NORWAY — It’s easy to do a double take when passing Harold Cote. The long white beard and twinkle in his eyes makes one wonder if Old Saint Nick came down from the North Pole to visit Oxford Hills ahead of Christmas.
That is exactly what the Norway resident hoped for after he began growing his beard roughly a year ago, about a year after he and his wife, Ginny, moved to an apartment on Main Street in Norway. A longtime woodworker, Harold picked up the hobby back up about three years ago, and since moving to Norway, his landlord, Tony Morra, provided him a small wood shop to work in.
For the past year, Harold hasn’t stopped working in that shop. He clocks between eight and 10 hours a day, creating and crafting all sorts of toys he plans to give out as Santa Claus later this month. The toy give away – for children from infant up to 8 years old – is set for 5:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 18, after the 5 p.m. supper at the Second Congregational Church of Norway at 205 Main St. in Norway.
Ginny and Melissa Martin will be on hand dressed as elves helping Santa pass out his gifts.
“There’s so many little kids in this town that don’t have nothing. … I feel that little kids should definitely have a nice Christmas,” Harold said. “The kids’ grins [are] worth more than a million dollars to me.”
Harold’s workshop and the couple’s apartment do look like a miniature North Pole, as wooden toys – finished and in other various stages – fill the spaces. The toys run the gamut and include, cars, trucks, airplanes, space shuttles, doll beds and cradles, doll house furniture, polka dotted horses, pigs, rabbits, penguins on sticks, golf carts, plant pots, foot stools and bird house travel campers. When Santa, er Harold, finishes the toys, Ginny stains them.
There’s a large doll house under construction, along with an entire farm and all its associated buildings – as Harold grew up on one. He plans on making another train set in the coming year. And completely comprised of matches, are two house boats, (modeled after the life-sized ones he built in Maine and Florida), a large ship and an Army truck complete with a mounted machine gun. The large ship took him about a year to construct and the boats and truck about nine months to build, he says.
There’s two simple reasons why Harold decided to spend roughly $5,000 of his own money on tools and supplies for his Christmas project.
“As a kid myself, I never had nothing. I grew up poor in Millinocket,” he says. “I never had it easy all my life. I like doing. I like to give.”
Harold was first introduced to woodworking during a shop class in high school. It took him a whole semester, but the first piece he ever completed was a gun rack. He enjoyed it so much made sure his house had a woodworking shop when he built it in West Enfield shortly after getting married. But once the kids grew up and moved out, he sold the house and left his hobby behind.
Once he picked it back up, people told Harold he should sell his creations. But that’s not why he does it. He enjoys seeing children’s faces’ light up when he gives them a gift. He also crafts wooden canes for older folks. And he hopes the toy giveaway goes well.
“If this flies good, I’ll have a lot of stuff … next year,” Harold says.