmas. It is hard to think about Christmas without thinking about Christmas while growing up in Devils Lake.

Christmas was a wonderful time. School was out and we did not have to worry about a white Christmas. We always had a white Christmas, and usually white Thanksgiving and often a white Halloween. No, we never had a shortage of white.

Downtown was all decorated and we always had a evening car ride or two to look at decorated houses. Our decorations went up early and stayed up until the Epiphany.

One memory from each year was the Christmas tree. Usually, the whole family would hop in the car and head to a tree lot. The trees were frozen. To make matters worse they were flat from shipment. You had to give it your best guess what the three dimensional tree would be like when you were looking at a two dimensional frozen green pancake.

We would select a blue spruce of the correct height, tie it to the top of the car and head home.  I’d help Dad get the tree into a stand which often involved some sawing and on occasion, a lesson of new vocabulary words.

Then we stood the tree upright and waited for it to thaw. It seldom thawed into the full beautiful tree I had imagined. Usually there was a spot without branches that created a hole. The hole went toward the wall.

Christmas lights apparently did not like being left by themselves in a box from season to season. Somehow in their dark box they managed to tie themselves into every knot known to man. By the time we got the lights untangled and strung and ornaments hung, it was time for the tinsel. Tinsel could usually help hide any other areas in need of a branch. About then a light would burn out and you had to go through every bulb to find the culprit. Then we filled the holder with water to “keep the tree fresh.”

Our trees must not have been big drinkers because we had needles dropping like rainfall. Our German family was big on The Epiphany so the tree stayed up until then. By then there were more needles on the floor than on the tree. You could look at it cross-eyed and another hundred needles fell off.

We never got dozens of expensive gifts for Christmas, but after listening to Dad telling of how excited he was to get an orange for Christmas, I figured I was very lucky to have what I had.  I could always depend on some underwear for Christmas. It did not make any difference how bad a shape my existing supply was. Any underwear or socks Mom bought after the fourth of July ended up hidden away to be wrapped for Christmas. I cannot tell you the joy a young boy has in unwrapping presents of underwear and socks. It ranked right between poison ivy and the flu.

There were enough good presents to make Christmas eve a joy. There were always at least one neat thing like a Gene Autry cap gun and holster, Lincoln Logs or an erector set and never the lump of coal I had been threatened with.

I never got a lot each year, except for underwear, but surely never felt deprived.  My parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles always went to midnight mass. Until sixth grade, I’d be home being babysat or later, baby sitting for my little sister.

In sixth through eighth grade, I got to go to midnight mass as part of the boys choir. I felt like king of the hill then. Christmas day was off to Grandma and Grandpa’s house. Grandma, Mom and Aunt Mary spent hours in the kitchen preparing a meal fit for a king.

There was usually snow to shovel for Grandpa, then inside for some hot chocolate. The cooking smells in the kitchen made your mouth water and it seemed forever for the turkey to cook. After the turkey was carved and prayers said, I ate my fill knowing later that night we would start all over on the leftovers.  My Christmases in Devils Lake were many years ago. I cannot remember all the details, but one memory stands out. The presents long gone, the meals long ago eaten but the memory of family celebrating together just do not get any better.

Robert Pfleiger was born at Mercy Hospital 4/10/1943. He spent his first 14 years in Devils Lake. Pfleiger attended St Mary's Academy through eight grade. His father, Casper Pfleiger, worked for Fairmont Foods and was transferred to Minneapolis in the summer of 1957. He attended high school and college in Minneapolis. After the University of Minnesota Pfleiger was married to his wife Mary and worked for Honeywell. He was transferred to Nashville, TN in 1967. In 1980 he left Honeywell and started Ener-Tech Industries which he has since sold. Now, he is retired. The Pfleigers raised four daughters, have five grandchildren and like to travel when possible.