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Many of us have that moment. That single moment in time that alters the trajectory of our lives. For some of us it is an illness or a tragic experience that propels us down a different path. For others, it may be the kind words of a stranger or the encouragement of a beloved teacher that leads us in a certain direction. Sometimes that moment is clearly defined and sometimes it is more of a series of events that lead us to a particular destiny.
For Mrs. Wanda Emde, her moment came in December 1964 when her daughter Joy brought home a tiny construction paper Santa that ultimately led her down the path on which she became known as the “Santa Lady.”
Mrs. Wanda, as she is known around the community of Bald Knob, has always had a love for Santa. Born during the Great Depression, Mrs. Wanda’s family didn’t have a lot of money but always tried to make the holidays special.
Mrs. Wanda lovingly recalled the Christmas tradition of her childhood.
“We were poor when I was a child. Each year we would save what we called icicles and bits of my mother’s quilting cotton in an envelope. We would get a tree from the yard and cover it with the icicles and the cotton was snow. Someone would come dressed as Santa, and this was a big thing for me even after I finally recognized the boots that Santa was wearing.”
Every year, Santa would bring her and her siblings a stocking that contained an orange, an apple, a piece of ribbon candy and some chocolate drops. This was often the only fruit they would get all year, so it was a very special treat indeed. Mrs. Wanda always appreciated that Santa thought enough to provide this gift for them and thus her love for him began to grow.
In the 1960s, when her two daughters were small, money was tight, and she sought out ways to make the holidays as special for them as they had been for her. When Joy brought home that paper Santa, Mrs. Wanda decided to start placing Santas around her home each Christmas.
At first Mrs. Wanda could only afford tiny Santas that she could purchase at the dollar store. Then, people started to give them to her as gifts. Her collection continued to grow until she had a few Santas in each room.
The next year she got a few more.
Then, in a blink of an eye, 51 years had passed, and her collection had grown to include 1659 Santas.
Her collection fills eight rooms of her home and takes her nearly two weeks to put in place. Beginning in October, Mrs. Wanda along with her sister Mrs. Macy, packs up most of the trinkets, knick-knacks and belongings that fill their home from February to October and carefully unpacks and places each Santa.
Many of the Santas light up, move or play music. Mrs. Macy is the official battery installer and “Santa Doctor” who makes sure everything is in tip-top shape for the nearly 100 guests who will come to their home each Christmas season.
In January, all of the batteries will be removed, and every Santa will be dusted and carefully wrapped before being packed away until next October.
Mrs. Wanda’s home is simply breathtaking. Words nor pictures can do justice to the collection she has.
It wasn’t until near the end of my visit that Mrs. Wanda let me in on a little secret; she is almost completely blind. She knows her collection so intimately that most people would never guess that she can barely see the Santas she loves so well.
Mrs. Wanda’s loss of eyesight isn’t slowing her down one bit, and she is still very passionate about showing and sharing her collection. She said her one regret was that occasionally she will want to share a specific Santa with a visitor but her vision problems might prevent her from locating it.
I asked Mrs. Wanda if she was still adding to her collection. She laughed and said that her family told her that she needed to stop buying Santas, but then they kept giving them to her as gifts. She said she’d kind of like to get her collection to a nice round number, but she wasn’t too worried about it.
I found it hard to leave Mrs. Wanda and Mrs. Macy. Although Mrs. Macy proclaimed herself to be “Scrooge” and her bedroom is the only room in the house that doesn’t contain a Santa, her love and pride for her sister and her collection were very evident. Both women were quite fond of a Polar Express Santa that had a recorded message that says, “Just remember, the true spirit of Christmas lies in your heart.” The true spirit of Christmas truly lies in the hearts of these two wonderful ladies.
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