As usual I am late and without excuse other than re-editing the story off the magazine tear sheet was horrible. How did I ever read such type when they first printed this story (December 1995). Still, we are in the middle of the Holiday Season, so let us begin...
“Good will towards men and peace on earth.” The assuring words look great on Christmas cards all decorated in crystalline white with angels descending towards earth. But in reality Christmas is not always wondrous, nor calm.
Marvin and Sheryll Ivanson's daughter was nominated to be lead angel in the school play until a sudden case of Chicken Pox put an end to her great moment. This would be the last year for the much sought after Christmas role, an angel with a talented singing voice. Next year she would move onto junior high leaving behind her the chance to be the singing angel. Bud Johnson, the feed mill owner, broke his leg in a sledding accident and the Mallard family had to return to Illinois for the funeral of Jane's mother.
“Peace on Earth,” drifted from an old RCA console radio at Jake's appliance store on the main street of Cobblestone Lake, though the majority of townsfolk did not take up on the idea of heavenly peace. Just ask Doc Swenson. His two-year-old farrowing pen burned to the ground, destroying 75 feeder pigs along with the structure. An investigation showed some of the wiring had been chewed away by some nesting squirrels last fall.
“Good will towards men,” seemed like a bitter pill to swallow for the congregation of Lakeside Lutheran Church. A late fall storm flooded the Little Indian River and nearly washed out the only bridge leading to the church property. To trouble the waters even more, the county refused to appropriate the money to repair or build a new bridge, because only the church members and a few local fisherman seeking out a private fishing holes use the bridge. The plat map showed both the road and bridge belonged to the county, so now farmers and politicians are at each others throat.
Things looked bad for this little Norman Rockwell community. Most holiday seasons saw noses pressed tightly against the windows of Clarence's Rexall Drug Store watching the American Flyer 4-6-4 Mountain Pioneer Special chugging up the hill as it entered the paper mache tunnel and come out the other end to greet a winter wonderland of trees, skaters and forest creatures. The model train ran its course from morning till evening all Christmas season.
This year Clarence was having back surgery at the Mayo Clinic and not a single employee had a clue on how to set up the elaborate model train layout. Children walked by in disbelief as their hopes were dashed. Not a tunnel, mail car or mountain goat was to be seen.
Clara Nordstrom had the holiday blues. While peeling potatoes for supper she could only think about her daughter and son-in-law who moved to Omaha and about the little two-year-old granddaughter she has yet to see, let alone spoil. She dreamed about the day when Sonja would open Christmas presents and run about the house .
Thankfully, some good news arrived around that winter. The Norell Implement Company decided to put on an extra shift and corn prices were holding at a rather good price. With this little boom in the economy, the town should have anticipated a prosperous Christmas, but not so. Somehow the good news never offset the despair that hung over this little farming community. The Cobblestone Lake Christmas of 1958 looked awfully bleak.
Pastor Nelson made plans last July to travel to Norway for Christmas. Jim and his wife needed a getaway and what better way to vacation than to enjoy his ancestral home during the holidays. With all the problems in Cobblestone Lake, his heart became heavy with grief and now Norway looked further away every passing moment.
Saturday, after numerous cups of coffee and much prayer, Pastor Nelson sadly broke the news to his wife Elsie and later to the congregation of Lakeside Lutheran Church, who now found temporary shelter in the Jr. High gymnasium. Norway was no longer a reality. God called him to endure the suffering with his community.
Wednesday morning a committee of 25 men and women converged upon Evelyn's Cafe which sat next to the Standard Oil station. The Lakes Area Civil Defense Team had to be reactivated for the first time since the Korean War ended. The group called for a county wide plea to roll up the sleeves and fight the invisible Grinch that gnawed away at their community.
Thursday morning an air of excitement quietly crept into this little Iowa community. During the night Ken Eisner came over from Alta and assembled the American Flyer Pioneer Special, complete with plastic mountain goats and the automatic mail catcher, then just as quietly slipped out of town before anybody knew what took place. Eisner built the setup years ago and when word reached him, he laid down his farm chores and immediately headed over to the drug store and put up the display.
Elmer Sorenson couldn't believe what he saw, nor could he believe the tears that welled up in his eyes. The train display had been just as much a part of the holidays as the movie White Christmas, which played over at the theater for the last four years. The stocky frame of a man never wept at anything.
Elmer, you see, was the County Commissioner and his signature kept the bridge from being built across the Little Indian River. Angered about some foolish words uttered by a church deacon nearly 32 years ago when he married an Episcopalian girl from Ft. Dodge, he never returned to the Lakeside Lutheran Church. He know held the power to make the church squirm.
As the American Flyer rounded the curve up the steep mountain grade and over a Lincoln Log bridge, Elmer had an eerie vision of a train wreck because of a damaged bridge—he imagined for a quick moment the sounds of children crying. As he suddenly turned around he thought he saw the deacon, who departed this earth many years ago, out of the corner of his eye.
