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Friday, 23 December 2016 10:33

Enduring memories: An act of Christmas kindness

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We seem to hold Christmas memories — the nostalgic, the sweet, even the sad — dearer to our hearts. Maybe that’s because this is a time of year that pulls us closer, makes us feel connected to each other. And when we asked area residents for their favorite Christmas memories, they were happy to share:

Tricia Alexander, a Lake Geneva resident, award-winning musician and the music ministry creative manager and administrator at the Unity Spiritual Center of Woodstock, Illinois, can still recall a Christmas decades ago when she learned about the power of faith, compassion and love:

“I was just a girl in love with a boy. 

“Across America then, because of the draft and the war in Vietnam, for many of our young men, it was a time of difficult decisions: to serve the military or go to Canada.

“Tommy was among the conscientious objectors, but he found a way to stay that felt good to his heart. He served in the Coast Guard. His training was the first time ever that we were apart, so you can understand how excited we were when he found out that he would be off for a few days at Christmas. We started planning my trip immediately.

“I was 20 when I traveled to meet him — to Carolina, I think. Even though it was my first flight and my first time traveling alone, I felt no fear, no anxiety — only incredible happiness knowing within a few hours, I would see him again. Then while I was in flight, he got new orders that would keep him on the base for Christmas.

“There were no cellphones in those days. I found out when my flight landed and there was a note waiting for me saying that he couldn’t leave the base. I was to take a taxi to the motel and he would call me as soon as he knew what was happening. 

“So I waited in a strange motel room out in the middle of the empty countryside, feeling very sad and lonely. It was after midnight when he called to say that he might be able to come late in the day on Christmas, but only for a few hours.

“When I got off the phone with him, I decided I needed to make Christmas right there for Tommy and me.

“It started simply with a pillow case covering the little table in my room. I unpacked and set out the gifts I brought for him, all wrapped, beribboned and ready to be opened. It was beginning to look a little bit like Christmas in my room.

“The next morning, as I walked outside to the restaurant next door to the motel, I noticed lots of very little pine tree-like plants growing in the area. I decided that after breakfast, I would go Christmas tree hunting.

“It was between breakfast and lunch and was pretty quiet in the restaurant. I got into a conversation with the waitress, explaining what happened and how I decided to make Christmas for Tommy and me, even if we only had a few hours together.

“The restaurant owner, the chef and the waitress all opened their hearts —and their cupboards — to me. They loaned me red cloth napkins, a white tablecloth, lots of aluminum foil to make ornaments, scissors, a couple of candles, an empty wine bottle and two wine glasses. 

“The chef came out of the kitchen with a basket of dinner rolls, butter, jam, cheese, all wrapped up for safe keeping, along with a couple of little plates with some silverware. 

“I was able to pull one tiny pine tree out of the ground — roots and all.  Once the empty wine bottle was washed out and had a red cloth napkin swirled around it, it made the perfect stand for a beautiful little Christmas tree.

“Tommy called while I was making the ornaments to let me know that starting at midnight, he would have a 24-hour break. We would be able to spend Christmas together after all!

“As I hung up the phone, a prayer of gratitude rose out of my heart. I looked around that motel room with tears in my eyes.  Everywhere there were touches of Christmas: a little decorated tree, candles, gifts, even food. Thanks to a handful of kind and compassionate strangers, Tommy and I were going to have a wonderful home-away-from-home Christmas. 

“Tommy and I had many Christmases together, but none are as memorable or as dear to my heart as that one.”

After a number of years, their lives amicably went on different paths, Alexander said.

“In the years that followed, I pursued a career in the arts and spent about 35 years on the road. Everywhere I went across America, Canada, Scotland, England, Wales, India, I found people eager to help, to learn about me and to invite me into their homes.

“Almost 50 years later, my heart is still full with gratitude for the waitress, chef, restaurant owner and motel clerk who made me ready to welcome all the people and experiences that followed.”

We seem to hold Christmas memories — the nostalgic, the sweet, even the sad — dearer to our hearts. Maybe that’s because this is a time of year that pulls us closer, makes us feel connected to each other. And when we asked area residents for their favorite Christmas memories, they were happy to share:

Sheri Disrud, the volunteer coordinator at Beckman Mill in Beloit, has a box full of Christmas past in the form of ornaments her now adult children crafted when they were young:

“I had four children, and while they were growing up, my husband at that time was in retail and he was at the store all the time.

“I had to make Christmas with my little kids and we had fun doing it. One day we would make cookies — you know, the decorated cutout cookies, and we’d have a big mess in the kitchen. Another time, I’d get out scraps of paper, glue, glitter and pipe cleaners. I’d tell the kids they had to make me an ornament for the tree. One of them made a Christmas tree as an ornament and decorated it with candy-type things. Another made Christmas tree light bulb ornaments. One year they even made a snowman, gluing on cotton balls to make it fluffy and gluing buttons on.

“They were young — 3, 4 years old — and they made some cute ornaments that are very special to me. My oldest child is now 54.

“I lost a bunch of those ornaments, but this year I found a box of 15 of them. I was so excited. It was so much fun to remember those times.”

