CROSS LAKE, Maine — When retired Fort Kent high school English teacher Nancy Paradis set a personal goal last Christmas Day to carve 365 wooden Santa Claus figurines in one year, she meant business.
Paradis, 77, has already carved 303 of the wooden Santas from the comfort of her easy chair at her Cross Lake home in northern Aroostook County.
She has been carving as a hobby since the late 1990s, mainly making different types of figurines. Even the handles of her kitchen cupboard doors are fashioned with unique carved heads she created in place of using traditional hardware.
What makes Paradis’ accomplishment this year especially profound is that she had to give up her beloved hobby about 5 ½ years ago when she suffered a stroke. She went back to carving about two years ago and has not stopped since.
“It took me a while to get it together so my head and my hands worked together,” she said. “I think it was mostly a mental thing. The whole idea of carving really scared me for a while. I’m not sure why.”
The idea to carve the Santas this year came to her last Christmas, when she decided it would be fun to create a new figurine each day. She said she doesn’t sleep a lot, and spends her waking hours carving.
Paradis has always been a go-getter. She met her husband of 55 years, Ben Paradis, when the two were students at University of Maine at Fort Kent — then called Fort Kent State College.
Ben Paradis is a retired Fort Kent high school science teacher and cross-country coach.
She first spotted him digging in the soil behind the girls’ dorms at the college while he was doing a task related to his role as a lab assistant for one of his science classes.
“He was tall, and I was tall,” she said of first laying eyes on her future husband.
So enamored was she that the English major signed up for an invertebrate zoology course he was enrolled in so she could get to know him.
“I was so out of my element,” Nancy Paradis said. “Everyone in there was a science major. The professor gave me Ben as a lab partner — it worked out quite well.”
The couple have five children — Andrew, Michael, Peter, Tim and Dave Paradis — and are grandparents to 10, including one great-grandchild.
Ben Paradis and the couple’s sons built the home Ben and Nancy Paradis live in on the shore of Cross Lake — a home she designed.
Their house includes something most likely not to be found elsewhere — a Camden Room. Nancy Burkett Paradis was born and raised in Camden and the room is dedicated to her childhood memories.
It is decorated with family photographs, including of a 2-year-old Nancy swinging a baseball bat for the first time as her older brother and his friend sit on the grass nearby and other black and white photos of her as a baby, sitting on her parents’ Kip and Jessie Burkett’s laps.
A commemorative plate depicting Burkett Bros. Bakery, which her paternal grandfather owned and operated in Camden, is displayed as are dozens of scrapbooks and photo albums put together by her mother from as early as 1944.
Although eager for her year-long project, Paradis said her initial goal to carve one Santa per day was waylaid when she dislocated her middle finger in January after catching it in a cupboard door.
“It’s not really the finger you want bandaged and sticking up straight for about a month,” Paradis said jokingly.
She said she did a lot of planning in her head about the Santa carvings during that time, and quickly caught up when the bandage came off.
All of the Santas look different from one another and are different sizes. She obtains wood from scrap materials left over from construction projects her husband and carpenter son David build.
“It’s been fun to do. Right now I’m in the home stretch and it feels good to be in the home stretch,” she said.
Paradis said she plans to decorate her home with the Santas for the holiday when her family comes to visit, and her loved ones may just find a few of them in their Christmas stockings.