Pat Johnson of Chatfield is pleased to have Christmas lights on her River Street yard again this year after the lights went missing for a season.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
Pat Johnson of Chatfield is pleased to have Christmas lights on her River Street yard again this year after the lights went missing for a season. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/CHATFIELD NEWS
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As Christmas nears, family traditions and memories rapidly come to mind, including visits from Santa, decorating a tree and making the holiday special for loved ones.

Pat Johnson of Chatfield has many stories to share as well as beautiful lights that twinkle and cheer up her neighborhood.

"Every year, all the kids would go to the downstairs window, when all 13 were little, and Santa would be on the roof. My husband would go up, then it became my sons' job, then my son-in-law, Douglas. They'd stomp around and talk to the kids since the kids were sure we didn't have a fire in the fireplace," recalled Johnson. She fondly remembers how her grandchildren enjoyed a visit from Santa Claus each Christmas - the real one, not just the plywood one on the roof of which she loves.

Johnson and her late husband, Charles - who owned Root River State Bank and First State Bank of Fountain - built a two-story home on the west side of Chatfield, on River Street, where they raised their five children and eventually welcomed their grandchildren for Christmas.

"My husband used to do all of the lights," she stated, "even the ones up on the roof, the whole works."

Johnson said their lighting traditions began after moving from a ranch-style home on the other side of town to a house just up the street from her current home.

"Then we built this house 45 years ago and bought the lot next door," she said. "There was an old house on it that we tore down - and we've had lights out there every year. He (Charles) started putting lights out when we lived on this end of town. We were married 65 years and that Santa and his reindeer are probably 60 years old."

Plywood Santa stands atop the lower level roof of Johnson's home, overseeing the decorated yard that includes three Nativity sets - one white plastic, another a wire silhouette and a third with very detailed, colorful pieces. There's also a Christmas card made for the Johnsons that says "Joyous Noel from the Johnsons," a Christmas tree front and center with an unnamed reindeer and his companion Rudolph. Nearby there is a train with running lights and a polar bear waving his arms in a little Christmas jig. One can also find Snoopy checking his mailbox - only to find Woodstock inside - and lights glowing along the perimeter of the property. There's a large, beribboned wreath at the peak of the house that was given to Johnson by a friend, making the already stately pillared house even more impressive.

Johnson said she delights in the display, which she has entitled "Baby Boomers' Christmas Memories" this year as most of the decorations originate from at least 40 years ago.

Alternately, she may call it "Christmas Memories for My Grandchildren," a gift to their future recollections of Christmas at their grandparents' house.

However, she spent one Christmas simply searching for her lights. "I own a lot of lights. I thought, 'With all that stuff, I should put it up for my kids,'" she said. However, most of the decorations were missing, having been put away by Charles the year before he passed away.

"I didn't know where Charles put them - he used to take things down and dry them out a bit, and the year after he passed away, I didn't feel like putting the lights out, but last year, I had one of my friends look all over for me," Johnson said. "She looked in the garage, in the garage on our spare lot, in the attic, in the basement in the cupboard."

Luckily, before all hope was lost, the friend found them in the dirt room - a room the Johnsons had not finished in the basement.

"We put out the Santa on the roof, the crèche set, the sign someone made for us, the reindeer...Charles used to have a little church that went with the reindeer," Johnson explained. "I'm just amazed that these things still work at all. The reindeer used to lift his head a little bit more, but it still goes up and down, even though his nose is a little closer to the ground."

Johnson's favorite decorations include her Santa on the roof, which is one of her oldest, and the wire renditions of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.

Once Johnson located her collection of Christmas decorations and lights, she decided to add something new as a tribute to Charles.

"Most of these things, my husband picked out," she said. "Charles had always been into trains...(a store) had a little train garden and pond, so I picked out a little train for him. It reminds me of him."

As for her outdoor holiday lighting display, Johnson shares it as a gift to her neighbors, brightening her street with holiday cheer.

"I hope the lights make people happy," she concluded.