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Christmas memories from Lester Prairie revisited
|By STAN HOOF|
With the push by retailers to generate more holiday sales, the Christmas season seems to begin earlier each year.
When I was a boy back in the early 1950s, the Christmas season didn't officially begin until the bigger-than-life Santa Claus appeared in the corner window of Weise and Kuhlmann's hardware store in downtown Lester Prairie.
The very first time I saw him standing there, I thought he might be the real Santa because he turned his head from side-to-side and wagged his finger disapprovingly at me when I was being bad.
My mom reassured me that he was only a pretend Santa, which she knew for certain because she had worked at Weise's for a time after the war, and she even knew where they plugged him in.
In later years (probably in the early '60s), I observed that Santa had developed mechanical arthritis in his neck, and his finger moved only intermittently with a palsied shake. No one stays young forever.
The real Santa didn't arrive in town until later in December. Each year the firemen and businessmen would string Christmas lights and greens across the downtown streets.
At the busiest spot in town, they strung the lights to form an "X," joining the hardware store to the feed mill corner, and from Milbraths' bank to the corner near the coal sheds.
A gigantic evergreen was hauled into town and placed in the very center of the intersection to mark the spot where the real Santa would make his appearance.
And sure enough, on the Saturday afternoon just before Christmas, Santa would arrive in a horse drawn sleigh (or in a wagon if there wasn't enough snow).
It seemed to me that hundreds of kids crowded around to get their Christmas bags. There were no lines, just many outstretched hands that were eventually satisfied one by one, as Santa handed out treat bags containing an apple, some hard candy, peanuts in the shell, a Tootsie Roll, and a popcorn ball.
One of the older boys standing at a distance, trying to spoil it for us little kids, yelled, "Hey, Donald, your beard is on crooked!" And although there was some laughter from the crowd, I felt a little sorry for both of us.
I was sorry for the boy who yelled, because he was caught in that awkward space between still wanting a Christmas bag and being too near adulthood to get one, and sorry for myself, because I suspected that all too soon I would be the smart aleck kid standing on the sidewalk outside the circle of childhood where you still get to believe in Santa Claus.