Traverse City Record-Eagle


December 5, 2011

Terry Wooten: Christmas past and present

I was terribly miscast as one of the three wise men. It was a fifth-grade Christmas pageant at the Methodist Church in Marion. I wore my Grandpa's bathrobe, the closest I could come to a wise man's costume in a Nativity scene.

There was a piece of tinfoil shaped like a star on the church wall. I had one line. I was supposed to step out from the other two wise men, point at the star and say, "Look! It's getting brighter, much brighter!" I practiced those words for two weeks.

The night of the play my saliva turned into paste. I was trembling like a melting icicle. I stepped out, looked at the audience and froze. I forgot my line and pointed at the tinfoil star. It was pretty obvious. Everybody could see it fine. The homemade symbol of a cosmic astrological event was glowing like a prism from all the church Christmas lights.

After not delivering my line, I stepped back behind the other two wise men, angels, shepherds, stable animals, Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus to sulk. I never wanted to be a wise man. I liked the donkey costume.

This holiday season looks a little brighter. My new book, "Water Under the Bridge," will be out before Christmas. I didn't plan it that way. It should have been finished by Labor Day. That would have been appropriate, since it has been an unusual labor whittling down three years of interviews from 25 community elders by 41 students. Twenty-two students' works are in the collection with my own from the Elk Rapids Elders Project.

Between the covers are around 183 stories in free verse. The book begins during the Chicago fire. It winds down 140 years later with an epiphany on Stone Circle Drive, disappearing minnows, and reflections on death by some good ghosts.

The poems are centered in Elk Rapids, but the voices are like a watershed of words that eventually flow through any town. A few of the poems have appeared in the Record-Eagle over the last two years.

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