Lois Goerdt shares memories of growing up in a large family

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The Leliefeld family in 1942: front from left are Lois Goerdt, Daniel Leliefeld, Bill Leliefeld, Patricia Bolsinger, Joan White, Rose Leliefeld, Gary Leliefeld, Katie Ben; back row, Dorothy Knudtson, Mary Sherriff, Opal Goerdt, Barney Leliefeld, Norm Leliefeld, Vera Mirocko, and Betty Leliefeld. Lois and Katie are pictured in dresses their mother made out of flour sacks. (Photo submitted)

By Caroline Rosacker

Seated in a comfortable rocking chair surrounded by family photos and cherished accessories,  Lois Goerdt of Guttenberg, 84 years young, jokingly explained her real estate situation, "I call this my cottage and the other place my town house." In between moves, Goerdt took time out to share her memories of growing up in a small town. "I was born in 1935. I had 14 brothers and sisters. Bill Leliefeld and I are the only surviving members of the family," she said.

Goerdt remembered growing up in the south end of town along the railroad tracks. "When we were kids I remember watching the puffer belly trains go by. We never had much, but my mom always gave the bums that jumped off the train a sandwich," she shared

Goerdt remembers her father and sisters Dorothy and Vera working at the local button factory. "We had a lot of mouths to feed. We ate a lot of pigeon. My sisters' wages all went into the household pool. My sisters' paychecks were two dollars and fifty cents a week. They got to keep .50 cents for themselves. My brother Norm worked with the Civilian Conservation Corps – C.C.C — and Barney worked for Dr. Miller on his farm up on the hill, where the care center is now. Barney also worked as a police officer at one time," she added. 

Goerdt's parents were married in 1922. From 1922 to 1941 her mother gave birth to 15 children. Two of the girls died in infancy. Goerdt proudly shared, "We were never without clothes, and we were never hungry. We could always have seconds on soup, including liver and dumpling soup, an old German favorite. I still make it today. My mother made a lot of stews too. There was never much meat. She baked homemade bread ten or twelve loaves at a time." 

Goerdt reminisced about her breadmaking adventure, "I was in high school and mom was sick. I had to make the homemade bread.   I remember I had to keep running back and forth to the bedroom to ask her what the next steps were. My loaves weren't very pretty but they were edible. Hers were always nice and round," she noted.  "We had to do chores growing up. My job was to do all the dishes – three times a day! Mom had a wringer washer, three wash tubs and a big boiler that went on the stove to heat the water. She would pump the water the night before." Goerdt recalled. 

"One tub was for soaking, the second tub was the first rinse the third was the third rinse, then it all went into the washer with lye soap shaved off from the big bar. She carried it out to the clothesline and hung it on the line – winter too. Then she had to carry the water out back and dump it," she explained. 

Goerdt described her mother as a talented seamstress. "My mother bought flour in printed sacks. She would use the material to make our dresses. She never used a pattern. She would get on her old treadle machine and sew up our dresses. It always amazed me," she recalled.

Toys were a scarcity in Goerdt's childhood.  "We never had toys, we played with whatever we found. We played with the neighborhood kids. The older kids would have rock fights. Two of my sisters were hellions with the Spielbauer boys. They whooped Joe Spielbauer in a snowbank one time," she shared.

Holidays were celebrated economically in the large household, "We never saw the tree until Christmas morning. We all got one present, usually clothing, and one game for all of us to play with. My Uncle Lilly would come dressed up as Saint Nick on St. Nicholas day. He scared us to death! He made us kneel down and say the 'Our Father.' I remember hiding under the table, but he saw me anyway," she reminisced. 

The southend girl lived a sheltered life among her neighborhood pals. "I was in school before I knew I lived on the Mississippi River. We used to play in the water a little. Bud Pelzer tried to teach me how to swim down by Kenny's Fish Market. The lock and dam was there at the time," Goerdt chuckled. 

"When I was a young girl – maybe 10 or 11— I became friendly with the Jungk sisters, Evelyn and Viola. They worked at the Button Factory. The Brewery wasn't in operation at that time," she explained. 

"The sisters had a big garden and apple orchard and lots of lawn. I got the job of cutting it – the whole hillside, and along the road with an old reel push mower. I got paid $1.00. Mighty fine pay for me at the time," she recalled. 

"I also helped in the garden and the orchard. They were good cooks and I often got to eat with them. The desserts were so good – stuff I'd never had before. One day we picked cabbages and made them into sauerkraut in big crocks. The crocks were placed in the lower level of the brewery to ferment. I had the job to go down and clean off the 'futch' that collected on the top. It was an experience I would not like to repeat. It was fun – sort of," she shared. 

"The special treatment and attention they gave this little 'waif' of a girl was the best feeling ever. It was just me alone with them. I had a great family but being one of many – that kind of treatment just didn't happen," said Goerdt. 

"When we girls were teenagers we used to walk the streets. Sometimes the guys with cars came around. The Hefel boys from Buenie and the Boge boys had the cars. We would go to the movies at the Princess Theater; it was owned by Bucky and Tilly Harris," remembered Goerdt. 

"On Friday nights we went to Melody Mill in Dubuque. Saturday night we went to Lakeside, and Sunday we went to the  Checkerboard Ballroom in Prairie du Chien," she explained.

Lakeside Ballroom was still the place to fall in love, "I met my husband, Richard "Dick" Goerdt, at Lakeside. Leo Greeco was playing. We were married at St. Mary's Church and had the wedding reception at the Hotel Ahlers. I bought my wedding dress in Dubuque and paid $35 dollars for it. It was a lot of money at the time. Marge Hefel got married a month before I did so we used the bridesmaid dresses from her wedding for mine. We were in each other's weddings," she commented.

“We bought a house in Dyersville. A developer was putting up what they called “cracker box” houses. Dick worked for Farley and Loetscher and I stayed home. We lived in Dyersville until 1964. Then we bought an acreage near Farley. We bought the big farm outside of Millville in 1986. Later we moved to Guttenberg up on Acre Street, and then he died in 2010.” 

The couple were parents to five children: Julie, Daniel, Keith and twin boys, Rick and Randy. “I have 15 grandchildren, 30 great-grandchildren and three great, great grandchildren,” she proudly shared.   

Goerdt concluded, “I love life, and I love to go!”

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