Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 5, 2011

Terry Wooten: Christmas past and present

By Terry Wooten, Local columnist

---- — 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.

Noreen Joffife Wrong House

My brother, Vern, was always a tease.

After us kids were all married

and had small children,

on Christmas Eve our families would get together

at my parents house.

One Christmas Eve Vern left

and soon Santa showed up.

It was, "Ho! Ho! Ho!

I've got some gifts.

Has everybody been good?"

The little kids were so excited.

Santa started opening his bag of presents

wrapped in Christmas paper.

Santa pulled one out.

"This one's for Susie."

There was no Susie in our family.

He put it back.

"This one's for Billy."

No Billy.

Santa said, "Oh, I've got the wrong house!"

He put the presents back in his bag

and left.

Our kids were devastated

until he returned.

They still talk about that night.

-- Terry Wooten

Marie Veliquette The Secret

I've never told anybody this,

but everybody's going to know now.

I was a little girl

and mother used to hide

the Christmas presents in the closet.

I crawled in there

just before Christmas.

It was dark with no windows,

so I lit a match

to see what was there.

Some clothes covering the presents

caught on fire.

I dashed out immediately

and told mother

there was a fire

in the closet.

She put the fire out.

I could've burned the house down!

I got in big trouble. (Laughs)

-- Terry Wooten

Bruce McLachlan December 23, 1930 From "Water Under the Bridge"

My older brother,

Bill, tells me in 1928

when he was eight years old,

strangers would come down the road

with a gunny sack

on their back.

People would stop

and want to know

if they could work

for something to eat.

Many a time they were put up

out in the barn

to sleep.

They would work all day,

and grandmother would feed them.

If the strangers were good help

my family might keep 'em around.

But usually they wandered

down the road

to the next farm.

That's when it got bad.

People didn't have work

and lived on potatoes.

I was born December 23, 1930

and liked potatoes.

I was lucky I guess.

-- Terry Wooten

Poet Bard Terry Wooten has been performing and conducting writing workshops in schools for 28 years. He is the creator of Stone Circle. Learn more about him at