Christmas 2003 Paullus's Part 1
Christmas is a time of sharing. Sharing gifts, food, memories. But mostly it's a time for sharing love. Families gather to exchange presents, enjoy a traditional Christmas meal together, maybe sing some carols and recall favorite moments of the past while making new ones.
The Paullus/Dierdorf family of Brazil does that each December but they live with the Christmas spirit all year long. Throughout the year, they store items to auction off at their annual Christmas dinner. The dinner is held in early December and the money generated from the auction is used to buy Christmas for a family down on their luck.
The Paulluses seem to have fallen right off the screen of a Disney Christmas classic. The nine member clan is the epitome of the "poor but happy" theme found in many heart warming movies and sung about by country singers.
"We were poor, that's for sure," said Pete Paullus. "Dad was raised in an orphanage in Ohio and never had an opportunity to get much education. I think he only completed the 8th grade. But he was a hard worker."
Indeed, John Paullus taught his children a good work ethic by example. Taking whatever jobs he could get, he worked as a fireman, at the city coal yard and in the brick factories. He usually held two jobs to support his growing family and worked part-time as a janitor at First Bank and Trust for years.
The senior Paullus came to Brazil in 1933 working with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camp, an employment relief program initiated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Depression.
He was quite smitten by the pretty Agnes Dierdorf when he first met her while working with the CCC camp in Brazil's Forest Park. Several years after they were married they settled down in a three-bedroom house on south Sherman Street to raise their family.
The house had no indoor plumbing and was heated with a coal stove. Every Saturday night Agnes baked breads, cakes, pies and coffee cakes on a big wood and coal fired cooking stove.
"But we were happy," said Karen Newman. "We didn't know we were poor when we were kids. There was always plenty of good stuff to eat. And I don't remember doing without too many things I really wanted. Back then kids didn't have as much as they do now. And they didn't expect as much.
"Most of the holidays were at our house. We didn't have a car so everybody came to our place. And Mom always made Christmas special."
Another sister, Peggy Nicoson told of her childhood memories.
"Mom and Dad were always there for us. Dad would play ball with us and he took us fishing down at the blue hole, a pond at the old Arketex plant southwest of Chicago Avenue."
"We were shoeless but happy," Tim Paullus added, laughing. "With that many kids, there was always someone to play with. And the neighborhood kids hung out at our house 'cause that's where all the kids were. It seems like there was always extras at the table at meal time. I don't think Mom even noticed, or cared, if a couple new faces sat down for lunch."
"Christmas was always special," Peggy said. "Gifts weren't expensive but thoughtful. Things that we really wanted or needed. We always decorated the house and had a nice tree. It was a family thing."
"Mom always got Dad a package of haystack candy at the West End Store or at Freddie's," Peggy continued. "And Dad would get her a pair of nylons. The older kids enjoyed watching the younger ones enjoy Christmas. We played games, maybe Monopoly or cards. There was always cards. They were really happy times."
The Paulluses are full of heart but not necessarily healthy hearts. And they understood sadness. John and Agnes Paullus had 12 children. The firstborn, Theodore, died when he was 18 months old. The cause was never determined.
"Mom said he laid down for a nap one day and never woke up." Peggy said. "But it was thought to be a heart problem. The baby, Jennifer, died at nine months from a heart defect. Our sister Cecelia Testy, died in 1984 of a heart attack. She was 43 years old."
Perhaps losing three siblings helped the nine surviving Paullus children to understand that family is so very important. And as the recipients of an occasional helping hand, they knew the value of reaching out to others in need. Their parents stressed the importance of both.
John Paullus never knew most of his family and was unable to locate an older sister. But Agnes was extremely close with her parents, Jim and Edith Dierdorf, her brother, Bob Dierdorf, and sisters, Mary Schepper and Grace Munier.
They'd all get together nearly every Thursday night and play euchre at Grandma Dierdorf's, as Edith was called by the Paullus children. Besides the weekly card games, the Dierdorfs always got together each year in early December for that special family Christmas dinner.
About 15 years ago they started a new tradition at the Christmas dinner. Each person there, and they numbered close to 100, would bring an item or items to be auctioned off. They could bring something new or old, nostalgic, homemade, crafts, anything.
They usually make around $1,000. One year they collected $1,800. The money is used to purchase Christmas for some needy family.
They buy toys and clothes for the kids and a little something for the parents. They also get decorations, a tree and an ample supply of holiday food.
Sometimes it all goes to one family. But, depending on the amount of money collected, they have provided Christmas for two or three families in the same year. The recipient family is selected by word of mouth from a Paullus/Dierdorf family member or church friends.
"Usually the parents are struggling but still trying," Peggy said. "They have pride and don't want to ask for help but they accept it for their kids."
"The parents give us a list of toys the kids want and clothing sizes. Then, on a certain day, all of the Paulluses who are available, go Christmas shopping together for the family then we wrap all of the gifts."
"We take everything to the home several days before Christmas so they'll have them for Christmas morning," said Mary Grace Hunt. "We usually leave there crying. I think we get more from it than they do."
Tomorrow: The Paulluses find a new way to give. The "little green bag".