The Church was at the bottom of Main Street, adjacent to the railroad tracks and the lakefront park, Peoria Lake.
It was in the mid-forties, and I remember a red wagon, organ music, and a Monkey holding a cup. Inside of the wagon was fresh-popped popcorn, peanuts, and other goodies. The owner would take your money for his refreshments, or you could put your money in the monkey’s cup. I would often stand there and watch the monkey’s antics after Church. Now it was winter, and the popcorn wagon, with the monkey, was gone.
I walked into the warm Church and removed my coat, purchased from the Salvation Army by my foster mother. I was nine years old, ashamed of my used coat, so I hurriedly took it off as I watched the other girls remain in their new ones. Their mother’s looked on with pride as they finally folded those coats over the backs of pews. It seemed to me as they stood with their new coats, their eyes were on me. I stared back, hostile and defiant. I momentarily looked down at my anklets to see if the safety pin was still keeping the hole closed in the heel of my sock. When I looked up, people were seated, and the choir was singing, “Nearer My God to thee.”
It seemed to me the service was long and boring, and as I was putting on my coat, Pastor Perry was towering in front of me. I liked the Pastor. To me, he was funny and sharp as a tack with his thin mustache. He reached out and softly grasped both my shoulders, “young lady, I want you to recite, ‘The Night Before Christmas,’ for our Christmas Play!” My heart seemed to have sunk to the pit of my stomach and back to my chest. I answered shyly, “Sir, I don’t know that poem.” He placed the typewritten poem in my hand, and as he turned to walk away, he tossed back, “you can learn it by the time of our program.” He was greeting people as I walked out of the doors of the Church and on up the hill to Sanford Street where I lived. I put the poem in my threadbare coat pocket and read it soon as I got home. I proudly announced to my foster mom and her friends, “Reverend Perry asked me to recite ‘The Night Before Christmas’ at our Church Christmas program!” I had finally gotten excited about it. All I did for the next two weeks was practice reciting the poem. I could recite it word for word when the Christmas Play started. After the program was over, I received many compliments, and the Reverend beamed with pride as he said, “I knew you could do it. I’m so proud of you, Lorraine; something good is going to happen to you.”
When I opened my Christmas presents, one contained a brand new coat with the biggest buttons I had ever seen, and as I admired my new coat, I remembered what my Pastor said, “Something good is going to happen to you!”