Lifestyle & Human Interest

Family Strings 58-Year-Old Popcorn Garland to Keep Memory of Their 'Angel' Alive


Plenty of parents cherish the homemade Christmas ornaments their kids make, even after their children are grown and gone.

The joy is greater and more complex for Terry Haak of Plymouth, Minnesota, whose Christmas decorating always centers around a long strand of very old popcorn.

She calls it “Paula’s popcorn,” and it’s a relic from her daughter, Paula, who passed away in 1964 at the tender age of 7.

In 1963, the family found out that Paula had a blood disease that made her incredibly fragile. She couldn’t be outside doing the things normal kids like to do for fear of her seriously injuring herself.

“And only once did she say to me, ‘Mama when can I go out and play with the other kids?’” Terry told KARE-TV in Minneapolis. “She didn’t cry. But I cried.”

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Paula had to stay in her room most of the time, and from there she was tutored, took her first Communion and eventually made that popcorn garland.

As Christmas 1963 approached, no one knew it would be her last. Terry thought making the popcorn ornament would keep Paula busy.

Armed with string, popcorn, a thimble and a needle, Paula worked at the project until she’d created a very respectable length of garland.

“I just thought, ‘This will keep her busy,'” Terry said. “It was a very special Christmas.”

In February, Paula passed, leaving her mother with a lifetime of memories, love and grief — and that popcorn garland.

Now, every Christmas, Terry takes a moment to remember her daughter as she puts the popcorn up on the tree. Somehow, the string is still holding together.

“This is my time with Paula,” Terry said.

“I have a lot of happy memories of that little girl,” she told KARE in 2013.

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Another theme near and dear to Terry’s heart is angels. She’s built up quite a collection over the years, and now has around 450 of them.

“When she died, you’d explain to your children, your young children, you know, ‘Paula went to heaven, she’s an angel now,'” Terry said.

“It’s part of dealing with my grief.”

She even got an angel tattoo on her shoulder for her 80th birthday. As for the angel decorations, they don’t just go on the tree. There are plenty for other places, too.

“This will go up on the top of the cabinet there, and maybe I’ll put a few up there,” she said. “See what you started, Paula?”

There are other ways Paula and her husband remember their daughter taken too soon. According to St. John Paul II Catholic School in Minneapolis shared that the parents have partnered with the school to honor Paula, as well.

“Terry and her husband, Gene, have volunteered at our school for many years, another way they keep the memory of her daughter Paula alive,” the school shared in a Dec. 1 Facebook post. “In addition, their ‘Paula Fund’ suppports K-2 scholars and their classrooms.”

But at home, it’s the popcorn and the angels that keep the 7-year-old’s memory alive during the holidays.

“I like it,” Terry told KARE, surveying the decorated room. “Now, it’s Christmas.”

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