Elmer once again wiped away more tears from his eyes as he convinced himself the cold, sharp winds made his eyes well up. He pulled his coat collar up over his ears and walked down to the cafe.
After he sat down at the counter Judy brought over the usual, a cup of coffee and a bismark.
“Looks like Doc Swenson is going to get a new farrowing pen, kind of sad though,” Judy said.
“Why's that,” asked Elmer, as he picked up the assortment of chopped nuts that fell from his bismark.
“They are going to dismantle the old church for lumber since Doc has a need and the the bridge just ain't safe enough for folks to cross anymore. They want to start tearing the place down right away while the river is frozen so they can haul everything across the ice if need be.”
Judy placed the glass coffee pot back on the burner, hesitated for a moment and turned back toward Elmer. With a note of sarcasm she mumbled, “Get the picture?”
Suddenly that sweet roll felt like a brick in his stomach. Elmer threw down the ninety-five cents for his shortened coffee break and quickly drove off in his Mercury to the dangerously crumbling bridge.
Back in town, the winds were howling in across the Dakotas, bringing January like weather to the area. Greg Nelson, the pastor's son, drove his front-end loader into town and by evening all the Christmas lights were up on Main Street and the manger scene, complete with live sheep, appeared in front of the Farmers Coop Grain Elevator.
The Auxiliary Civil Defense League had a big pot of potato soup and nine freshly baked pies prepared for the half frozen street decorators. Cobblestone Lake for the first time that year looked and smelled like Christmas, which was only a week and a half away. One could easily see the townsfolk suddenly became a bit more festive.
Yes, the town had regained its foothold and Christmas joy seem to spread all through Cobblestone Lake. But not for Elmer. He spent the evening staring at the deserted church. He could see his parents grave against the rusty red snow fence. In the prairie like surrounding of the river bend, Elmer thought for a moment he could see his dad's '38 Desoto pulling up to the church just in time for Sunday School. For a flash in time he was a child again. He once again pulled the collar of his coat about his ears and dashed back to the warmth of his Mercury.
The next day an unseasonable warm spell descended upon the area, allowing the townsfolk to get out and do some last minute Christmas shopping. The warmth also brought a chicken pox epidemic, causing the elementary school Christmas play to be postponed a week so all the children could be in the reenactment of the birth of the Christ Child. This meant Susan would be the star angel after all.
Clara Nordstrom was cleaning up the community building after Saturday's annual meatball and lutefisk dinner when she suddenly dropped her broom and screamed as if her last breath had been robbed from her mortal soul. In the doorway stood a little bundled up toddler along side Clara's daughter and son-in-law from Omaha.
Early Monday morning Doc Swenson was down by the river watching the ice begin to melt as the current started to regain control of the river. As he shook his head, feeling as though he lost out on a deal of a lifetime for free lumber, inside his heart there erupted a sigh of relief—how could he use church lumber for a farrowing pen. He returned to his truck in time to see Elmer pull up to the end of the gravel road where three men exited his gray Mercury.
Elmer politely greeted Doc then walked over to the condemned bridge. After a few minutes of pointing, digging away at the black soil with the heels of their boots and a signature on a contract, he overheard one of the men say they would start construction perhaps as soon as the first of the year. The only signature that was needed to build the new bridge had now been penned.
Doc raced backed to town and entered Evelyn's Cafe, where the news always starts before it is disseminated out into the community. Doc was to late to shout the news, since Elmer had beat to the cafe and was sharing breakfast with Pastor Nelson . The blessed contract sat at the end of the table.
The day after New Years, sounds of diesel engines filled the air as a Cat pulled down the last of the old iron bridge. With the weather holding out, the contractor felt the new bridge, a beautiful combination iron and wooden beams, would be finished by Easter. Doc's new farrowing pen beat that deadline by two months. The mystery of how the money came to be for the new farrowing pen was whispered about town for some time, but a canceled trip to Norway turned into a sizable check sent to Gunderson Lumber and Supply.
Over the years the children became adults and shared the joys of the once lost but found Christmas with their children and grandchildren. If doubts arise in the minds of youngsters an evening trip to the bridge at Christmas will delight their hearts with the spectacular color of the decorated bridge in honor of Elmer Sorenson's signature that saved the church those many years ago. If you stand quietly, the breeze through the pine tree seems to whisper sounds of Christmas.
As for the whereabouts of the American Flyer 4-6-4 Mountain Pioneer Special, you ask. It still runs every Christmas at The Cobbled Coffee House which once held the Rexall Drug Store. The Standard Station and Evelyn's Cafe no longer stands on Main Street since a corporate drug store company bought the property. But in truth, not much else has changed, except for the pages on the calender.