The two local churches were German Reformed and German Lutheran, and these folks brought the Christmas tree tradition from Germany. One or the other of the churches always had a tall fir tree towering to the ceiling and covered with real candles, which were lighted by a candle tied to the end of a long pole.
They always put on a program for Christmas carols and we attended all of them. Before the program began, the sexton lit the candles on the tree, and what a thrilling sight that was as we never had one at home.
With such a large family, we would have no room for it. Presents were taken for the children and after the program, presents were distrubuted by Santa Claus (usually Will Shutte) who appeared from a carboard chimney. How exciting to hear your name read out for a gift. They had a lot of good singers in those days, and I think there was more group singing than there is today.
The people liked to read when they had access to reading materials. When I was old enough to teach, I put a library in the three schools I taught. They would have money in the treasury from the sale of box socials or spelling bees. So I would take the money and go to Indiana and Bert Russell, who worked in Hall's Book Store, would pick out a nice variety of books, 60 or 70 dollars worth, and I would number them and list them.
Then the children would take home the ones they liked to read, and their mother's would send for what they wanted. Many a family got good reading that they would not have such opportunity otherwise. It was one of the most satisfactory parts of my teaching as I look back on it today. Then the Wherry family got the benefit of all those books. We were quite a reading family.
The last winter I spent at South Bend was spent teaching the South Bend one-room school. Near the end of the term, we decided to put on a "really big show", drawing from the community as well as the school children. We had two short plays, solos, duets, and even a minstrel show and tap dancers recruited from the nearly village of Idaho.
We didn't make much money as the admission was 10 and 20 cents, but we had a lot of fun and it was so well received that we were invited to put on the show at the West Lebanon Hall. I put board seats around our wagon bed to make a tally-ho to haul as many as possible, and the rest went in buggies.
Ave Hanna drove the four horses hitched to the wagon, and had managed to resurrect a tall antique hat to wear. We practiced a little while to get used to the acoustics but soon repaired to the hotel to partake of a good dinner paid for out of the prospective profits. As there were 26 of us, it pretty well depleted the treasury.
There were three churches near and they were served by Dutch preachers, and some of them were characters. We young boys would line up in the back and look for something to amuse us, and we were often rewarded. Often I wonder if I went to church from a religious motive or to be entertained.
One old preacher by the name of Gumbert would have a chew of tobacco in his mouth when he was preaching. I remember once while he was preaching, he got too much saliva in his mouth, so he opened the window that was in back of the pulpit and spat our the window, closed it and went on preaching as if nothing had happened.
There was old Mr. Isaac Smith, who always came in late and sat on the first pew at the side of the church. About the time the preacher was getting warmed up in his sermon, Isaac would let out about three sneezes and then go and spit out the little hole in the broken stained glass window. One old preacher had been raised in the valley, but preached in Somerset County, and they would have him preach when he came back to visit.
I remember once he took his text from Revelations and said, "I am going to preach from Revelations, but I don't know much about them. I don't think anybody does," so he proceeded to preach the sermon anyway.
Once the same preacher was conducting a funeral service over the body of a young man who had gone away from home and led a wild life, died, and the body was brought back for burial. He started by saying, "As a tree falleth, so it lieth. That is all I'm going to say about that," and proceeded to preach a sermon. He wasn't going to send him to either place.