This picture was taken December 1972. 3 years before the first grandchild would be born.
So here is my Pops. Dressed up for the season, with no little kids in the house, just his own grown up children. Dressed up because in Woodhull, Illinois there needed to be a Santa. So off he went. Visiting other people’s homes. Clover Chapel. Christmas parties.
Fast forward to 1983.
Jodie and I are waiting outside on N. Division at the old town hall to see Santa. I’m *pretty sure* that Pops is Santa…. but not 100% sure. And dang. I’m not going to ask him or call him out -because what if 1. I’m wrong 2. It looks like I don’t believe. Neither one is an option. So instead I just wait. I’m wearing moon boots which make my socks creep down by my toes and get soggy wet at the mere mention of snow. They are the worst boots ever. I love them so much. I have mittens that have a string that run behinds my back through the arms of my coat so that I will not lose said mittens. Jodie and I both have jackets on that are bigger than we are.
The line is FOREVER. I’m dying on the inside – I’m SOALMOSTSURE it’s my grandpa, and I want the fame that comes from being related to him if it’s true, but I also want to look cool and disinterested.
We get there. He’s there. His voice smiles, and his eyes crinkle. I check out his hands. My Pops has hands that I love. Big, calloused. His skin looks tan always and I love to touch the skin on his hands. Does Santa have my Pops’ hands? Santa is wearing gloves. Shoot.
He hands me a candy cane. He asks if I’ve been good. I’m sure in my heart I have not been. I am mean to my brother Chris. I am loud and have a terrible temper. I am about to lie to Santa and say that “yes. I have been good” and the lie will be further proof that I am not.
It is Christmas Eve. We start off the evening at my Grandparents house. There is lutefisk, homemade potato bologna, oyster stew, and rye bread, . And cookies everywhere. And then after we are full and tired it’s time to go to church.
My parents MAKE me go to church. We go to a church out in the middle of nowhere. It is absolutely surrounded by cornfields with a cemetery in the back. In the cemetery there is The Angel. She is the gravestone of a man named Stephen and she is housed in glass, with moss as her carpeting. I want to see her all the time. But only in the daytime. And this is nighttime. I know she’s out there though and I hope she’s okay.
It is Christmas Eve service and at church we are the only kids. Helen is there. And Amy and Haden. Relda and Henry. Henry’s eyebrows are legendary. There are so many old people there. We decorate the tree and sing, and have a pageant and then Santa is there! He hands out brown paper bags that always have an orange and an apple in them. There is also a candy cane and sometimes a bit of chocolate. They are wonderful and disappointing and familiar and expected. Santa is there and it never occurs to me that this may be strange to others because this is what I know. Of course Santa comes to Candlelight Service on Christmas Eve.
When we leave Chapel that night I will be able to look up into the sky and see the stars. The cross will be highlighted against the dark night. I will take a breath that hurts my chest and if I’m feeling brave I will look towards the cemetery. Half wishing to see a romantic ghostly vision, and Half petrified that I will see something and it will come for me.
My family will be there and my Grandpa will hold my Grandma’s hand, I will never realize that he was missing for part of the evening. His cheeks will be flushed from another covert operation successfully accomplished. My Grandma will look up at him and smile, her hands graceful and strong from playing the piano, and hold his hand back. We will trudge out into the cold and my boots will either snap through the thin layer of cold snow or squish into the just fallen snow – depending on the weather that night. I will wonder about the world and I will clutch my tiny paper bag in my mittened hand.
The Friday before last, Woodhull had their annual Christmas Walk. This time The Butter Churn was able to participate. The store was lit up. Warm. We had cookies. And while we don’t have the lutefisk (yet! Next Year we will have Swedish food. I PROMISE), we do have the rye bread.
Roxi was there with a smile and a welcome. The Christmas music was playing. The store was brightly lit and beckoned all to come in.
I sometimes can’t believe that this is our First Official Christmas. I imagine that Pops is there, wearing his Santa Suit. While Jean roller skates around the store. Where Don and Lil are playing cards and Marguerite is telling some sort of off-color joke. (my God that woman was the best)
I hope that someday those kids who were on the Christmas Walk will grow up and have some hazy, sweet memories of being dragged outside for that community event. Maybe bundled up and maybe wishing they could stay home and watch tv or be on the computer, but their parents made them go. And maybe they will remember going from the dark night into the glow of The Butter Churn.
Because of the memories that were created in Woodhull then, we have The Butter Churn today. And I hope we are helping to create memories now that will be a part of the future of Woodhull.