The Gift of a Legacy (Part 3)

Remembering Christmases Past

In my conversation with Sam Chapin about his parents’ written legacy and his own early memories of Warroad, Lake of the Woods and the Northwest Angle, we touched on his favorite parts of the Christmas holidays as a boy. Sam has posted a few Christmas odds and ends to the Lake of the Woods Memories and Stories Facebook page over the years and we’ll share one of those here as well.

Sam: My dad always went out and cut a Christmas tree, and they’re not like the ones you buy today. They were “Charlie Brown” trees. My parents owned 20 acres at the mouth of the Warroad River at a creek called Bull Dog Run. He’d go out and get a tree, and then we’d trim it. We’d trim it with things like tinsel, and I remember we had these bubble lights. They were long and thin and when they heated up they would bubble different colors. That was part of it. There were Christmas cards we would hang on the tree. Of course, there was those different colored bulbs and an angel on top. We’d string popcorn on the tree. That’s how we’d trim the tree.

One tradition we had was before Christmas we’d write out what we wanted for Christmas and we’d give it to my dad. He’d throw it in the stove and say that Santa Clause could see the smoke and would know what to bring us for Christmas. That tradition has been carried on with us and with our two boys and their children. My dad was born in 1910 and I think that was something his parents did with him.

And then on Christmas Eve, my parents would always fry a steak in a pan. I happened to be going through my dad’s diary and they did that way back in the 40’s. For Christmas dinner we had relatives over; sometimes my dad’s family, sometimes my mother’s family. Sometimes we’d get together with the Hughes, my cousins. Sometimes we’d have Mary and Hugh Hardy over.

We’d open presents Christmas morning and act like kids because we were kids. Ripping open packages and all.

Those are some of my memories.

Q: Do you have any specific memory of Warroad and the holidays?

Sam: Well yes, (laughter) there’s the one I’ve posted on the Lake of the Woods site about Santa coming in by airplane. Santa had had a little bit too much to drink, he got a little nauseous and well…


Sam wrote on the Lake of the Woods Memories and Stories Facebook group: “It’s Christmas Season and time to repost a true Santa story that took place in Warroad during the 40’s. It was written by my father and appeared in one of his columns published in the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Hope you enjoy.

‘I think the most enjoyable yuletides in the memory of Myrtle and me were when we were playing Santa Clause to our children.

That was when we lived in Warroad which were memorable years anyway. There never was a town quite like that one. We were always out to do things in a big way but the only things that got bigger and better were the snafus that resulted.

Like the time we decided to go modern and have Santa come to town in an airplane.

The kids all gathered down at the beach which served as an airport for our ski-rigged planes and there came Santa’s plane dead out of the north. The sight of such a host of little children brought out the ham in our pilot who was bringing Santa Clause down from the North Pole. He swooped down over them, climbed sharply into the sky, cavorted, waggled his wings and finally set down.

The children ran up to get a view of the airborne Santa. Northing happened. For a long while nothing happened.

Then the cabin door opened and one red-clad, cotton-cuffed leg reached out and reached tentatively for the ground. Then came the other leg, likewise groping.

The children had a feeling that something wasn’t right. Santa was emerging rump first, then tummy and beard.

The kids rushed forward. Santa grasped the wing strut to steady himself, lifted his mask, and began to throw up.’”

(Published in the December 18 issue of the Warroad Pioneer)

Photo caption: Sam Chapin shared this photo online and wrote “How many of you still go out in the woods and cut a Christmas tree vs cutting one at a tree farm? When we lived in Warroad, my Dad would take us out to the property he owned about 2 miles south of Warroad and cut a tree. This is a photo of one of those trees taken in the early 50’s. My sister, Nola, brother, Roger, and myself are trimming the tree.”

The Gift of a Legacy

The Gift of a Legacy (Part 2)

The Gift of a Legacy (Part 4)


Author: Angle Full of Grace

A writer, woods-wanderer, and internal peace seeker who raises two free-range children in the wilderness, I escaped the wasteland of corporate America a few years back never to return. I write about love, family, mental health, addiction, parenthood and personal growth all through lens of place and connection to the land. Most entries are my weekly column for our local small-town newspaper, and there's an occasional feature story thrown in the mix as well.

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