A Christmas Celebration at the Nora Store
A few miles south of Alcester and tucked into the east side of a hill is a small prairie storefront that on this cool December night rises above the cold, recently harvested cornfields with a gentle glow of red and white Christmas bulbs outlining the roof and porch of the Nora Store. A bluish moon looks down as a steady line of cars slowly soldier in from each direction as if summoned to gather for a greater purpose.
The destination of these wayfaring travelers is to this small place where for the next few hours and over the course of a handful of evenings during the holidays, people from near and far gather to capture an innocence of time where simple fellowship through singing Christmas songs can make even the grinchiest of people smile and glow.
The Nora Store was added to the National Registry of Historic Places in 2007. For the past 28 years it has been home to a small holiday celebration of music and holiday cheer courtesy of Mike Pedersen and the restored pipe organ as the centerpieces of the store.
The store is a feast for the eyes with so many things to see. Great trinkets and wares from a long lost time fill the walls and overstuffed shelves. On our first time here, we had only heard of the Nora Store from my mom and her visiting a few years ago. We decided to go and as mom told us that it is pretty small, we should try to get there early.
With her advice, we made the short 47 mile trek from Sioux Falls and arrived around 40 minutes early. As we entered, we found a full house with many standing already. My wife found a spot standing by the oversized wood burning stove that cast great warmth.
Mike noted the great number of people that kept coming and eventually so many that the people spilled out onto the porch and around the front of the store with the doors wide open so people could hear the music and sing along.
The stove was certainly put to good use on this night. Seeing the great numbers of people, Mike sat down and said we would begin a bit early and without much fanfare said lets get going. #34. The numbers he would call out would be for the song lyrics that were in nicely typed booklets so that people could sing along.
Sitting to the right of Mike was a retired symphony violinist in her nineties who would come most nights and also play along to the piano and pipe organ. Other musicians would join in too such as the bagpiper and a guest pianist sharing their talents.
For the next couple of hours, people would call out their requests from the song book. We even received a visit from Santa and Mrs.Claus as they held court and led people in the merry singing for part of the evening.
Eventually I moved to the outside in order to make room for others to come inside. Scanning the cars parked along the road and the makeshift field parking lot across the highway, the license plates read from counties all over eastern SD, Iowa and Minnesota. One couple I had met was there for the first time and had driven from north of Mitchell.
A photo I took of an older couple showed them sitting on the front porch under a glowing wreath as she was singing while he was petting one of the several cats that was roaming around and had hopped up in his lap. Norman Rockwell would have surely painted this scene.
When it was over people shuffled out and off to their cold vehicles and one by one, the red taillights faded from sight. There's a good chance that the conversations were similar in each car and centered around the joy that came from so many strangers coming together and singing while giving each of us a small glimpse of holiday joy and memories from our past.
I don't remember what number it was in the book but as the song line goes LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH, and for a small snapshot in time, I count myself fortunate to be among those singing and to experience the peace that was radiating from Nora.
Find out about the Nora Store on the their Facebook site under Nora Store