Friday, 23 December 2016 10:18

Enduring memories: Through a child's eyes

Written by

We seem to hold Christmas memories — the nostalgic, the sweet, even the sad — dearer to our hearts. Maybe that’s because this is a time of year that pulls us closer, makes us feel connected to each other. And when we asked area residents for their favorite Christmas memories, they were happy to share:

Christmas through a child’s eyes

For Nancy Russell, a longtime Walworth County Board supervisor and Lake Geneva resident, a Christmastime tradition growing up in Chicago was peering in the fantasy-filled windows of big downtown department stores decorated for the holidays:

I’ve lived in Walworth County for over 40 years, but I was born and raised in Chicago.

“When my sister and I were very young, my mother would take us on the bus, elevated train and subway ‘downtown’ to walk up and down State Street and view the Christmas windows in every store. There were a lot of great stores then: Carson Pirie Scott, the Boston Store, the Fair Store, Goldblatt’s, Sears and the biggest and best of all, Marshall Fields. Usually there was a theme or story that the big stores carried out through each of their windows, and it was different every year. We’d watch children, elves, animals, snowmen, trees and clocks moving separately and within the exhibit. Then we’d decide which windows we liked the best or if last year’s were better.

“Most of all, we looked forward to seeing Santa Claus at Marshall Fields, because I believed he was the real Santa and all the other store Santas were his helpers. He was beautiful in a dark red velvet suit, sitting on a raised platform, everything decorated as only Fields did.”

Editor’s note: This story was first published in The Week on Sunday, Dec. 29, 1991. It is republished here, Dec. 18, 2016, to commemorate the 25th anniversary.

By Linda Godfrey

"Clap for the Wolfman" was a song some people might remember from the ’70s. It was sort of a self-promotion for the famous bearded deejay, "Wolfman Jack." But people around parts of rural Elkhorn are clapping for what they say looks like a real wolfman -- one that doesn’t play records.

The rumors floated around town for two years or so before I heard them. A wolfish-looking creature that ran on two legs and had been seen around the Bray Road area, stealing chickens, eating roadkills and scaring the daylights out of locals who (sometimes literally) ran into it.

(Interview with author Linda Godfrey: Story endures 25 years later. READ.)

Although the stories seemed like grist for the National Enquirer’s mill, they were consistent enough to be intriguing. A certain number of people, good honest working folk, had seen something -- something unusual. Something scary. Something hairy that relished pavement patty dinners!

The logical place to start was the county humane officer, Jon Fredrickson. It turned out Fredrickson has a manila folder in his files marked "Werewolf," filled with note cards detailing six or seven such "sightings." One referred to unusual tracks, another to a hairy, pointy-eared creature seen chasing down a deer on two legs.

Another described a Burger King employee who saw a manlike creature running in mid-November. The employee allegedly said he could not believe what a fast and powerful runner the thing was.

Fredrickson’s best guess is that the mysterious beast is actually a coyote or even a wolf, both of which have been unofficially reported in the area.

There are at least two people, however, who would disagree with Fredrickson. I found out about them through the grapevine, and both agreed to tell me their versions of what they saw. I’ll call them Barbara and Pat, since both were reluctant to go public with their real names for understandable reasons. (It seems society is less than kind to people who claim to have seen werewolves.)

The two women are unrelated, but both saw the creature on different parts of Bray Road in the evening hours. Barbara is a working mother, age 26, and Pat is a high school student. And both are entirely serious about what they saw.

Here are their stories in their own words:

Barbara: I was driving home one night on Bray Road, and I saw this thing on the side of the road. As I came up to it in my car, its back was to me so I saw it had ears and the whole bit. It was kneeling!

Its elbows were up, and its claws were facing out so I knew it had claws. I remember the long claws. And it was eating road kill or something, and as I drove by and I saw all this, it looked right at me and didn’t run. It didn’t get spooked or anything.

And it had like glowing eyes, which probably were a reflection of my headlights. It was right on Bray Road, right before the Bray farm, on the curve. And I saw it.

He was brownish-gray ... and he had big teeth and fangs. And he looked at me. He turned his head to look at me.

It was about the size of an average man, 5-foot-7 maybe, about 150 pounds. It was holding the thing it was eating palms up, with the real long claws and the pointed ears. He had a big, long nose and a long chin, like this on this picture (she pointed to a drawing of a "werewolf" from a library book).

This is exactly what I saw (the picture). This is it. This is what it looked like.

This happened to me two years ago. And after I’d heard that Pat had an incident with it, I decided to go to the library. I looked through a few books they had for a picture of what it looked like, and I found that picture.

The knees were bent in a kneeling position, like a human would do.

It was night, and it was quite large, but I know what I saw. You don’t mistake something like that. I don’t take Bray Road in the dark anymore.

Pat: It was October this year, on Halloween. I was going down Bray Road, and it was kind of smoggy out, and my front tire got lifted off the ground. I’d hit something. So I kept going about 50 or 60 feet, right before Sitler Road, and then I got out of the car.

