By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Rufina Deidrick has had her Christmas cactus “for at least 50 years,” and because of her loving care, the amazing plant has provided cuttings to many others who want to grow their own cactus.
“When they see it bloom, they want it,” Rufina said.
She has given away so many of the plants, she can’t even estimate the number.
But none of the Christmas cactus she has given away have meant as much as the ones received by three Winsted women, Patty Fleischacker, LouAnn Laxen, and Karie Schultz, whose grandmother gave Rufina the original cutting to grow her cactus a very long time ago.
Their grandmother, Annie Kohler, who died in 1978, had been Rufina’s next-door neighbor from the time Rufina and her husband, Ervin Deidrick, moved to their home in Winsted in the early ‘50s.
Rufina had never seen a Christmas cactus before she saw the one blooming in Annie’s window.
“I can see it sitting there yet,” Rufina said. “It had a different blossom and I said, ‘Oh, Annie, that is so pretty.’ And she offered me a slip.”
Rufina accepted the plant from Annie without asking for any tips on how to grow it, but said she was confident she would be able to grow it on her own.
“I put my slip in the ground (in a pot) and kept the ground moist, not wet, at first, then I ignored it,” Rufina said.
“It didn’t bloom the first few years, but it didn’t die,” Rufina said. “It took probably five years before it bloomed.”
When the plant blooms now, every year at Christmastime, Rufina has memories of the plant in Annie’s window, and of her hard-working neighbor.
On a recent visit, Rufina and Annie’s granddaughters spent some time reminiscing.
The granddaughters recalled Annie as a tiny woman who “looked like a grandma,” with her hair pulled back in a bun. She was a very private person, but her home was always open to her family.
LouAnn and Patty are the daughters of Don and Lorena Vealetzek. They lived next door to their grandmother and were over there almost every day when they were younger, according to LouAnn, who remembers during those visits being served root beer Kool-Aid.
“We would go over there a lot, because she had a piano and we didn’t,” LouAnn said.
Christmas Eve was a special time, LouAnn recalled, when the family would get together, but it seemed like it took forever for the evening celebration to begin.
“We would turn our lights on when we were all done with the dishes,” LouAnn said. “Then, we would have to wait until she (Annie) would turn her lights on so we knew she was ready for us to walk over to get her.”
Rufina mostly remembered Annie in her garden.
“She never came over here, never,” Rufina said. “She had her garden and her hobbies, and that was it.”
“Annie planted her garden right up to my driveway,” Rufina said. She didn’t get just one crop a year, she would get three and four crops. When I was done gardening, she was planting set onions. She would plant, and plant, and plant. That was Annie Kohler.”
Karie, whose parents were Floyd and Agnes Schultz, also grew up in Winsted, but lived several blocks away from her grandparents. That meant she only made a visit once a week to see them. She remembered how Annie would start the garden in the early spring.
“She used to have a hot bed a storm window where she started all of her own plants outside on the south side of her house,” Karie said.
And everyone remembered Annie’s husband, Joe Kohler, planting the potatoes and Patty recalled helping, too.
“Grandpa would dig a hole and we would throw the potato in. Then he would dig the next hole and cover up the previous hole, and we would throw the potato in,” Patty said.
Recalling the potato planting triggered another memory for Rufina.
“When Joe picked the potatoes, our bedroom was right there,” Rufina said. “He would be out there digging potatoes at 5 and 6 a.m. He had a metal pail and he would plunk, plunk, plunk and you could hear that potato drop and drop and drop, and Ervin would say, ‘I wish Joe would get done digging potatoes.’”
The story of the potatoes brought laughter from everyone.
The granddaughters have been trying to grow their own Christmas cactus using cuttings from Rufina’s plant. They are hoping to see the plant bloom one Christmas, “because it was grandma’s.”
“I think the older we get, the more sentimental we get,” Patty said. “And I do remember the plant very vividly just sitting in the dining room. It’s very clear in my memory.”
“This is just so special,” Karie said, of having a plant that came from her grandmother.
“We want to thank Rufina for keeping the plant going for us,” Patty said.
Rufina gave the girls some suggestions for growing the plant. “It likes a warm room and it likes lots of sunshine,” Rufina said. “And don’t over-water it. When I water flowers they all get watered but the Christmas Cactus should not get watered that often. No fertilizer,” she added.
Rufina said she takes pride in growing the cactus.
Three times she has repotted her plant, the last time she thought it was gone.
“I knew it had to be repotted and I couldn’t do it because the plant was so big,” Rufina.
But she got some help from her son, Al Deidrick of Howard Lake.
“He pulled it out of the pot and put it in a bigger pot and I was so happy when it started getting better,” Rufina said. “I was in my glory.”
But Rufina is afraid that the next time the plant needs to be repotted, it won’t make it.
“I am surprised it has lived this long,” she said. “I wanted it to, and I was hoping it would,” Rufina said. “I love it (the cactus), but if it’s gone it’s gone, I can’t take it with me.”