When I was 5, in 1946 I was seated in the front row with future classmates Russell Wangzong and Vernon Strenke for the Christmas program at Happy Corners school. Following the program there arose bellowing, “ho, ho, ho,” from the back of the room. There, walking right toward us was a black booted, black belted monster dressed in red and white. I dove to the floor and crawled among the over-shoed feet of school district parents until I was safely in Dad’s lap in the opposite corner of the room. I don’t remember ever believing in Santa Claus.
“All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” was a popular song in 1947, the year of my first grade. Since I had lost my two front teeth that autumn, Mrs. Anderson, chose that song as my first solo. She must have heard me singing as we listened to the Wisconsin School of the Air. However, by December, my permanent front teeth had grown in. I sang my solo, though I had to fake lisping “thithle and “Chrithmath. I didn’t have to fake not being able to whistle. Never have been able to whistle. I did discover the joy of performing in public.
That year I also discovered the perils of public performance at the Christ Eve program at our Pipe Lake Church. As I launched into reciting my piece about peace on earth and good brought by Jesus’ birth, my older brother Laurin whispered for me to come sit down. I was confused. What was wrong? When I was seated Laurin informed me that I was reciting my piece about Santa Claus from the program at Happy Corners. In the balcony, mom, who played the old pump organ, nearly leaped over the railing. Pastor Walter Braem seated in a little partitioned area to the side of the chancel took it in with good humor. This was probably the first excitement at a Christmas program for many a year. Eventually, I went back up and told the folk the good news of Jesus come to earth to save us all from our sins. I was glad when I was confirmed at age 13 and no longer had to worry about reciting the wrong piece.
60 years later I was visiting Dad in the nursing home, when Bob Berglund came to visit his brother. “Oh yes, you said the wrong piece at the church Christmas program.”