I’m looking around the side to see what it was, ’cause I’m thinking I hit a small animal. I hit a bird the same night and so I’m thinking I just killed another animal.

There was nothing on the road, no blood or anything. I didn’t see anybody, and I felt like if I hit it, it should have stayed there. I walked to the end of the car, and here comes this thing, and it’s just running up at me!

You could see the chest of this thing because it was big, and it was hairy. It was fast, that’s for sure, because I see this thing, I get in the car, and by the time I got inside the car the thing had grabbed hold of the car.

I just put my foot on the gas pedal and I started going. Maybe after I got going I looked back, but at the time I was more interested in leaving.

The way it was running, you could suggest that it was on two legs because you could see the chest so well and it was pulsating as it was coming toward me. It was hitting the ground hard. I’ve never seen a human run as fast as that and my uncle was a track star. (If he’d gotten me) I probably would have been dinner that night.

It was bigger than any dog I’ve seen around here. We had a couple of Rottweilers and we had one that was a real big one, and this thing was bigger than he was.

And he had more hair.

It was brown. You could see the hair; dark colored. It wasn’t black, though. Long straight hairs.

Coyotes don’t get that big. I’ve seen a coyote. They were suggesting it was a bear at my house, but I told them it wasn’t that big.

But it was bigger than any animal I’ve ever seen around here. When the nails hit my car it was like, mmmph! (She clapped her hands together forcefully). It hit the top of the trunk and it slid off. The fog made the car wet. But when it was going down it scratched (the car).

This did not look like a German shepherd. I swear to that.

I went to go pick up my mother’s boyfriend’s daughter, and on the way back she saw it, kneeling down eating or something. She’s 11, and I picked her up from trick or treating, so it was around 9 p.m. She said, "Look at that THING!" I said, "Yeah, look at it," and I pressed on the gas.

The mind tends to play tricks on people after you’ve been scared, and I admit I was afraid. I’m not going to say it was a werewolf. I’d say it was a freak of nature, one of God’s mistakes.

It’s weird because you don’t think something like that exists ... but if you see a creature like that, it tends to leave the mind wondering.

***********

Barbara’s mother also had a story to tell. She said a neighbor of hers woke up at 4 a.m. because her dogs were "going crazy" barking outside. The woman said she went outside and heard a long, constant howling sound.

"She said it was so scary," said Barbara’s mother, "that she couldn’t get back to sleep. And she does remember it was a full moon."

Barbara’s mother also heard from a male acquaintance that he had seen some sort of creature that was bigger than a dog or wolf by a creek. He didn’t know what it was.

One other family admits to seeing a mysterious creature. Karen Bowey, who lives on Bowers Road, said her daughter, Heather, saw it. Heather, who was then 11, was out playing with a friend two years ago when she came running home, frantic with fright.

"She said she thought it was a big dog, until it stood up," remembered Bowey. "We said, ‘What do you mean, stood up?’ She wanted us to go down there, but we just blew it off."

Heather’s memory of the incident is vivid. "It had silver-colored fur with brown in it," she said, "and its face was shaped like a coyote’s. But the back legs were shaped differently. When it stood up, they looked bigger than a dog’s or coyote’s, like they could stand up and jump and stuff. It was looking at me."

Heather said the creature continued to stand and look at them, until the children realized it wasn’t a dog and started running back to the house.

"I looked back and saw it running toward us kind of like a dog would run but with bigger leaps. It got halfway to the house, then turned around and went back into the cornfield," Heather said.

Bowey said Heather was not the type of child to lie or make things up. "I just think it’s a very curious thing," said Bowey. "I don’t think it’s human. I think it’s a mix and it gives the impression it’s deformed."

There are other rumors that no one I contacted would own up to, such as the one that claims a local hunter found identifiable tracks on his land, or the one that says a woman and her two children saw a dark, hairy creature on two legs chase a deer out of the woods -- and keep up with it!

Most people do seem to agree that something is out there. They just don’t know what it is.

Fredrickson, the humane officer, still sticks to his coyote-wolf theory. "Sometimes when a wolf or coyote is ready to pounce on an animal," he explained, "it’ll actually spring up, which gives the illusion that it’s standing. So if they caught sight of the animal at just the moment it was lunging, it could have appeared to be on two legs."

Nevertheless, Fredrickson concedes there are a lot of people who really believe they’ve seen something out of the ordinary. And he doesn’t know quite what to make of it.

He probably said it for everyone, though, when he made this observation: "The county is getting stranger."

Wolfman Jack would have loved it.

WALWORTH COUNTY SUNDAY -- Members of the Williams Bay High School History Club don’t just study the past. They mine it to bring old traditions into the present. In some cases, they even use it to create a piece of the future.

Take, for example, one of the club’s biggest projects -- Frost Park. The slice of land at Congress and Geneva streets was created by the Williams Bay Garden Club in 1935 to honor Edwin B. Frost, a physicist and astronomer who worked at Yerkes Observatory in the early 20th century. It was designed with astronomical symbolism, including a moon garden. But more than 70 years later, the park had slid into neglect.  

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